Archive for the ‘brayden’ Category
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.
Breaking news: The ASA has decided to change next year’s theme to Unreal Dystopias. The meetings will begin with a randomly chosen member of each section being locked in the grand ballroom, leading to a conference-long struggle for survival and paradigm supremacy. Start stockpiling your survival gear now.
The annual American Sociological Association conference is nearly upon us! I imagine some of you are going to Denver today. If you’re going to be in Denver stop by the blog party, which is covered in awesomesauce, on Saturday from 8-10 at Harry’s Bar in the lobby of the Magnolia Hotel. In addition to being a get-together of the socio-blogosphere, we will also be celebrating the release of two books, Jenn Lena’s Banding Together and Gina Neff’s Venture Labor. Orgheads will remember that we did a book forum on Banding Together earlier this year.
Feel free to highlight any sessions, events, or parties in the comments section!
The sociology and organizational theory world is mourning the loss of a great friend and leader of the field. Mayer Zald passed away this week. Mayer is a seminal and uniquely influential scholar. His influence has extended to multiple disciplines, including sociology, organizational theory, and political science. He wrote prolifically and was active through the last year of his life. To just give you an example of his ongoing engagement with scholarship, Mayer was to be a discussant at the session I’m involved with at ASA, a role he’d served so well many times. Earlier this year he’d emailed me about a book idea. I told him I was writing a paper about organizational character, and he sent me a list of papers that I shouldn’t forget to read. He was always doing that sort of thing, encouraging scholars to try be innovative while not forgetting our past, seeding new ideas and pushing the field in innovative directions in his charming, friendly, and persistent way.
In addition to his deep legacy of scholarship, Mayer will be remembered as a friend to many, for his mentoring of younger scholars, and for his devotion to ideas. He was a people person, and he cared deeply about fostering those one-on-one relationships. I remember meeting Mayer for the first time as a new assistant professor. We were at a conference with a bunch of big name scholars among whom Mayer was one of the most prominent. I managed to wind my way through the crowd surrounding Mayer to introduce myself. I was surprised to hear that he knew who I was. I guess he’d read my first Social Forces paper and he had a number of opinions about it, which I was I excited to hear! We ended up spending the next three hours together, which meant that I spent the next three hours asking him questions and basking in his great wisdom and wit. That was Mayer. He didn’t care about status differences. He just wanted to help a young scholar and he was willing to put in the time to develop that relationship and share his knowledge. I know I’m not alone in having that sort of experience with Mayer. I will always be grateful for his great example of generosity and intellectual engagement.
Mayer is my hero. I’m grateful he was my friend. I will miss him.
Many of us orgheads will be attending the Academy of Management meetings this weekend. AOM is a great place to dive into org. theory and get a taste of the trends in organizational research (see my past post on why I like AOM). One negative thing about AOM though is that it is really big and it can be easy to get lost in the vast tunnels of organizations-related research and social events. Like any conference, AOM sessions vary in their quality. I’d love to get tips about what we should be attending. Feel free to post your favorite sessions or social events in the comments.
I’ll start off by offering a few suggestions, some of which I’m participating in:
- Cultural (Ac)counting: The rise of formal organization in cultural and social domains. Tuesday, August 7, 1:15-2:45. Organized by Amanda Sharkey and Tricia Bromley. The session is about “a dramatic, but poorly understood, shift in the purposes and standing of formal organization in society, from technical structures for facilitating mainly economic transactions to corporate citizens endowed with a broadened scope of actorhood.” Some of the authors include our friend Beth Duckles, Frank Dobbin and Sandra Kalev, and Woody Powell. I’m the discussant.
- From confrontation to influence: How social movements drive the corporate sustainability agenda. Tuesday, August 7, 3-4:30. Organized by Daniel Beunza, Fabrizio Ferraro, and me. The papers in this session look at how social movements have begun adopting nonconfrontational, more collaborative tactics as means of influence over their corporate targets, leading to sometimes unexpected results. Presenters include Shon Hiatt, Ioannis Ioannou, Fabrizio and Daniel, and Mae McDonnell. Huggy Rao is the discussant.
- Occupy, economic inequality, and business: Setting the agenda. Saturday, August 4, 2:30-4:30. Come talk about the Occupy movement and the effects of economic inequality on management! Participants on the panel include Jerry Davis, Adam Cobb, and AnaMaria Peredo.
