Archive for the ‘brayden’ Category
The field of strategy research could learn something from field theory. Ed Walker and I make this point in a forthcoming paper, “Winning hearts and minds: Field theory and the three dimensions of strategy,” now published online at the journal Strategic Organization. We argue that strategy researchers too narrowly conceptualizes strategy, focusing almost exclusively on financial performance and ignoring firms’ (or elites’) motivations to attain status and power. When strategy scholars pay attention to status they usually only do so as an independent variable – a precursor to financial performance. Field theory forces us, we think, to consider the broader struggles for control and dominance that propel firms, elites, and other actors to take action. Shaping public perceptions is one of the main ways in which social actors improve their status and attain more power, and so an important component of strategy involves actively managing impressions – i.e., what people think and how they feel about key issues and actors.
Strategy research—and to some degree social movement theory as well—portrays organizations as resource-accumulating machines. The ultimate measure of success is financial performance. Another way to conceptualize organizations is as social actors whose primary function is to manage the impressions and perceptions of their various audiences. Their ultimate goal is to maintain positions of dominance. Resource accumulation depends on the ability of an organization to gain favorability and esteem. Shaping public perceptions about why one organization deserves favor is key, then, to long-term survival. But there exists an alternative and more long-term rationale for shaping public perceptions: for organizations to gain positions of prominence and power in society, they must be able to influence the rules of the game and the cultural norms and belief systems that shape who wins and who does not…
What role does strategy have in this conflict-ridden view of the world? In our estimation, strategy can be conceptualized as having three dimensions. We take inspiration from the ideas of Max Weber (1922 ) in his classic essay on “Class, Status, and Party” in order to understand the features of strategy. We argue that strategy research has focused almost exclusively on financial performance (“class,” in Weber’s resource-based view of economic positions) and management’s role in shaping it. However, Weber’s conceptualization suggests that firms ought to be at least as concerned with prestige or esteem (“status”) or on the relative leverage of various stakeholders and policymakers upon firms’ actions (“party”). ..
[W]e find three major limitations in strategy research. First, it is far too focused upon firm performance at the expense of understanding strategic elements of relative status and sources of power/vulnerability. Second, its perspective is often far too short term and does not pay enough attention to all three of the aforementioned aspects of strategy, especially in the context of the “long game” of business maneuvering. Third, it downplays the extent to which businesses’ capacities for accumulating resources, maintaining reputations, and obtaining political leverage are all subject to conflict with other actors whose own relative position depends on their ability to convince the public of their alternative ideologies and worldviews.
In the paper we talk more about research focused on political influence, in particular, ought to shift away from the specialty areas of “nonmarket strategy” or “political strategy” and move to the forefront of strategy research.
Jerry Kim and I have an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times about our new paper on status bias in baseball umpiring. We analyzed over 700,000 non-swinging pitches from the 2008-09 season and found that umpires made numerous types of mistakes in calling strikes-balls. Most notably, we expected that umpires would be influenced by the status and reputation of the pitcher, and this is indeed what we found:
One of the sources of bias we identified was that umpires tended to favor All-Star pitchers. An umpire was about 16 percent more likely to erroneously call a pitch outside the zone a strike for a five-time All-Star than for a pitcher who had never appeared in an All-Star Game. An umpire was about 9 percent less likely to mistakenly call a real strike a ball for a five-time All-Star. The strike zone did actually seem to get bigger for All-Star pitchers and it tended to shrink for non-All-Stars.
An umpire’s bias toward All-Star pitchers was even stronger when the pitcher had a reputation for precise control, as measured by the career percentage of batters walked. We found that pitchers with a track record of not walking batters — like Greg Maddux — were much more likely to benefit from their All-Star status than similarly decorated but “wilder” pitchers like Randy Johnson.
Baseball insiders have long suspected what our research confirms: that umpires tend to make errors in ways that favor players who have established themselves at the top of the game’s status hierarchy. But our findings are also suggestive of the way that people in any sort of evaluative role — not just umpires — are unconsciously biased by simple “status characteristics.” Even constant monitoring and incentives can fail to train such biases out of us.
You can can download the paper, which is forthcoming in Management Science, if you’re interested in learning more about the analyses and their implications for theories about status characteristics and the Matthew Effect.
At orgtheory we’ve tried to develop a loose environment for scholarly discussion. By loose, I mean a place where people can feel comfortable talking about serious ideas in a fun way, without the formality of a colloquium and more open and inclusive than most professional settings. For the most part we’ve been successful I think at facilitating that sort of feeling among contributors. Over the years we’ve had great conversations that have not been constrained by status, rank, or other forms of exclusivity. A community has formed around orgtheory that, while including a lot of sociologists, is fairly interdisciplinary and broad. Personally, that’s why I keep coming back and, even if I’ll go weeks without posting anything, I place a lot of value on this blog and the people who come here to speak their mind.
