By popular request (really—several!), I’ve written up a summary of the “Does Organizational Sociology Have a Future?” panel, held Monday, August 18th, at ASA in San Francisco. Organized by Elizabeth Gorman, the discussion featured Howard Aldrich, Elisabeth Clemens, Harland Prechel, Martin Ruef, and Ezra Zuckerman. The audience was sizable—perhaps 80 folks, including many established people in the field.
The summary is long, so I’m going to break it into a couple of parts. What follows is part one, sans commentary, from notes I took during the session. The rest will be posted over the next day or two. The panelists have all had a chance to review the summary and make edits. Also, there has been some suggestion that slides may be posted at the Work in Progress blog — I’ll post a link if that happens.
I’m not going to be able to capture the humor and asides, alas, but hopefully this will give a flavor of the main themes. If you don’t have the time or inclination to read, the quick version: does organizational sociology have a future?
- Prechel: Yes.
- Zuckerman: Yes.
- Clemens: Yes, if there’s space for thinking outside the box of professionalization and top journals.
- Aldrich: I’m going to answer a different question.
- Ruef: Only if Howard Aldrich doesn’t go fly fishing.
Okay, that’s a bit flip. More below.
Melissa Wooten is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her forthcoming book In the Face of Inequality: How Black Colleges Adapt (SUNY Press 2015) documents how the social structure of race and racism affect an organization’s ability to acquire the financial and political resources it needs to survive.
“Look…Come on…It’s $10 million dollars” is how the Saturday Night Live parody explains the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) decision to accept donations from now disgraced, soon-to-be former, NBA franchise owner, Donald Sterling. This parody encapsulates the dilemma that many organizations working for black advancement face. Fighting for civil rights takes money. But this money often comes from strange quarters. While Sterling’s personal animus toward African Americans captivated the public this spring, his organizational strategy of discriminating against African Americans and Hispanic Americans had already made him infamous among those involved in civil rights years earlier. So why would the NAACP accept money from a man known to actively discriminate against the very people it seeks to help?
A similar question arose when news of the Koch brothers $25 million donation to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) emerged in June. Not only did the UNCF’s willingness to accept this donation raise eyebrows, it also cost the organization the support of AFSCME, a union with which the UNCF had a long-standing relationship. The Koch brothers support of policies that would limit early voting along with their opposition to minimum wage legislation are but a few of the reasons that have made some skeptical of a UNCF-Koch partnership. So why would the UNCF accept a large donation from two philanthropists known to support policies that would have a disproportionately negative affect on African American communities?
A major theme of Goffman’s On the Run book/article is that the criminal justice system incapacitates Black men by entangling them with surveillance, leading many to become outlaws. This is in contrast to earlier work that claimed that police had abandoned, or had minimal involvement with, poor urban neighborhoods. So what’s the deal?
Here’s one suggested solution based on public choice theory and McCubbin’s old theory of public agencies, which claims that public agencies respond to financial and political incentives. Roughly speaking, police have choices and these choices come with very different pay offs. Call one option “beat policing.” The police pick up beats, they get involved, and have lots of contact with the population. The other option is called “fire alarm” policing. The police respond to complaints.
Add one additional assumption to the model – the voters who pay/support the police think that drugs and young Black men are the biggest “fires” that need to be put out. Voters don’t reward as much the police that do routine policing.There’s a lot of evidence for this. Police displays of drug caches after busts, forfeited assets going to police budgets, and the general demonization of young black men in the media.
Then, the conclusion of the model is fairly simple. Resources will be shifted to the drug trade and away from beats. The random citizen will wait for police help with, say, a car theft while police rush to conduct an endless string of busts and arrest, and thus create a pool of stigmatized men with arrest records.
Open Culture is a great web site that archives all manner of free and out of copy right film, books, and television. The film section is itself a treasure of classic and modern film. For example, you can see every Tarkovsky film online. Netflix is cheap but Open Culture is free – and good for you!
Need a workshop speaker? I’m here to help out! I work for free if it’s local, and I work cheap if you pitch in for travel costs. Topics:
- Black Power/Black Studies – Student protest and the rise of ethnic studies
- The Antiwar movement after 9/11 – How did the peace movement fight war in the Bush and Obama eras?
- More Tweets/More Votes – how to use social media to study politics!
