Archive for the ‘brayden’ Category
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.
[G]etting in the faces of the previously untouchable professional class has inevitably led to legal threats. He says he gets about one each week over negative reviews and receives subpoenas every month or two for information that can help identify reviewers, who believe they are posting anonymously.
Over at Angie’s List, service providers have sued reviewers, whose names are known to the company, “a handful” of times, according to the company. Angie’s List has paid their legal fees in the past, but a co-founder of the site, Angie Hicks, said she could not commit to doing that in every case in the future.
None of the litigants at Angie’s List have been doctors so far, but that doesn’t mean they are thrilled with her health reviews. “They told me that ‘patients aren’t smart enough to figure out whether I’m a good doctor,’ ” she said. “But I told them that these conversations have been happening all along.” The only difference with the site, she pointed out, is that the doctors get to listen in.
Some doctors have silenced patients anyway. Several years ago, a physician reputation management service called Medical Justice developed a sort of liability vaccine. Doctors would ask patients to sign an agreement promising not to post about the doctor online; in exchange, patients would get additional privacy protections.
This struck me as the height of audacity, and when I shared my feelings with the company, I was informed that the agreements had outlived their usefulness. What neither its vice president of marketing, Shane Stadler, nor its founder and chief executive, Jeffrey Segal, told me, however, was that the company had retired the agreements in the wake of a lawsuit related to them and a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission.
Medical Justice has now turned 180 degrees and embraced the review sites. It helpfully supplies its client doctors with iPads that they can give to patients as they are leaving. Patients write a review, and Medical Justice makes sure that the comments are posted on a review site.
Health services industries need to be reviewed. Patients would benefit tremendously by getting more high quality information about how doctor’s offices work (e.g., how long is the wait? do you see a different doctor every time?). I remember when my family moved to Evanston finding it really difficult to locate a good doctor’s office that met all of our family’s needs. I’m still not completely happy with our doctor, but the switching costs are sufficiently high that behavioral inertia has taken over.
Accountability in the medical field is a problem, especially now that doctors offices have begun to fully embrace the market logic, which means that from the patient’s perspective you’re treated more as a customer and less as an individual. But doctor’s resistance to monitoring, as could be had with anonymous review sites, is completely understandable from their perspective. They want the profits that the market logic/business model brings, but they also want to maintain their professional autonomy and discretion. Once you introduce patient feedback into that process, the profession begins to lose some of its autonomy.
The political scientist James Q. Wilson passed away this morning. Wilson was an important public intellectual, but he will be remembered within academia as a social scientist whose interests spanned multiple disciplines. In the very first organizational theory class I ever took we read his book, Bureacracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It. The book is an evenhanded examination of government organizations, highlighting what they do really well and not so well and offering solutions for how to improve their effectiveness. I remember the book as bringing Weber to life and making bureaucratic theory relevant. Wilson was a political scientist by training but his greatest contributions may have been in criminology. He had a way of writing that grabbed attention and made you want to read more. Take for instance the first paragraph of his 1964 AJS paper:
The Irish cop, like the Irish politician, has long been a legendary figure. And like many legends, this one has been in great part the popular expression of a sound sociological insight-that the big-city police department, like the big-city political machine, has been an important avenue of upward mobility for a sizable American ethnic group. The difficulty with the insight is that it has not kept up with the legend: The police forces of many large cities have continued to be heavily Irish Catholic long after the great wave of Irish immigration subsided and long after the spread of mass education, the collapse of anti-Irish discriminatory practices, and the growth of the urban middle class should have made police work a career of diminishing value to a group so long in this country.
The paper goes on to propose that an ethnic conception of “Irishness” had become tightly linked with “copness.” The meaning around ethnicity had become tied to a particular career pathway. Although certainly not groundbreaking, the article highlights Wilson’s versatility as a social scientist. Certainly as his career progressed, Wilson became known for his conservative views, but categorizing Wilson as just another neo-conservative does not do his work justice.
Henrich Greve has a blog!! We’re happy to welcome Henrich, an ASQ editor and prolific organizational scholar, to the blogosphere. Henrich’s posts discuss the practical implications of papers recently published in organization theory journals. In this post he discusses an ASQ paper by Matthew Bidwell about the performance and pay of external hires versus internal hires. Here he draws on a paper by Elizabeth Boyle and Zur Shapira to assess how organizations manage risks through incentives and monitoring. And in this post he talks about the implications of his own research on corporate deviance and legitimacy loss to assess how Carnival’s CEO handled the recent shipwreck of the Costa Concordia.