Our discussions frequently veer from their intended targets and most of the time that is totally okay and within the norms of orgtheory. This place would be boring if people were required to stay on point all the time. It’s consistent with the loose, collegial atmosphere we’ve tried to create. But occasionally (and I mean very infrequently) discussions turn in a sour direction. This wasn’t a problem for the first few years of the blog, perhaps because in those early years we knew almost everyone who came online to connect with us. We had a small community and it was easy to enforce norms with each other. But in the past couple of years, we’ve had a few posts where commenters have become a little snippy with each other. We’ve talked internally about how best to handle those outbursts. As I see it two ideals compete with each other. On the one hand, we value inclusiveness and believe that the best way to encourage real discussion and debate is not to censor. We want people to feel that their input is valued, regardless of status, rank, expertise, etc. On the other hand, we value civility and believe that if people treat each other according to the “golden rule” a greater variety of people will be more likely to participate. And it does seem to be true that when discussions get especially rancorous, many people drop out of the debate and the more impassioned voices surge to the front line. The rules of discussion that Fabio posted a few months ago were a response to the rising tide of incivility that we observed on the blog.
Alan Sica sent out the following request to a few ASA listservs. With his permission, I’m reposting it here. As you’ll see below, I think the note raises a number of interesting questions/issues that I’d never before considered.
Historians of sociology, social theorists, and other scholars,
Please take five minutes to read what follows, as it affects our discipline’s future historiography.
Two weeks from now the ruling body of the ASA, the Council, will meet at the Association’s headquarters in Washington, DC and, in addition to other things, will decide the fate of 588 boxes of archived journal-related material: whether to preserve them or destroy them. I am writing to ask that you contact Council members (their email addresses follow this note) with your opinion one way or the other. Obviously, I hope you “vote” to preserve the materials, but if you believe they are not worth preserving, you could register that opinion as well. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m really happy to announce a new post doctoral position here at Northwestern University on social media and activism. If you’re interested, please apply early. The application deadline is March 2nd! Read the rest of this entry »
For the past year I’ve slowly been working my way through Stanley Aronowitz’s Taking it Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals. My slowness in finishing the book isn’t an indicator of how enjoyable or interesting the book really is. This book is fascinating, especially if you’re interested in the intellectual history of sociology. Aronowitz makes the case that Mills’s sociological impact was a direct result of his engagement with the broader intellectual public in an effort to push social change and present ideas that challenged the capitalist status quo. Mills wasn’t a socialist or any of the things typically associated with the Old Left. Rather, Mills was the forerunner of the New Left – a group that believed in the power of ideas to shape equality and freedom in society. He saw himself as a producer of those ideas.
Not long before I began reading this book I had a conversation with a former student at Columbia University when Mills was still a professor there. (Mills died in 1962.) The former student, now an emeritus professor himself, described Mills as a recluse. He had no involvement with the graduate program and showed no interest in training future PhDs. His main involvement with the department was to teach the undergraduate political sociology class. He was rarely, if ever, in his office, and so running into him in the halls was unlikely. At the time of his death, Mills’s impact on the discipline was fairly minimal, largely because he didn’t have an ongoing research agenda that involved PhD training or publishing articles in the top journals (although he had published those types of articles in the past). Merton, Lazarsfeld, and Bell were the stars of the department in the eyes of the students.
But arguably, Mills’s reputation has outlasted those other scholars. Read the rest of this entry »
Are humans by nature social animals? My colleague, Adam Waytz, argues in a provocative essay for Edge.org that the idea that humans are naturally social may be more myth than reality. That is, if we define human sociability as the tendency to be cooperative with others, compassionate, and empathetic, it’s hardly the case that humans will always act or think in a social way. Adam’s essay is geared towards psychologists, where the trend has been to describe humans’ brains, hormones, and cognition as innately social.
He points out various ways in which psychological research points out that this is just not true. Humans are as competitive as they are cooperative, and in certain situations competition overrides cooperation. Empathy isn’t an automatic response. Humans may have a strong in-group bias and a tendency to treat people outside of our group with suspicion and lack of trust. Social behaviors seem to be triggered by certain situational characteristics rather than being the default. Moreover, our capacity to be social may be much more limited than we have previously recognized.
Because motivation and cognition are finite, so too is our capacity to be social. Thus, any intervention that intends to increase consideration of others in terms of empathy, benevolence, and compassion is limited in its ability to do so. At some point, the well of working memory on which our most valuable social abilities rely will run dry.
