Research Fellow

PhD, Organizational Ethnography, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Thijs Willems is an organizational ethnographer and generally interested in the daily work of people in complex and technological organizations, as well as how they experience their work in the broader organizational context. In his work, he draws on rich, ethnographic empirical data analyzed via practice and process theories.

In 2017, Thijs finished his PhD dissertation that was based on an ethnographic study on infrastructure breakdowns in the Dutch railway system. He then moved to Singapore where he started working at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities under a research program on ‘The Future of the Digital Economy and Digital Societies’. One of the things he currently interested in is exploring the intersection of organization/work and smart urbanism. He do so by focusing on the opportunities as well as challenges that digital technologies bring, how they impact social inequalities, and how specific imaginations of work are produced as being particularly digital and ‘invisible’.

The main lens through which he study this digital work is by zooming in on the relationships between (digital) technologies and embodied work, how both shape and define each other and with what effects on knowledge and skills. Specifically, he is involved in three separate but thematically interrelated studies: i) algorithmic trading in sports betting and how algorithms and human traders ‘collaborate’ in their daily practices; ii) exploring the impact on embodied, material work when such work is mediated by digital technologies, particularly in the realm of digital design and digital crafts; iii) how the notion of mastery and expertise changes for technicians in a sector that is undergoing digital transformation, and how organizations can train more effectively for guarding such expertise.