If you’re an organizational scholar this is a must-read blog.
Eric Klinenberg is a sociologist who also happens to be a very good writer. Who needs a Malcolm Gladwell to popularize sociology when we already have good writers, like Klinenberg, in the discipline? His book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago is an example of his ability to present empirical sociology in an engaging and lucid form.
Eric’s latest book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, expands on a theme of Heat Wave: that living alone is a growing trend, especially in urban areas, that has changed the nature of community and relationships. In his former book Eric showed that the people most susceptible to the negative consequences of a major environmental disaster, like a heat wave, were those who lived alone and lacked a social safety net to assist them during the crisis. Although in Heat Wave he focused on the deleterious effects of “living and dying alone,” this book takes a broader perspective by first trying to understand why more people are making this life choice and then by examining its consequences on life quality.
One of the interesting insights of Going Solo is that living alone has become easier for people to do because there are so many ways in which people can create and flourish abundant social lives outside the home. Facebook, email, texting, and other social media provide numerous points of contact that shorten the social distance between friends and family. Someone who lived alone 30 years ago might have felt isolated because it was much more costly and difficult to maintain close contact with friends, but now personal communication with friends and family has become so easy to do that it can almost be overwhelming.
One woman we interviewed, an attorney in her early thirties who works in politics, tells me: ‘Of my nine-hour day, I’m spending seven hours responding to emails’ – mostly job related, but many from friends and family too. ‘I also have, like, three hundred fifty people in my cell phone,’ she explains. It buzzes often, she checks it constantly, and she always tries to respond quickly, even if she’s out with friends and the call or message is from work.
This behavior is not unusual. Although we often associate living alone with social isolation, for most adults the reverse is true. In many cases, those who live alone are socially overextended, and hyperactive use of digital media keeps them even busier. The young urban professionals we interviewed reported that they struggle more with avoiding the distraction of always available social activity, from evenings with friends to online chatter, than with being disconnected. ‘Singles in the U.S.: The New Nuclear Family’ confirms this. The large-scale study by the market research firm Packaged Facts reports that those who live alone are more likely than others to say that the Internet has changed the way they spend their free time, more likely to be online late at night, and more likely to say that using the Net has cut into their sleep. Not that they are homebodies. According to a Pew Foundation study of social isolation and technology, heavy users of the Internet and social media are actually more likely than others to have large and diverse social networks, visit public places where strangers may interact, and participate in volunteer organizations (pg. 64).
If people used to seek domestic life in order to avoid social isolation, social technology seems to have weakened some of that need. People, especially those who can afford to stay connected and have a busy social life, may find pairing up and having kids less appealing than ever.
This book is full of fascinating facts and anecdotes about why and how people manage to live alone. This would be a great book for undergraduate courses in urban/community sociology, social networks, social problems, or even an introductory course in sociology.
Was the financial crisis caused by corporate psychopaths? Clive Boddy, writing in the Journal of Business Ethics, seems to think so.
These corporate collapses have gathered pace in recent years, especially in the western world, and have culminated in the Global Financial Crisis that we are now in. In watching these events unfold it often appears that the senior directors involved walk away with a clean conscience and huge amounts of money. Further, they seem to be unaffected by the corporate collapses they have created. They present themselves as glibly unbothered by the chaos around them, unconcerned about those who have lost their jobs, savings, and investments, and as lacking any regrets about what they have done. They cheerfully lie about their involvement in events are very persuasive in blaming others for what has happened and have no doubts about their own continued worth and value. They are happy to walk away from the economic disaster that they have managed to bring about, with huge payoffs and with new roles advising governments how to prevent such economic disasters.
Many of these people display several of the characteristics of psychopaths and some of them are undoubtedly true psychopaths. Psychopaths are the 1% of people who have no conscience or empathy and who do not care for anyone other than themselves. Some psychopaths are violent and end up in jail, others forge careers in corporations. The latter group who forge successful corporate careers is called Corporate Psychopaths.