Rather than sociability being the natural response to human interaction, it may actually be an achievement of society that we have created the right institutions that enable sociability. Sociologists, of course, have a lot to say about the latter.
Administrative Science Quarterly now has a blog – aptly named The ASQ Blog. The purpose of the blog is a bit different than your typical rambling academic blog. Each post contains an interview with the author(s) of a recent article published in the journal. For example, there are interviews with Chad McPherson and Mike Sauder about their article on drug court deliberations, with Michael Dahl, Cristian Dezső, and David Ross on CEO fatherhood and its effect on employee wages, and András Tilcsik and Chris Marquis about their research on natural disasters and corporate philanthropy. The interviews are informal, try to get at the research and thought process behind the article, and allow reader comments. I think its innovative of the ASQ editorial team to come up with this in an effort to make research more open and to draw more eyes to the cutting edge research at ASQ.
A couple of years ago I served on an ASQ task force (with Marc-David Seidel and Jean Bartunek) to explore different ways that the journal could better use online media to engage readers. At the time, ASQ was way behind the curve. It was difficult to even find a permanent hyperlink to its articles. Since that time ASQ and most journals have greatly improved their online accessibility . The blog is just one example. ASQ’s editor, Jerry Davis, said in a recent email to the editorial board that they recognize that “younger scholars connect with the literature in ways that rarely involve visits to the library or print subscriptions.” To maintain relevance in today’s academic “attention economy” (for lack of a better term), journals have to be active on multiple platforms. ASQ gets it; Sociological Science’s (hyper)active tweeter (@SociologicalSci) gets it too. In the end, everyone hopes the best research will float to the top and get the attention it deserves, but if the best research is hard to find or is being out-hyped by other journals, it may never get noticed.
It made me wonder, how do people most commonly find out about new research? I know that orgtheory readers are not the most representative sample, but this seems to be the crowd that Jerry referred to in his email. So, below is a poll. You can choose up to three different methods for finding research. But please, beyond adding to the poll results, tell us in comments what your strategy is.
David Courpasson is finishing his term as the editor of Organization Studies, the official publication of the European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS). As a parting gift, he wrote an essay about what he feels is right and wrong (okay, mostly wrong) about the current state of organizational scholarship. The essay is provocative and a bit pessimistic, although not unfairly so. One of the major problems plaguing our field, Courpasson believes, is the development of a culture of productivity in social science, which seems to have most severely infected organizational and management research. In this culture of productivity, scholarship is not evaluated based on relevance or the quality of ideas but rather on the sheer volume of research that a scholar can produce. Professors are compelled to write lots of journal articles, and they push them out quickly in order to boost the length, but not necessarily the quality, of their CVs. Although he doesn’t mention it, this culture of productivity seems to have numerous institutional sources, including the practice of many departments that determine merit raises and tenure cases by “number counting” (i.e., deciding that someone deserves tenure based on the number of “A journal publications” the person has produced).
The consequences of this culture of productivity is to increase the sheer volume of publications but at the sacrifice of social relevance. The culture also has negative effects on the review and editing processes. Reviewers are worn out, editors are overwhelmed with new submissions, and there are simply too many journal articles to read and process. Here is an excerpt from Courpasson’s article:
[O]ur current system of scientific manufacturing creates more papers to review, with less committed and less timely reviewers, with a lower density of challenging ideas, as well as of ideas that are less significant for ‘the world’; in other words, for other worlds than the closest colleagues and networks. The culture of ideas is therefore vanishing: due to publishing pressures, people feel more and more pushed to submit any paper because rejection is not necessarily harmful: a new dynamic is created where work is routinely submitted anyway, sometimes in a real hurry (that is to say, even when clearly unfinished, including incomplete lists of references or variety of colours in the text), overburdening journals and editors. Here individual arbitrations surely play a role: authors’ visibility can indeed be maximized by small improvements enabled by journals’ insightful reviews; at the same time, thanks to this principle of productivity, potential papers to submit by a single author are multiplied, often in a logic of replication and repetition that also leads to ‘deviant’ behaviours such as self-plagiarism. But that adds some items in a resume and that is important because items are counted. Again, this is a counterproductive game: because volume does not always match quality and innovation, editors are more and more inclined to focus on flaws to purposively (although not willingly) narrow down the number of papers under review and obviously, in this ‘negativist’ cycle, innovative papers can be sacrificed by the necessity of correlating the ‘quality’ of a journal and a high (desk) rejection rate.
