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what’s up with impact factors?

Usually when someone starts throwing citation impact data at me, my eyelids get heavy and I want to crawl into a corner for a nap. Like Teppo wrote a couple of years ago, “A focus on impact factors and related metrics can quickly lead to tiresome discussions about which journal is best, is that one better than this, what are the “A” journals, etc.  Boring.” I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, I’ve heard a lot about impact factors lately. The general weight of impact factors as a metric for assessing intellectual significance has seemed to skyrocket since the time I began training as a sociologist. Although my school is not one of them, I’ve heard of academic institutions using citation impact as a way to incentivize scholars to publish in certain journals and as a measure to assess quality in hiring and tenure cases. And yet it has never struck me as a very interesting or useful measure of scholarly worth. I can see the case for why it should be. Discussions about scholarly merit are inherently biased by people’s previous experiences, status, in-group solidarity, personal tastes, etc. It would be nice to have an objective indicator of a scholar’s or a journal’s intellectual significance, and impact factors pretend to be that. From a network perspective it makes sense. The more people who cite you, the more important your ideas should be.

My problem with impact factor is that I don’t trust the measure. I’m skeptical for a few reasons: gaming efforts by editors and authors have made them less reliable, lack of face validity, and instability in the measure. Let me touch on the gaming issue first.

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Written by brayden king

August 8, 2014 at 6:15 pm

#AOM2014

Some of you are attending the Academy of Management meetings this weekend in Philadelphia. As always, AOM is chock-full of parties, receptions, business meetings, and a few interesting panels as well. Here are a few of the panels that I think are worth seeing:

Habitus: Theoretical Foundations and Operationalization for Organization and Management Theory (including talks by John Mohr, Klaus Weber, & Marc Ventresca), Saturday at 11:45

Symbolic Management in the 21st Century (w/ Mike Pfarrer, Mae McDonnell, Jonathan Bundy, and myself), Monday at 9:45

Affinities of Language, Cultural Tool Kits, Institutional Logics: Advancing Strategies of Action (w/ Pat Thornton, Mary Ann Glynn, Steve Vaisey, Omar Lizardo, and Willie Ocasio), Monday at 11:30

The More the Merrier: Integrating Civil Society and the State in Innovation Research (including Huggy Rao, Bogdan Vasi, Sarah Soule, Jeff York, Chuck Eesley, and Shon Hiatt), Monday at 3

Where Do Capabilities Come From? (w/ Teppo Felin, Jay Barney, Michael Jacobides, and Todd Zenger), Monday at 4:45

The Manifestations of Social Class in Organizational Life (including a talk by my colleague Lauren Rivera), Tuesday at 9:45

And if you missed the OMT party last night, don’t worry, there’s another one Monday at 7:30 in room 204 of the Convention Center. There will be free drinks!

Written by brayden king

August 2, 2014 at 12:48 pm

NGOs and reputations

A couple of weeks ago I was at a workshop at Oxford about NGOs and reputations. The workshop was sponsored by the Centre for Corporate Reputation and gathered scholars from a number of disciplinary backgrounds to explore how NGOs create and maintain reputations. In addition, we were interested in examining the reputational consequences that result from their interactions with corporations. At the end of the workshop I shared some of my takeaways.

It occurred to me that a number of the papers in the workshop conceptualized NGO reputation in a similar way to how we think about corporate reputations. For example, we assume that reputations are shared perceptions that reflect how an organization (successfully or unsuccessfully) differentiates itself from competitors, or we learn that organizations strategically try to manage the impressions of their key audiences in order to create a positive reputation. But if NGO reputations are similar in most ways to corporate reputations, do we learn anything new by studying NGOs that we couldn’t learn by studying for-profit organizations? Do NGO reputations differ fundamentally from corporate reputations?

I think they are different in at least one really important way: NGOs are valued because we believe they are somehow more morally authentic than other kinds of organizations. Therefore, a NGO’s reputation is grounded in how well it meets its audience’s expectations for moral authenticity. Two questions might come to mind as I try to make the link between moral authenticity and reputation. The first is, what does it mean to be authentic anyway? It’s quite possible that the term is too fuzzy to be analytically useful or perhaps we only ascribe authenticity to organizations in a post-hoc way. And second, why should NGOs be expected to be any more morally authentic than other organizations?

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Written by brayden king

July 30, 2014 at 10:19 pm

how social movement theory and org theory became friends

Klaus Weber and I have a chapter in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organization Studies, in which we discuss the history of the connection (or lack thereof) between social movement theory and organizational theory. In writing the chapter we wanted to go back to the roots of each theory and talk about missed opportunities for intellectual cross-fertilization. Both literatures are, after all, primarily concerned with group behavior, problems of collective action and coordination, and dynamics of stability and change. Why did it take so long for the two theoretical areas to engage one another? (I should note that social movement theory has for some time borrowed ideas from org. theory, but this doesn’t really amount to full engagement in my mind.)