The big social events are the department receptions. Teppo’s post links to a list of those receptions (brave the Harvard reception chaos if you dare!). I’d like to encourage everyone to attend the OMT events. This is where all the cool orgheads are. In particular,
- OMT Social Hour, Monday, Aug 6 2012 7:30PM – 9:00PM, at Sheraton Boston Hotel in Back Bay Ballroom D
- OMT After Party, Monday, Aug 6 2012 9:00PM – 1:00AM, at Back Bay Social Club in the downstairs bar, 867 Boylston St.
I’ll be at the OMT parties if you want to hang out. If we’ve never met, please introduce yourself.
Neal Caren has compiled a list of the 102 most cited works in sociology journals over the last five years. There are a lot of familiar faces at the top of the list. Bourdieu’s Distinction, Raudenbush’s and Bryk’s Hierarchical Linear Models, Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged, and Grannovetter’s “Strength of Weak Ties” make up the top 5. It’s notable that Grannovetter’s 1973 piece is the only article in the top 5. The rest are books. I was also interested to see that people are still citing Coleman. He has three works on the list, including his 1990 book at the number 6 spot. Sadly, Selznick is nowhere to be found on the list (but then neither is Stinchcombe). Much of the work is highly theoretical and abstract. There is a smaller, but still prominent, set of work dedicated to methods (e.g., Raudenbush and Bryk). I’m glad to see there is still a place for big theory.
It’s striking, however, how little organizational theory there is on the list. Not counting Granovetter, whose work is really about networks and the economy broadly, no organizational theory appears on the list until 15 and 16, where Hochschild’s The Managed Heart (which might be there due to the number of citations it gets from gender scholars) and Dimaggio’s and Powell’s 1983 paper show up. There are several highly influential papers in organizational theory that I was surprised were not on the list. One could deduce from the list that sociology and organizational theory have parted ways.
I don’t think this is really true, but I think it speaks to some trends in sociology. The first is that most organizational sociology, excluding research on work and occupations, no longer appears in generalist sociology journals outside of the American Sociological Review and the American Journal of Sociology. Journals like Social Forces or Social Problems just don’t publish a lot of organizational theory. Now, there are a lot of great organizational papers that get published in ASR and AJS, but that is a very small subset of the entire population of sociology articles. The second is that Administrative Science Quarterly no longer seems to count in most sociologists’ minds as a sociology journal anymore. Perhaps its omission leads to some significant pieces of organizational sociology being underrepresented (or perhaps not since ASQ publishes fewer articles than many of the sociology journals). To be fair to Neal, I don’t think he’s unique among sociologists as failing to recognize ASQ as an important source of sociology.* One reason for this, I’m guessing, is because a lot of non-sociologists publish in it. But a lot of non-sociologists publish in other journals that are on the list as well, including Social Psychological Quarterly, Mobilization, and Social Science Research. Another reason may just be that it’s because a lot of organizational sociology is no longer taking place in sociology departments, making the subfield invisible to our peer sociologists. Although I have no data to support this, my intuition is that fewer organizational theory classes are taught in sociology Phd programs today than were taught twenty years ago. Because of this, younger sociologists are not coming into contact with organizational theory, and so they are not citing it. Again, I have no evidence that this is the case.
I don’t think organizational research is waning in quality. A lot of organizational research still gets published in ASR and AJS. But a lot of it is probably not read or consumed by most sociologists.
UPDATE: Neal has updated the analysis to include ASQ. The major effect has been to boost DiMaggio and Powell to number 10.
*And yes, I’m lobbying Neal to include ASQ in future citation analyses.
On the Atlantic blog, former orgtheory guest blogger, Gabriel Rossman, runs through the complications in deriving the price pirates should ask for a hostage.
[M]uch like how most people who haven’t studied statistics balk at the idea that the ratio of sample size to population size is irrelevant to statistical inference, people seem to have a strong intuition that the “market price” is relevant to a bilateral monopoly even though the whole idea of a bilateral monopoly is that there is not really a market but only a series of discrete one-off transactions. In the absence of substitutability, “comparable” transactions are irrelevant as they don’t imply opportunity cost. This is the main thing I found so fascinating about the Planet Money episode, over and over again the hostage’s party balked at the pirates demands as unreasonable in being out of line with the “market price.” We only get the pirates’ story second hand, but apparently at no point did they explain to the hostage’s party that “market price” doesn’t really exist in a bilateral monopoly. (Maybe Mogadishu University needs a better econ department).