In the past couple of weeks, two journalists who I enjoy reading wrote controversial diatribes about the travesties of contemporary higher education. Both Matt Taibbi and Thomas Frank, each in their own brilliantly polemical ways, compared higher education to the housing bubble that led to our last serious financial crisis. Both writers attacked the integrity and ethics of the administrators of the current regime of academia. Both bashed a system that would allow students to acquire more debt than they could possibly pay given the job prospects for which their education prepares them. These are real nuggets that academics ought to consider seriously. Ignore, if it offends you, the abrasive rhetoric, but at the heart of both of their arguments is a logic that ought to resonate with our sociological sensibilities.
Here is Taibbi:
[T]he underlying cause of all that later-life distress and heartache – the reason they carry such crushing, life-alteringly huge college debt – is that our university-tuition system really is exploitative and unfair, designed primarily to benefit two major actors.
First in line are the colleges and universities, and the contractors who build their extravagant athletic complexes, hotel-like dormitories and God knows what other campus embellishments. For these little regional economic empires, the federal student-loan system is essentially a massive and ongoing government subsidy, once funded mostly by emotionally vulnerable parents, but now increasingly paid for in the form of federally backed loans to a political constituency – low- and middle-income students – that has virtually no lobby in Washington.
Next up is the government itself. While it’s not commonly discussed on the Hill, the government actually stands to make an enormous profit on the president’s new federal student-loan system, an estimated $184 billion over 10 years, a boondoggle paid for by hyperinflated tuition costs and fueled by a government-sponsored predatory-lending program that makes even the most ruthless private credit-card company seem like a “Save the Panda” charity.
I keep hearing about the coming big data revolution. Data scientists are now using huge data sets, many produced through online interactions and media, that shed light on basic social processes. Big data data sets, from sources like Twitter, Facebook, or mobile phones, give social scientists ways to tap into interactions and cultural output at a scale that has never been seen before in social science. The way we analyze data in sociology and organizational theory are bound to change due to this influx of new data.
Unfortunately, the big data revolution has yet to happen. When I see job candidates or new scholars present their research, they are mostly using the same methods that their predecessors did, although with incremental improvements to study design. I see more field experiments for sure, and scholars seem more attuned to identification issues, but the data sources are fairly similar to what you would have seen in 2003. With a few notable exceptions, big data have yet to change the way we do our work. Why is that?
Last week Fabio had a really interesting post about brain drain in academia. One reason we might see less big data than we’d like is because the skills needed to handle this type of analysis are rare and much of the talent in this area is finding that research jobs in the for-profit world are more lucrative and rewarding than what they’re being offered in academia. I believe that’s true, especially for the kinds of people who are attracted to data mining techniques. The other problem though, I think, is that social scientists are having a hard time figuring out how to fit big data techniques into the traditional milieu of social science. Sociologists, for example, want studies to be framed in a theoretically compelling way. Organizational theorist would like scholars to use data that map on to the conceptual problems of the field. It’s not always clear in many of the studies that I’ve read and reviewed that big data analyses are doing anything new other than using big data. If big data studies are going to take over the field they need to address pressing theoretical problems.
With that in mind, you should really read a new paper by Chris Bail (forthcoming in Theory and Society) about using big data in cultural sociology. Chris makes the case that cultural sociology, a subfield that is obsessed with understanding the origins of and practical uses of meaning, is prime for a big data surge. Cultural sociology has the theoretical questions, and big data research offers the methods.
More data were accumulated in 2002 than all previous years of human history combined. By 2011, the amount of data collected prior to 2002 was being collected very two days. This dramatic growth in data spans nearly every part of our lives from gene sequencing to consumer behavior. While much of these data are binary and quantitative, text-based data is also being accumulated on an unprecedented scale. In an era of social science research plagued by declining survey response rates and concerns about the generalizability of qualitative research, these data hold considerable potential. Yet social scientists – and cultural sociologists in particular – have ignored the promise of so-called ‘big data.’ Instead, cultural sociologists have left this wellspring of information about the arguments, worldviews, or values of hundreds of millions of people from internet sites and other digitized texts to computer scientists who possess the technological expertise to extract and manage such data but lack the theoretical direction to interpret their meaning in situ….[C]ultural sociologists have made very few ventures into the universe of big data. In this article, I argue inattention to big data among cultural sociologists is particularly surprising since it is naturally occurring – unlike survey research or cross-sectional qualitative interviews – and therefore critical to understanding the evolution of meaning structures in situ. That is, many archived texts are the product of conversations between individuals, groups, or organizations instead of responses to questions created by researchers who usually have only post-hoc intuition about the relevant factors in meaning-making – much less how culture evolves in ‘real time’ (note: footnotes and references removed).