We argue that in the early years of American sociology, social movements and formal organizations were viewed as very distinct phenomena – social movements are irrational and disruptive and formal organizations are rational and stability-inducing – and that this characterization prevented scholars from seeing potential empirical overlap.

Research on both social movements and formal organizations was thus sparked by an interest in how individual behaviour—embedded in traditional family and societal structures as well as self-interests—is transformed in collective contexts. However, the two emerging fields focused on rather different forms of transformation. Social movement theory evolved from a subfield that saw collective action as irrational, spontaneous, emotional, and emergent (Blumer, 1957; Smelser, 1963; Turner & Killian, 1957); whereas organizational theory was largely focused on the rational pursuit of collective goals within the walls of bureaucracy (Crozier, 1964; Gouldner, 1954; Weber, 1947). Moreover, early collective action research saw spontaneous crowd behaviour as disruptive of social order, while organization theorists saw formal organizations as sources of social domination and stability. To the eyes of sociologists at the time, social movements were typically ephemeral, deviant, and potentially destructive (Couch, 1968). Formal organizations, in contrast, were purposefully organized, stability-inducing, and functional. It is no surprise that collective behaviour and organizational scholars in the 1950s and 1960s saw few commonalities.

In doing research for the paper we uncovered a really fascinating quote from a 1959 Social Problems article by Lewis Yablonsky, a sociologist studying gangs as a form of social organization. (Interestingly, before becoming a sociologist, Yablonsky claimed to have grown up on the streets and became a proficient dice and card hustler. Naturally, once he became an academic he gravitated to the study of deviant behavior.) In the article, Yablonsky explicitly compares collective behavior, like crowds and mobs, and formal organizations.

At one extreme, we have a highly organized, cohesive, functioning collection of individuals as members of a sociological group. At the other extreme, we have a mob of individuals characterized by anonymity, disturbed leadership, motivated by emotion, and in some cases representing a destructive collectivity within the inclusive social system. (Yablonsky, 1959: 108)

Yablonsky, a keen observer of social life, came to the conclusion that there are many types of organizations that exist in the middle of this continuum. Yablonsky’s insight, although he meant it to apply specifically to gangs, has since become widely shared by both social movement and organizational scholars. Social movements are much more organized, routinized, and rational than previously thought, but they are still frequently characterized by intense emotions and contagion-like processes. Formal organizations are much less permanent and stable and more emotional than a previous generation of scholars believed, but it is the  existence of routines and collective identity that allow them to resist environmental threats. The more we understand both phenomena, the more we recognize similarities. Pioneers in the field like Mayer Zald and John McCarthy realized this early on and helped make those connections. In more recent years, the bridge between the two fields has been developed more fully as organizational scholars have gone to social movement theory to re-conceptualize the organization as a political actor that is shaped by various ongoing kinds of collective action.

Our paper talks about how the two fields became friends and offers a few insights about where we think the fields are heading and what might be gained from further merging. Check it out if you’re interested.

Written by brayden king

July 24, 2014 at 5:11 pm

rethinking Jerry Davis

I’ve spent the past few days at the EGOS meetings in Rotterdam. If you’re not an organizational scholar, EGOS is the acronym for the European Group for Organizational Studies – an interdisciplinary network of organizational scholars from both sides of the ocean. The theme of this year’s meeting was about reimagining and rethinking organizations during unsettled times. Naturally, they asked Jerry Davis – who has done more reimagining and rethinking of organizational theory than most – to be the keynote speaker.

Jerry’s keynote was, as expected, a witty, concise, empirically-driven argument for why the corporation has ceased to be a major institution in society (the impromptu dancing was an unexpected delight). If you’re not familiar with his argument, you should really read his book, Managed by the Markets, a real page-turner that explains how the growth of financial markets accompanied the deterioration of the public corporation as a major employer and provider of public welfare in contemporary society.  I’ve heard him give a version of this talk several times, and like every other time I left his talk feeling uncomfortable with some of his conclusions. Feeling uncomfortable is an understatement. I disagree with his conclusions. But I still think that Jerry has done an excellent job of marshaling data that can lead to a scarier and even more cynical conclusion than the one he claims.

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Written by brayden king

July 5, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Posted in brayden, power, the man

gender bias in b-schools

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management issued an internal report that found that the school is “inhospitable to women faculty.” The report contains both comparative data and anecdotal evidence suggesting that women faculty have experienced impediments to advancement.

Women made up 20% of tenure-track faculty at Anderson and 14.3% of those with tenure in the 2012-2013 academic year, including Dr. Olian, according to school figures.  By comparison, an analysis of 16 peer institutions—including the bMK-CM854_ANDERS_G_20140604195103usiness schools at the University of Virginia, Stanford University and University of Michigan—found that, on average, about 30% of tenure-track and 19.5% of tenured faculty were women in the 2012-2013 year…
The internal report states that women have high rates of job satisfaction when beginning careers at the school, but face a “lack of respect” regarding their work and “unevenly applied” standards on decisions about pay and promotions.
Twice in the past three years, the university’s governing academic body took the relatively rare step of overruling Dr. Olian, who had recommended against the promotion of one woman and against giving tenure to another, according to four Anderson professors.
In one case, the university found that policies allowing faculty to take parental leave without falling behind on the tenure track had been incorrectly applied to the candidate. In that same period, they said, a male candidate for promotion passed through the Anderson review, but didn’t get clearance from the university.