I have a complaint to make to the editors of the Journal of Business Ethics. Why is the term “Corporate Psychopaths” capitalized every time it appears in the paper? As if that’s not enough, why do we need the to capitalize “Global Financial Crisis” every time it appears in the paper? This combination leads to unattractive sentences like this:
The knowledge that Corporate Psychopaths are to be found at the top of organisations and seem to favour working with other people’s money in large financial organisations has in turn, led to the development of the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis. The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is that Corporate Psychopaths, rising to key senior positions within modern financial corporations…..
Why not just capitalize and put in bold every letter and add blinking animation for emphasis?
It’s been a while since we’ve knocked heads with our evil twin blog. I can’t let this one pass. Peter Klein misrepresents the main point of this Jonah Lehrer New Yorker article, which dissects the myth that brainstorming leads to creativity and greater problem solving. Citing a quote by former orgtheory guest blogger Keith Sawyer – “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas” – Peter implies that groups would be more creative if they’d just let individuals work on their own. This fits nicely with a pure reductionist perspective but it’s not at all what the article is really trying to say.
This is the conclusion that Peter should have drawn from the essay: “[L]ike it or not, human creativity has increasingly become a group process.” Lehrer goes on to cite research by my colleagues at Northwestern, Ben Jones and Brian Uzzi, which shows that both scientists and Broadway teams are more successful and creative when bringing together teams made up of diverse individuals. From an article in Science by Wuchty, Jones, and Uzzi:
By analyzing 19.9 million peer-reviewed academic papers and 2.1 million patents from the past fifty years, [Jones] has shown that levels of teamwork have increased in more than ninety-five per cent of scientific subfields; the size of the average team has increased by about twenty per cent each decade. The most frequently cited studies in a field used to be the product of a lone genius, like Einstein or Darwin. Today, regardless of whether researchers are studying particle physics or human genetics, science papers by multiple authors receive more than twice as many citations as those by individuals. This trend was even more apparent when it came to so-called “home-run papers”—publications with at least a hundred citations. These were more than six times as likely to come from a team of scientists.
And summarizing Uzzi’s and Spiro’s AJS paper on Broadway shows:
Uzzi devised a way to quantify the density of these connections, a figure he called Q. If musicals were being developed by teams of artists that had worked together several times before—a common practice, because Broadway producers see “incumbent teams” as less risky—those musicals would have an extremely high Q. A musical created by a team of strangers would have a low Q…..When the Q was low—less than 1.7 on Uzzi’s five-point scale—the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn’t know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas. “This wasn’t so surprising,” Uzzi says. “It takes time to develop a successful collaboration.” But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation. According to Uzzi, this is what happened on Broadway during the nineteen-twenties, which he made the focus of a separate study. The decade is remembered for its glittering array of talent—Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, and so on—but Uzzi’s data reveals that ninety per cent of musicals produced during the decade were flops, far above the historical norm. “Broadway had some of the biggest names ever,” Uzzi explains. “But the shows were too full of repeat relationships, and that stifled creativity.”
It’s not that groups aren’t effective generators of creativity. As these studies show, innovation tends to be produced via group processes. Knowledge production is increasingly a collective outcome. Rather than assume that people work best alone, we should think more carefully about what kinds of groups are optimally designed for producing creativity. Diverse groups will be more creative than homogeneous groups. Groups that embrace conflict and critical thought will be less susceptible to groupthink than groups that avoid such conflict. Groups made up of members who have little experience with outsiders will be less creative. I agree with Peter that brainstorming is ineffectively taught in many classrooms, but rather than throw out the idea altogether, we should try to teach people how to design groups that are good at generating new ideas.
John Levi Martin’s new book, The Explanation of Social Action, is a riot, meaning I’m thoroughly entertained and intellectually provoked at the same time. The ultimate aim of the book is to provide a new basis for judging the quality of social theory. I’ll say more later about how well he accomplishes this goal. For now I just want to draw attention to one of my favorite footnotes of all time. It appears early in the book when John is talking about theorists he is going to discuss and those he dismisses by their absence:
I might reasonably also be asked why no use is made here of the work of Garfinkel (e.g., 2002), which had many of the same influences and made many of the same critiques of conventional sociological explanation. The answer is simple: Garfinkel chose to write in gobbledy-gook, and although I do not begrudge him the enjoyment he so obviously received from this activity, I also see no reason to wade through the results to extract arguments that were made previously and more clearly by others. Finally, rather than indicate to his sociological readers that there was a wide range of inspiring and dissenting traditions from which they could draw (the approach of the current work), Garfinkel instead attempted to put his own formalizations in between his students and the phenomenological tradition, acting more like a cult leader than a scholar. Even did I not find this somewhat disappointing on a human level, it would make little scientific sense to reward such behavior.