Chris goes on to offer suggestions about how cultural sociology might use big data to address big theoretical questions. For example, he believes that scholars studying discursive fields would be wise to use big data methods to evaluate the content of such fields, the relationships between actors and ideas, and the relationships between different fields. Of course, much of the paper is about how to use big data analysis to enhance or replace traditional methods used in cultural sociology. He discusses how Twitter and Facebook data might supplement newspaper analysis, a fairly common method in cultural and political sociology. Although he doesn’t go into great detail about how you would do it, an implicit argument he makes is that big data analysis might replace some survey methods as ways to explore public opinion.
I continue to think there is enormous potential for using big data in the social sciences. The key for having it accepted more broadly is for data scientists to figure out how to use big data to address important theoretical questions. If you can do that, you’re gold.
C0-blogger Brayden King and leading Internet scholar Eszter Hargittai wrote a nice post for Kellogg’s Executive Education newsletter. The topic: how to cultivate your reputation in the age of social media. A few choice clips:
Let others in your social network do the talking for you. People see impression management as most genuine when others they already trust and respect do it on your behalf. When third parties say positive things about you, they help cement your reputation and create a halo around your activities.
Engage critiques from legitimate sources directly and alleviate their concerns openly. As anyone who has spent any time online knows, people love to criticize others and sling a little mud. In many cases these attacks can be ignored, especially when they come from “trolls,” or individuals whose sole intent is to pester others, usually from behind a veil of anonymity. In some cases, however, criticism will come from legitimate sources and be a reputational threat.
They are now writing a book on this topic. Recommended.
Jenn Lena broke the news before I could. I’ll add my excitement and say that creating an open source sociology journal with a fast and limited review process that allows online comments and community engagement is something that needed to happen. And it IS happening. In Fall 2013 you can submit your papers to Sociological Science and, if you get through the evaluation process, you can see your paper published within months of submission. One of the most exciting aspects of the journal is how reviews work. Rather than forcing authors to go through months (or years) of agonizing back-and-forth with reviewers, the editors will make an up-or-down decision based on an initial review. The reviews will be evaluative, not developmental. Once published, readers can respond to articles and “challenge or extend other people’s work.” Publication will be continuous, and so as soon as your article has been accepted and edited, it will go online as a published article.
I think the journal is going to fill an important niche in sociology. I hope that one consequence of the journal will be to pressure other journals to speed up the process and to make publications be more interactive. It’s still too early to tell how the journal will fare in attracting high quality papers. I sincerely hope that people will send some of their best stuff to the journal. If they do, then I wonder what consequence this will have for the vast set of secondary/specialist journals in our field. Journals like Social Forces and Social Problems will be those most likely to take hits.
A while ago I asked, “what happened to resource dependence theory?” Although resource dependence theory seemed to be the dominant macro-organizational theory of the late 1970s, by the early 1990s the theory was eclipsed by institutional theory and population ecology. In the previous post, I offered some reasons for why this might have happened, but I stopped short of doing any serious analysis or a literature review. So I was happy to see that Tyler Wry, Adam Cobb, and Howard Aldrich have a paper in the latest Academy of Management Annals that tackles this question and offers some thoughts about the future of RD theory. Based on their analysis, the problem is worse than I imagined. Not only is RD theory cited less than those other theories, but it also seems to be the case that most citations to RD theory are fairly superficial. On a positive note, RD theory has become associated with a few fragmented communities of scholars who were interested in studying the particular strategies that Pfeffer and Salancik suggested actors/organizations ought to take when seeking to gain control over dependencies. From the Wry et al. paper:
[W]e conducted a systematic analysis of every study that cited External Control in 29 highly regarded management, psychology, and sociology journals between 1978 and 2011. Given the breadth of empirical domains covered by RD, our analysis focused on identifying how, and to what extent, each article used the perspective. Our results indicate that there is merit in Pfeffer’s assertion that RD serves primarily as a metaphorical statement about organizations. Though External Control continues to be cited at an enviable rate, the vast majority of citations are ceremonial—variously used as a nod toward the environment, resources, or power. Results also show that beneath an ever growing citation count is a fragmented landscape of scholars whose primary interest is in the specific strategies discussed in External Control —mergers and acquisitions (M&A), joint ventures and strategic alliances, interlocking directorates and executive succession—rather than the underlying perspective….To say that RD has been reduced to a metaphorical statement about organizations, however, belies its considerable impact. Indeed, while RD lacks a coterie of followers and has failed to catalyze a dedicated research programin the vein of NIT or OE, it has had a uniquely broad influence within management scholarship. Scholars have drawn on RD to derive key hypotheses in the study of M&A’s, joint ventures and strategic alliances, interlocking directorates, and executive succession, with the hypotheses largely supported (Hillman, Withers, & Collins, 2009).