There are two ways, which are only partially incompatible, to look at why people insist that there is a market price. The simple model is to see us as making Bayesian inferences about the price the other party is willing to accept. If a pirate asks me for $10 million when I know that previous ransoms for similar hostages from similar pirates were about $1 million, I face two possibilities. It may be that I’m facing an usually greedy or unreasonable pirate and $10 million really is the price from which he will not budge. However it seems more likely that I’m dealing with a regular pirate, who like most pirates in the past will ultimately settle for about $1 million but who is just floating a high initial figure in case I’m especially bad at this. In this sense the distribution of prices for similar transactions may not be directly relevant in the sense of providing opportunities for substitution (or the credible threat to avail myself of them) but it is still relevant as information about the zone of possible agreement. This is consistent with the Planet Money story in that Filipinos are cheaper to ransom than Europeans by an order of magnitude.
I’m amazed that pirates negotiate at all. Doesn’t this diminish their control? Do kidnappers do the same thing? Given that all of my knowledge of kidnapping scenarios is based on movies, my sense is that kidnappers try to avoid negotiation as this just seems to be a tactic used by law enforcement to ferret out their position. Why wouldn’t pirates operate by the same code?
One of the themes of Jenn Lena’s Banding Together is that genres organize the entire music industry, from the way that musicians create their art to the way that producers find and market it to the way that consumers form their own identities around music choices. Chapter 5 in Banding Together discusses the consequences of genres more in depth.
The keynote speaker at this spring’s South-by-Southwest festival, the Boss himself Bruce Springsteen, challenged the idea that genres should be an essential element to the way musicians create music. In his incredibly thoughtful remarks, Springsteen suggested that we live in an era in which musicians can be free to be themselves simply by creating the music that is inside them without feeling constrained by the conventions of genre.
I’d like to talk about the one thing that’s been consistent over the years, the genesis and power of creativity, the power of the songwriter, or let’s say, composer, or just creator. So whether you’re making dance music, Americana, rap music, electronica, it’s all about how you are putting what you do together. The elements you’re using don’t matter. Purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips. There is no right way, no pure way, of doing it. There’s just doing it.
We live in a post–authentic world. And today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, your influences, your personal history; and at the end of the day, it’s the power and purpose of your music that still matters (emphasis added).
It’s not as if Springsteen isn’t aware of the genres that form the backbone of the music industry. A few minutes earlier in his talk, Springsteen jokingly went through a short list of the various genres that categorized the bands wandering the streets of Austin that week, stopping to note that he had no idea what “Nintendo core” is. He added, “Just add neo– and post– to everything I said, and mention them all again.”
I think Springsteen’s main point is that it’s no longer necessary for artists to play by the rules of a specific genre to make music that resonates with a crowd. You don’t need to strive for authenticity in the same way that artists of a previous generation did because the rules for what it means to be authentic don’t apply anymore. The proliferation of new genres has, in a sense, freed musicians to do whatever the hell they want. An artist doing his version of classic blues on a synthesizer is just as authentic as is a folk artist doing an an acoustic cover of “Robot Rock.” What counts more than one’s inclusion in a genre subcategory is an artist’s workmanship and basic creative impulse.
Of course Springsteen can say this because he is The Boss. He sells out stadiums night after night. He no longer plays by the rules or conventions because of his success and popularity. But is there an element of truth to it? Do genres matter as much as they once did? I see a couple of reasons to give his argument merit. The first is that the Internet really does seem to have freed artists to “remix” and hybridize musical genres more than was done in the past. The Internet has become its own scene, reducing the importance of old geographic-based scenes, which in turn makes it more likely that people working in different genres or subgenres will be aware of and influence each other. And I also think there is some truth to the idea that precisely subdividing subgenres has the ironic effect of making those subgenres less meaningful and less constraining. Sub-subgenres are usually just hybrids of two or more genres anyway, and so what difference does it make to layer on a third or fourth genre? Melding together 4-5 new genres subsequently decreases the social distance between you and every other artist working in the space of popular music and simultaneously opens the possibility of bringing in old genres in your next creative moment. Suddenly the idea that Texas polka has real combinatorial potential for rap seems possible. I think this is what it means to say we live in a post-authentic world.
