you no exchange with us? slither home, body snatcher
Off-list, Howard Aldrich penned Brayden and me a heartfelt lament about the one-sided exchange between sociology and economics. He described a recently published article in which an economist urges fellow economists to conduct research on how organizational identity motivates workers to work hard because (surprise!) monetary incentives aren’t sufficient.
With Aldrich’s permission (but without naming the offending article and author), I am excerpting his thoughts here:
“What is heartbreaking is that there’s no sign in this article that the author has any clue that sociology and management & organization theory have been concerned with such questions for decades, or that there is a rich and robust literature on organizational culture, social identity, and so forth. Although the author mentions the social psychology of identity at one point (Ed. Note: plus 2 mentions of March and Simon’s work as “seminal”), all but a handful of the 60+ references are to the literature in economics.
Several years ago, I had a similar experience when I read a special issue of an entrepreneurship journal that was devoted to entrepreneurial teams. It contained an economist’s algorithmically driven analysis of why and how entrepreneurial teams should form. Plenty of other economists were cited, but he seemed clueless to the fact that, five years previously, a couple of sociologists (namely, Martin Ruef and me, together with a business administration scholar) had written an empirical paper, based on a nationally representative sample, addressing precisely some of the idle speculation he’d written up in his paper. I was so irritated that I called up the special issue editor, who apologized profusely but offered no explanation.
So, for economics, all that matters is what other economists have done. I’m sure this simplifies the literature search process, but one can imagine that some insights might be sparked if economists were occasionally to dip into the literature of other fields. For example, what came to mind immediately upon reading the first article was Bill Ouchi‘s rather famous – - at least to me – - book from 1981, Theory Z, which was one of the first books to ride the wave of the “organizational culture” phenomena in organization and management studies.”
In a follow-up email, Aldrich opined the desire for economists either to share or return home:
“I just want them to either go back to their own village or else begin engaging in a more fair exchange….The problem is that I doubt very much whether we can ever create a truly equitable exchange with economists – - I’ve seen the same pattern for years, and indeed Chick Perrow actually talked about something like “invasion of the body snatchers” in talking about when economists came into our field.”*
Since economists are supposedly prone to practicing what they preach, could it be that the discipline of economics is ill-suited to contributing to a knowledge commons?
*Perrow’s “body snatchers” (1986) reference is in his critique of how sociologists and organizational theorists can better understand internal firm activities because of the level of analysis, assumptions, and understandings of power asymmetries:
“Sociologists and other organizational theorists are positioned to explore these problems because they embrace a more system-wide viewpoint than economists….their work is not disabled by assumptions of rational or primarily self-interested behavior, but look at the contexts that call out rational, nonrational, self-reading, and other-regarding behavior. This broader inquiry is, in part occasioned by the challenge that economics have presented by their foray into the world of organizations, a challenge that resembles the theme of the novel and movie The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, where human forms are retained but all that we value about human behavior – its spontaneity, unpredictability, selflessness, plurality of values, reciprocal influences, and resentment of domination – has disappeared.” (p. 41)
“The ranking of claims of value is an unfortunate capitulation to the tyranny of theories of choice. The weighting of values rationalizes trade-offs but denies human capabilities for pursuing unresolved conflicts in desire. When my granddaughters were young, they had best friends, a not particularly noteworthy fact except that each of them had not one but numerous best friends – each best friend, I assume, a better friend than the others. I came to recognize that by refusing to calibrate the values of highly valued things in a way that assigned unique preeminence to any one of them, my granddaughters imported wisdom into grammar.” (p. 119)
TL;DR: Economists’ pod people = an impoverished depiction of human activities; Sociologists’ BFF = a more well-rounded version.