They also suggest that its time to revive RD theory in organizational analysis. Why should we do that? Read the rest of this entry »
I have a bleg. What do you think are the best organizational theory papers published in a sociology or management journal in 2012? I’m on a nominations committee and I don’t want to miss anything. Let me know what you think in the comments.
If you’re needing new orgtheory related content and we’re too slow to provide it (I keep telling Fabio he needs to post more!!), then I have a couple of suggestions for you. Over at Charisma – a new-to-me blog about consumer studies – David Stark has a post about how people’s unique standpoint relative to the market influences their reactions to and valuation of market assets. He points to three papers, two of which he coauthored and another by Elena Esposito, that focus on different aspects of people’s observation of markets. In the last paper, he and Matteo Prato refer to the “viewpoints effect” as the tendency for people’s attention to certain salient attributes to determine how they’ll react to other assets.
One’s assessment of an issue is shaped by one’s viewpoint, given by one’s contingent portfolio of attention. We hypothesize, specifically, that two actors who assess a given situation vis-à-vis a similarly (differently) composed portfolio of other situations are more likely to autonomously converge (diverge) in their interpretations of the given situation.
Over at the very new Organizations and Social Change blog, my coauthor Ed Carberry writes about the relationship between executive compensation and corporate tax deductions, noting that Facebook received a tax refund by simply deducting executive stock options as an expense. He notices that this is a standard accounting practice that allows companies to get a big tax break. He also, rightly I think, observes the unfairness of this particular tax deduction.
Interestingly, three leading scholars of compensation, in conjunction with the Center for American Progress, have put forward a very simple proposal relating to taxes and stock-based compensation practices like stock options. They call it “inclusive capitalism.” Essentially, the idea is that if a company does not provide stock-based compensation for most of its employees, it cannot deduct any gains that any of its employees receive from this type of compensation, including executives. Sounds like a socialist plot to intervene in the free market? Think again. Health care and retirement benefits currently operate according to the same rules. If a company wants to grant health care to only its executives, that is completely legal. However, if it does so, it cannot deduct that cost from the company’s taxable income. We can do the same exact thing with stock-based compensation. This will either dramatically increase federal tax revenues or propel a more equitable distribution of stock-based pay.
Both posts are worth reading.
Howard Aldrich, a man who needs no introduction, has written a new book about entrepreneurship and evolutionary theory. He’s also written a blog post at the publisher’s website discussing some of the book’s key insights and detailing his own intellectual journey as a sociologist who has embraced entrepreneurship as a topic of study. It’s really interesting. Everyone should go read his blog post.
In addition to providing a really fascinating look into the mind of Howard Aldrich, in his post he offers some sage advice to young organizational scholars. It’s such good advice I thought I’d cross-post it here:
- Think in terms of long-term projects, especially if you are studying dynamic processes that take some time to unfold. Cross-sectional studies provide snapshots of the way things are at a moment in time, but most contemporary theorizing concerns mechanisms and emergent processes that must be studied over time. Many of my projects involved data collection that extended over 4 to 6 years, with analysis and writing requiring several more years. Luckily, I had a portfolio of projects, some of which came to fruition earlier than others and thus I never lacked things to do!
- Think in terms of cumulative work that builds one paper on top of another, as a project matures over its planned life. In this age of “salami-publishing” – chopping bigger projects into smaller chunks and then publishing the smaller bits as independent papers – scholars often forget that such behavior cannot go undetected. Independent observers of someone’s career take notice of suboptimal publishing patterns and are likely to discount a project’s worth, if its contributions are diluted by being parceled out in dribs and drabs. Instead, focus on establishing theoretical and empirical continuity across your work.
- Pay attention to what others are doing and find ways to link your work to theirs. With tools such as Google Scholar, citation alerts, table of content alerts, and other technologically-enhanced ways of keeping track of work in your field, you can enhance the impact of your own contributions by showing how it relates to the emerging state of the art.
- Most research projects in organization and management studies are multi-disciplinary, especially in entrepreneurship. Keep up with key work in other disciplines working on the same or similar issues, attend conferences, read their journals, and seek other people with diverse competencies to work with you on your long-term projects.
I really like his second point about the cumulative contribution of your work. One of the travesties of contemporary scholarly contribution metrics is that we have substituted quantity of publications for cumulative contribution. We assume that somebody with 5-6 publications in “A” journals has made a contribution, irrespective of the content of that work or how it aggregates into larger themes. Personally, I’d like to see more younger scholars who are actively laying out a theoretical and empirical agenda that builds on itself over time and who think less about how they can get their next AMJ paper published. Of course, making that a winning strategy is best done in a context where tenure committees actually read the work and make thoughtful assessments of quality rather than just counting lines on a CV.