Adam Grant and Tim Pollock, two very prolific senior editors at the Academy of Management Journal, tell us how to write a compelling introduction to a scholarly article.
We only get one chance to make a first impression, and in academic publishing the introduction to your submission or your article is that chance. A good introduction hooks the reader by elucidating the topic’s impact; what scholars now know, what we do not know, and why that matters; and how the research contributes to an ongoing research conversation or starts a new conversation.
They interviewed 16 past winners of AMJ’s best article award about the process of writing introductions. Here are some of the key findings from their interviews:
At what point in the drafting process did they write their introductions? Nine percent wrote it when they first developed the idea; 23 percent wrote it at the very beginning of the drafting process; 9 percent wrote it at the very end of the process; and 59 percent wrote it somewhere in the middle of the process, often times jotting notes when they first developed the idea and/or before data collection and analysis were finished….The average award winner estimated spending 24 percent of the total writing time on the introduction.
As noted earlier, the average winner reported rewriting the introduction ten times. The minimum was three, and 45 percent reported rewriting it ten or more times.
For further insights, we asked the Best Article Award winners for their advice on how to write a great introduction. A content analysis revealed three primary categories: focusing (45%), engaging the reader (32%), and problematizing the literature (23%).
I usually give my PhD students the advice that they should write the introduction as if they are laying out a puzzle that needs to be solved (see also Ezra Zuckerman’s helpful advice about this point). Dave Whetten once told me that I ought to write the introduction as if I were speaking to just two or three people whom I’d like to convince of something. Picking those two or three people helps focus your argument. Lately I’ve found it useful when starting a new paper to write the first draft in a loose, conversational manner, ignoring academic conventions and just getting the core of the argument out there. I’ve found this helps me overcome the initial writer’s block I always face whenever starting a new project. I think it also clarifies my thinking. Rather than getting bogged down in a lengthy (and boring) literature review, writing in a more conversational tone focuses my writing on what I really want to say in the paper.
I picked up Jenn Lena’s book, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music, with unabashed enthusiasm. The book combines two of my passions: sociology and music. Like the music nerd that I am, I’ve read a lot of books written by journalists and insiders of the music industry. I’ve subscribed to Rolling Stone since I was an undergrad, and I’m a regular reader of Pitchfork. I watch Austin City Limits. I collect mp3s of obscure bands like my 12 year old son collects baseball cards. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to finally get my hands on this book – a sociological examination of music genres.
I haven’t been disappointed. The book, front to back, is full of interesting details about diverse music genres. Not surprisingly, Lena walks us through the evolution of a conventionally fascinating genre like funk, but we also get to learn about the equally interesting (but lesser known) genre of the Texas polka. She moves between genres easily, in part, because her theoretical framework gives her a lens through which you can analyze genres with very different musical sensibilities and technical distinctions. And of course, it is this lens that makes this book different from a musicological treatment of music genres. The book is less interested in the content of genres than it is in the structure of genre forms. That’s not to say that she ignores content, but the important insight she brings is that all music genres, regardless of their musical qualities, appear to have stable characteristics associated with different forms of development. If you want to understand how a music genre comes to be and how it becomes popularized as part of a canon, you need to understand the social elements that make up these genre forms.
That is how Lena’s view of genre classification differs from students of music. But what intrigued me most about her book is how Lena’s view of music genres differs from other sociological accounts of genre and form. You see, the study of classification systems, including genres, has suddenly become a huge thing in the world of sociology and organizational theory. Organizational ecologists, cultural scholars, and social psychologists have all begun to focus on how classification systems organize human experience, shape evaluation, and influence organizational outcomes. Naturally, her perspective will be compared to these related research streams. But Lena is doing something very different here, which I think sets her apart from the majority of scholars studying classification systems.