Even though UCLA’s business school stands out, the numbers reported in the article show that gender inequity plagues most top business schools. In 2010 45% of tenure-line faculty in psychology departments were women. In sociology, more than 50% of assistant professors are women, and roughly half of associate professors are women.  Women in psychology and sociology are doing much better in attaining tenured positions than are women in business schools.
So why are women not more represented on business school faculty? One possible reason is that business schools are still dominated and/or highly influenced by economics, in which the gender composition is heavily slanted toward men. According to a Wall Street Journal article from last year, women only get 32% of PhDs in economics (compared to 58% in the other social sciences).

In 2012, women accounted for 28.3% of untenured assistant professors, 40% of untenured associate professors, 21.6% of tenured associate professors and just 11.6% of full tenured professors.

In other words, women in economics are more likely to end up in untenured adjunct positions than they are in tenured faculty positions. This gender inequity in economics seeps into business schools since this is the discipline that most influences our research and teaching.

Written by brayden king

June 9, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Posted in academia, brayden, gender

sociologists, conflict, and the boundaries of a discipline

This spring Washington University in St. Louis announced that they are bringing sociology back to their campus. The department of sociology at Wash. U. was infamously phased out of existence by the late 1980s after highly visible controversies and power struggles. At a time, when many sociology departments across the U.S. are losing students and faculty, sociology’s relaunch at Wash. U. is an indication of its value within a liberal arts academic curriculum. As their dean of Arts and Sciences said, reestablishing sociology will “enhance our ability to educate our students and conduct world-class research in areas that are central to the critical social issues of our time.”

Yesterday afternoon I got sucked into reading about the drama that unfolded at Wash U. in the late 1960s and 70s that led to the department’s demise and its gradual displacement as a top sociology department. You can read more about the department’s conflict-ridden history in an article that David Pittman and Deirdre Boden wrote for the American Sociologist. They note that prior to 1968 the department was the home of a number of renowned sociologists, including the legendary Alvin Gouldner. The department had a strong graduate program that would have been ranked in the top 10 had they done rankings at that time. In addition, the department had a reputation for being cutting-edge while also embracing a more democratic style of governance, which included allowing PhD students to have some input over important departmental decisions. Gouldner was (and still is) a famous sociologist who had built a department that was doing rigorous sociological research while also challenging the sociological orthodoxy of the time. If Harvard was the seat of status quo sociology, Wash. U. was the capital of radical sociology. In many respects, Wash. U. sociology in the 1960s was what sociology would become in the contemporary era – a place where studying social problems, conflict, and inequality with a mixed methodological toolkit dominated the research agenda.

But in 1968, Wash U.’s sociology department came under attack from both within and from outside the department. 1968 was a tumultuous year in academia, not just in St. Louis but throughout much of academia. Students were protesting against the war, and more relevant to the academic setting, many student activists were seeking to give more input into university decisions.  Many of the old establishment in sociology were under fire for being too conservative. Even at a place like Wash. U., where Gouldner was by all accounts a committed left-of-center sociologist, students rankled at his exactness and unwillingness to compromise. Earlier in his career Gouldner had founded a journal Trans-action – a journal aimed at translating sociological ideas in a jargon-free way to mass audiences (similar to today’s Contexts) – with Lee Rainwater and Irving Louis Horowitz, two other senior professors in the department.  As a recent article by Edward Shapiro notes, Gouldner strongly believed in the necessity of sociologists to get away from “academic purism” and to make sociological research meaningful for the times. Gouldner had ceded control of the journal to Horowitz when he was away on sabbatical in Europe but when he returned in 1966, Horowitz refused to turn the journal back over to Gouldner. Horowitz wanted to take the journal in a more radical direction than Gouldner, exploring previously unexplored topics that interested the new generation of sociologists, while Gouldner believed the journal ought to be linked to the journalistic establishment. Also having relinquished the position of department chair, Gouldner suddenly found himself lacking the influence he once had. Conflict erupted between Gouldner and Horowitz/Rainwater, which eventually led to enough disruptions within the department that Gouldner was removed from the department as a faculty member and appointed to a university chair.  At the same time, graduate students were organizing among themselves and asking for more say and influence over departmental decisions, like the ability to veto faculty hires. Laud Humphreys, one of the more senior and outspoken grad students and a protege of Rainwater (Gouldner’s rival), got caught up in the toxic situation.

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Written by brayden king

May 27, 2014 at 10:12 pm

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