In winter quarter I’m teaching one of the core theory classes in our PhD program in management and organizations. Our students take a sequence of theory classes: two that are about individuals and organizations and which are heavily based in social psychology and organizational behavior and two others that look at organizations as units of analysis. The first of the latter two courses deals with organizations and their environments (e.g., institutional theory; resource dependence). The second deals with the internal life of organizations: how they work, how people and groups behave within them, why they change and why they sometimes do not change when they should, etc. This is the seminar I’m teaching.
Here is the seminar’s syllabus. Each week treats a different conceptual area, beginning with bureaucracy and ending with social movements. There is a heavy dose of Carnegie School in the middle. I spend a lot of time talking about identity, culture, and politics because that is what interests me and because I think the field is increasingly moving in that direction. The study of internal politics and culture links the study of organizations to the macro-environmental research that characterizes much institutional theory, in my view. There are some obvious holes in the syllabus. For example, I don’t spend much time talking about inequality of any type. One could spend an entire course on that topic. My approach was to focus more on the abstract theoretical concepts and mechanisms and then let the students figure out how they match their particular empirical interests.
First, of all I’d like to thank Neil Fligstein for guest blogging on orgtheory. Acknowledging his contribution has been long overdue. He wrote a series of really provocative and intriguing posts about his new book, A Theory of Fields (see here and here), which spurred an intense discussion about the various strands of institutional theory, the role of agency and change in institutional theory, and the strategic orientation of actors. Rather than rehash that debate I wanted to step back and offer my own take on what I see as some of the most important (potential) contributions of field theory to organizational scholarship.
Even though in his posts Neil framed the book as a response to institutional scholarship, I think the book has more ambitious, broader designs. Their book tries to integrate various research strands and subfields – including, but not limited to, institutional theory and social movement theory – and offer a unified theory of fields and action. In this light, they have more in common with John Levi Martin (JLM), who has written his own treatise on fields and social action, than they do with the hordes of institutional scholars. (Their view of fields certainly owes more to Bourdieu than it does to DiMaggio and Powell’s concept of organizational fields.) They are attempting grand theory in a way that is rarely done in contemporary sociology. The grandness of their theoretical lens is apparent once you consider that they mean for it to apply not only to markets or industries but also to fields that exist within organizations or that describe relations between social movement activists.
The major difference between them (F&M) and JLM or other field theorists is the way they conceptualize fields as sites of collective action (strategic action being the most important form of collective action that actors take to reproduce or change fields). In contrast, JLM is more interested in fields as sites of social action, period. According to F&M, the major problem that faces actors in any field – whether you’re talking about American corporations seeking to deregulate an industry or parents addressing the education needs of their children – is figuring how to cooperate and take collective action so that they can gain advantages over contending groups. Engaging in collective action in order to get an advantage is the motivation that drives field formation, struggle, and change. A strong version of their theory would suggest that changes in meaning systems, rules and norms, or institutional settlements are endogenous to these strategic struggles. In fact, the field itself can be seen as situational, inasmuch as it forms around struggles over ideas and standing. Fields only exist inasmuch as there is some sort of collective action.
Is there any relationship between accusations of corporate deviance and the diffusion of new practices? My coauthor, Ed Carberry, and I think so. In a new paper that just came out in the Journal of Management Studies we show that firms began using stock option expensing, a practice that used to be seen as quite problematic and undesirable by executives and boards, after a series of scandals rocked the corporate world in the early 2000s, causing firms to look for new ways to restore their credibility. Stock option expensing became a tool that companies could use to distance themselves from the stigma associated with corporate scandal. Our analyses show that firms facing media scrutiny around claims of corporate fraud and firms that were targets of shareholder activism around corporate governance were much more likely adopt stock option expensing. Firms that faced both intense media scrutiny and shareholder activism were especially likely to adopt the practice. We argue that in the period directly following the Enron scandal stock option expensing became seen as an impression management tactic that firms could use to restore confidence in their accountability to the public.
The title of the paper is “Defensive Practice Adoption in the Face of Organizational Stigma: Impression Management and the Diffusion of Stock Option Expensing.” You can download the paper on my website. Here is the abstract.
Although most diffusion research focuses on firms adopting new practices to maintain their legitimacy, this paper examines a setting in which firms adopted a controversial practice to defend themselves against relating to corporate deviance. We argue that understanding defensive adoption requires attending to both the dynamics of organizational stigma and impression management, and test our theoretical claims by analysing the diffusion of an accounting practice, stock option expensing (SOPEX), following the Enron scandal. We first provide evidence that the media and shareholder activists transformed the practice into a defensive device by theorizing it as a solution to problems relating to corporate fraud and corporate governance. Using event history analysis, we then show that corporations that became targets of stigma- inducing threats were more likely to adopt SOPEX and that the media were a key force channeling these threats.