Through the first part of the book, I experienced this little mental itch that kept bugging me (not in a bad way, of course). I knew that there was something really unconventional about Lena’s take on genre but I couldn’t put it in words. Somewhere in the middle of chapter 3, I started to get a handle on it. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the weekend, the public radio show This American Life created quite a stir when they retracted a story that appeared on their show earlier this year. The retracted story was a segment from Mike Daisey’s one-man play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. (I blogged about Daisey’s story when it originally came out, saying “the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies and souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.”) It appears that Daisey fabricated parts of the story, like claiming that he met underage employees outside of a Foxconn plant where parts for Apple’s iPad were made. Many of the most moving parts of the story never actually happened. The story began to unravel when a reporter for another NPR show, Marketplace, realized that some parts of Daisey’s account didn’t sound accurate and began to do some fact-checking and discovered that Daisey’s accomplice in all of this – a translator named Cathy – disagreed about the basic facts. Anyway, it’s a big mess because NPR holds itself to high journalistic standards and they needed to cleanse themselves of Daisey’s fabrications before it all went public in some other forum. Here’s a full transcript of the retraction episode.
Needless to say, the media is having a field day with Daisey’s debacle, in which he first appeared to contritely apologize and then later defended himself as presenting a truthful representation of factory workers’ experience. For more in-depth coverage, check out these articles posted on the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Slate. Daisey has responded by claiming that his show is a work of art, not journalism, and that the central message he hoped to convey is true – that workers in factories where our precious technologies are employed in inhumane conditions and that this should affect how we feel about consuming these products. From Daisey’s own blog:
I apologized in this week’s episode to anyone who felt betrayed. I stand by that apology. But understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from—that is not a lie. That is art. That is human empathy, and it is real, and even if you curse my name I hope you’ll recognize that and continue reading, caring, and thinking.
I feel bad for Daisey because I do think that his message is an important one, and I’m glad that he got the message out there. The show was incredibly popular. The radio segment was the most downloaded show ever on This American Life. But I think Daisey created a major mess for himself. His sin is not fabricating a story, but rather it’s presenting that fabrication in the media as if it were journalism. If Daisey had never set foot on the set of public radio this would have never become a problem. Daisey’s theater performance is not the first, nor the last, piece of muckraking to dramatize truth. People have compared his work to that of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which fictionalized turn-of-the-century factory conditions in Chicago. I think another apt comparison is the movie, The Social Network. Like Daisey’s play, The Social Network draws on archival material to create a semi-fictionalized account of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. The movie is so compelling because of the emotional moments in the plot, which portrays Zuckerberg as coolly calculating, insensitive, and desperate for recognition. This version of Zuckerberg is the one that the public has come to know. We believe this is the real Zuckerberg. But like Daisey’s play, many (or most) of the scenes in the film are fabricated. The screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, gets away with it because everyone knows he’s writing a movie and not a biography. So we let him play fast and loose with the empirical details and we love him anyway. Daisey is doing the same thing in his play. Unfortunately, what he was doing changed when he moved from the theater to the radio studio and began presenting his work as factually true (which he undoubtedly did). It’s hard to look past this error on his part.
Daisey isn’t the only person to tread the thin line between factual reporting and fiction. Recently John D’Agata and Jim Fingal wrote a book about this issue called, The Lifespan of a Fact, which relays exchanges between a writer and his fact-checker (here is a review of the book by Jennifer McDonald at the New York Times). The writer, D’Agata, wrote an essay about a 16-year old boy who committed suicide by jumping from Las Vegas’s Stratosphere casino. In fact-checking the essay Fingal found over a hundred inaccuracies. D’Agata defended the inaccuracies, claiming that they helped him to artistically convey the truth of the story he was trying to tell. The fabrications, he argued, helped to uncover the basic truths the piece was about. Is this what Daisey believes he was doing? If so, why not allow people to decide for themselves by revealing the inaccuracies up front? Of course, regular listeners of This American Life know that not every story appearing on the program is factually true. They regularly present short stories or memoir-like accounts told at The Moth, none of which I assume are fact-checked. Listeners would not be dismayed to learn that a humorous anecdote from one of these storytellers was not completely factually correct. People writing memoirs, after all, remember a distorted version of the past. Psychologists tell us that memories are malleable. Novelists are professional liars. We praise them for their ability to make their fabrications believable. Occasionally, they reveal truths in the process of fabricating. We live in a subjective world, and so we’re comfortable intermingling fact and fiction. We just need better labels to tell us how to process it.