- Organizational behavior and infection control – new research on how organizational behavior plays a role in patient safety
- Grad Skool pep talk!
Amy Binder has a really interesting new piece in the Washington Monthly on why so many grads of Harvard and Stanford go work for McKinsey or Goldman when they finish. Surprise (well, not really) — it’s organizational.
Based on research she conducted with UCSD grad students Nick Bloom and Daniel Davis, she argues that elite schools have created a “structured pathway that leads straight to them.” In the 80s, banks and consulting firms realized that being able to advertise teams of Ivy League grads was valuable. In her words:
To get to those kids, the nation’s top banks and consulting firms began by competing with each other to become “platinum” members of the career services programs run by the most elite schools. Winners of this pay-for-play competition get the best tables at campus career fairs, access to students’ email in-boxes, entrée to the most impressive banquet rooms for holding information sessions and receptions, bundled delivery of applicants’ résumés, and space and scheduled times to hold one-on-one interviews, among other goods and services known as “recruitment.”
As these careers became the most central and visible on campus, student culture became more and more heavily organized around the search for these kinds of jobs. They’re seen as the high-status thing to do in very competitive campus environments.
What’s ironic is that it’s not so much about the money. It’s partly about status, but it’s also about a clear pathway at a time of uncertainty. Harvard students don’t go to college dreaming of becoming investment bankers. Okay, a few do, but this–all from students who took the finance/consulting track — is more typical:
Most students come to campus with vague plans about their professional lives, along the lines of a Harvard alum named Kevin, who said he planned to “study philosophy and go to law school and have a nice life,” or Olivia, who had chosen Stanford because she dreamed of launching a start-up. Another junior at Harvard laughingly recalled that he “thought careers in finance were like being a bank teller, being an accountant, or something.”
But they have to pick something. And the schools make it easy. From one student:
I guess a good job means consulting or finance because, well, look, that’s what the Office of Career Services has. When I talk to my peers, that’s what my peers are talking about. For someone like me who had very limited professional experience, who didn’t really have any baseline for what one could do, it was like, hey, I just see that these are the things that people from Harvard go do.
Ultimately, Binder’s argument is that the schools bear some responsibility for how large this track has become — 31% of Harvard grads take jobs on this track. Some articles have suggested there’s been a downturn in the numbers in the last five years, but even if that’s the case, it’s still a large fraction.
Harvard and its ilk don’t really need the money from career services booths, though they may like the promise of high-earning alums. But they are doing their students, and the rest of us, a disservice by making these paths so easy to fall into. Sure, there are students who have a passion for finance, and that’s probably where they should be. But for the rest of them, a little more encouragement to explore the road less traveled could be a very good thing.
One of the very first posts I ever wrote for orgtheory is an analysis of the Powell doctrine, which says, roughly, that you should only engage in war if you have over whelming political support and firepower. I thought the Powell doctrine was a mess from an organizational perspective:
For an organizational theorist, there’s a broader lesson about group learning – things go bad when managers prepare for situations where it is easy to prepare, rather than prepare for situations they are likely to face.
The reason that the US armed forces relied on the Powell doctrine of overwhelming numbers and superiority of force was that they allowed political concerns to drive the kinds of situations they analyze and train for. Specifically, the Powell doctrine was a response to the post-Vietnam desire to avoid ill defined, long term conflicts with guerillas…
This is like corporate managers preparing for competitors that are easy to understand and that they have experienced already, instead of preparing for competitors they are likely to encounter. The Powell doctrine essentially says: “We only become involved in cases where we can decisively win and thus our preparations will be geared towards these situations.” Instead, the doctrine should probably be “we’ll cultivate tools for the situations we’ll likely encounter and develop capacities for improvisation and learning in vague and ill defined environments.”
Eight years later, I feel justified. The US armed forces have been asked to do all kinds of crazy things that only fit Powell doctrine on occasion. For example, the 2006 Surge doesn’t quite fit, or the “muddling through” that we’re doing in Iraq right now. In other words, the Powell doctrine was a reactionary response to the mismatch between Cold War forces and the reality of Vietnam. Good doctrine doesn’t emerge from one encounter. Instead, you have to be honest and admit that Presidents will ask the armed services to do all kinds of things that aren’t well thought out.