In a recent tweet, Brayden wondered if he would have gone to graduate school had he read my advice book, Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure ($2 – cheap!). That got me thinking. Brayden is a cool dude and an amazingly successful scholar. Is my book, whose first chapter is called “Don’t Go to Graduate School,” too harsh if it would have discouraged someone like Brayden?
I don’t think I’m unduly harsh. I’m being scary in the book so that people will understand how tough academia can be. People won’t get the picture unless you yell a little bit. Consider the following. Roughly speaking, only 50% of doctoral students complete the PhD within ten years. Many take 7, 8 and 9 years to complete. The job market is atrocious. Only about half of PhD’s will ever get tenure track positions, some only after years of low paying post-docs. Of course, a significant number will not be promoted with tenure even if they do get a tenure track job. I would have told the younger Brayden is that these are the odds and that he should go forward if he is willing to take the risk and put in a lot of hard work.
Idealistic students will only confront these questions if you are blunt. Really blunt. That’s not pessimism. It’s honesty. It just means that graduate school is real life. You can’t pull an all nighter and get a nice piece of paper at the end. Graduate education takes effort, planning, and a lot of luck. And even then, it doesn’t always work. Grownups take this sort of calculus into account when choosing a career.
Finally, let me gently chide my friend Brayden for not reading the whole book. Near the end, I actually view the Rulz as a positive, affirming text:
I also wrote the Grad Skool Rulz out of a sense of optimism. For all its imperfections, and there are many, the academic system is a truly amazing human invention. Evolving over a period of nearly a thousand years, universities embody the knowledge that humanity has created. I am very lucky to be part of this exciting enterprise. The Grad Skool Rulz are designed to help people get past the bureaucracy of higher education so they can actually enjoy a career of research and teaching.
The most recent Nature features an article by a team of political scientists and network scholars who did an experiment using Facebook to show that strong ties influenced voting behavior in the last election. You may say, so what? We’ve known for a long time that social influence operates through strong ties in interpersonal networks. That’s not a new insight. But I think the study is innovative for a couple of reasons. The first is that the impact of of using direct messaging through Facebook was substantively significant – that is, just messaging people reminders to go out and vote increased the likelihood that the person would vote – but that the larger effect was transmitted indirectly via social contagion. Consider the setup of the experiment.
What makes a study interesting? Is it the empirical phenomena that we study or is it the theoretical contribution? For those of who are really paying attention (and I applaud you if you are), you’ll notice that I’ve asked this question before. It’s become a sort of obsession of mine. For the field of organizational theory, it’s an important discussion to have, although it’s not one that will likely yield any consensus. Scholars tend to have very strong opinions about this. Some people feel that as a field we’ve fetishized theory to the point of making our research inapplicable to the bigger world we live in. Others claim that by making “theoretical contribution” such a key component of any paper’s value, we ignore really important empirical problems. But in contrast, some scholars maintain that what makes our field lively and essential is that we are linked to one another (and across generations) via a stream of ideas that constitute theory. What makes an empirical problem worthy of study is that it can be boiled down to a crucial theoretical problem that makes it generalizable to a class of phenomena and puzzles.
At this year’s Academy of Management meetings, I was involved in a couple of panels where this issue came up. It was posed as a question, should we be interested in problems or theory? If we are interested in studying problems, we shouldn’t let theoretical trends bog us down. We should just study whatever real world problems are most compelling to us. If we’re interested primarily in theory, we need to let theory deductively guide us to those problems that help us solve a particular theoretical puzzle. Some very senior scholars in the field threw their weight behind the former view. I don’t want to name any names here, but one of the scholars who suggested we should be more interested in real-world problems is now the editor of a major journal of our field. He offered several examples of papers recently published in that journal that were primarily driven by interesting observations about empirical phenomena.
One of the new assistant professors in the crowd threw a pointed objection to the editor. And I paraphrase, “This all sounds great. I’d love to study empirical problems, but reviewers won’t let me! They keep asking me to identify the theoretical gap I’m addressing. They demand that I make a theoretical contribution.” Good point young scholar. Reviewers do that a lot. We’ve had it drilled into us from our grad school days that this is what makes a study interesting. If the paper lacks a theoretical contribution, reject it (no matter how interesting the empirical contribution may be)! This is a major obstacle, and I don’t think the esteemed editor could offer a strong counter-argument to the objection. Editors, after all, are somewhat constrained by the reviews they get. I think what we need is a new way to think about what makes a study valuable. We need new language to talk about research quality.