This gives you a taste for the kind of book he has written. You may not agree with everything John writes in this book, but he certainly knows how to make punchy points.
Bourdieu is everywhere in social theory these days. Ranging from practice theory to studies of taste and consumption, you can find Bourdieu lurking in the background and quite often taking center stage. Bourdieu may be the most blogged-about theorist here on orgtheory. He’s so easily transportable because of the generality of his concepts and because he wrote extensively on so many different things during his career. Given the expanse of his theoretical contributions, it can sometimes be hard to pin down Bourdieu as a theorist. The reason for this, suggests my prolific co-blogger Omar Lizardo in this commentary forthcoming in Sociological Forum, is that Bourdieu’s contributions to American sociology have occurred over various stages, creating multiple clusters of Bourdieuian-influenced theorists. Depending on which cluster you’re a part of, you’re getting a slightly different angle on the Bourdieuian perspective. I highly recommend reading Omar’s commentary for anyone who thinks they know (or would like to get to know) Bourdieu’s work. It helps put Bourdieu in historical context.
The final stage of Bourdieuian influence, which is an emerging trend Omar admits, is focused on embodiment, cognition, and action. Although he doesn’t mention it in the essay, I have noticed that a strong community in institutional theory has really grabbed on to this this aspect of Bourdieu. Institutional theory in the late 80s through the mid-90s was heavily influenced by Bourdieu’s field theory (Omar’s stage 2 of Bourdieuian influence), but in recent years institutional theorists have become less interested in the constraining aspects of field forces and more interested in how institutional change bubbles up from below, which places more emphasis on agency and reflexive cognition. Scholars interested in institutional entrepreneurship and institutional work (for example, read Lawrence, Suddaby, and Leca), in particular, seem to be drawing more and more from Bourdieu’s theory of practice. The attractiveness of practice theory is that you don’t have to completely shed your structural view of institutions and fields to develop an endogenous explanations for how people create local worlds of resistance and novelty. Although I think it’s fair to question how well executed many of these studies are, I’ve noticed that a large portion of institutional theory has moved from stage 2 in Omar’s depiction of Bourdieu to stage 3.
Perhaps this is the reason why I’ve heard so many grumblings from people in the institutional theory world about Fligstein’s and McAdam’s work on “strategic action fields.” The F&M conceptualization of institutions and change is still very stage 2 in its understanding of how actors are situated in a field and how fields evolve over time. But this no longer resonates with many institutional theorists, who have already moved beyond this conceptualization of institutions to a stage 3 model in which actors are embedded in multiple fields and possess more agency than the actors of a fixed field world. While the former view is more structural and deterministic, the latter view is more cognitive and stochastic. F&M do very little to bridge stage 2 with stage 3 Bourdieu (although one could argue, but they don’t, that the concept of “social skill” derives from practice theory).
The latest episode of This American Life is a breathtaking first-person account of a Mac aficionado’s visit to an electronics manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China. Here he meets some of the workers who put iPhones together and discovers that the entire manufacturing process is done by hand! He learns of the incredible toll this process of constructing little electronics goods has on their health and lives. The account, partly due to Mike Daisey’s engaging monologue style, is really unforgettable and disturbing. One of my favorite lines from Daisy’s account:
How often do we wish more things were hand-made? Oh, we talk about that all the time, don’t we? I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch. But that’s not true. There are more hand-made things now than there have ever been in the history of the world. Everything is hand-made. I know, I have been there. I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than human hair, one after another after another. Everything is hand-made.
In typical TAL style, they try to get the other side of the story and the last ten minutes of the episode really grapple with the effects of sweatshop labor on economic mobility. Still, the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies are souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.
Tis the season of the academic job market. I stopped by this morning to see that the sociology job market rumor mill is up and running. Read at your own risk. I can never tell how accurate this information is or if trying to gauge the information/noise ratio is worth the effort. Still, it’s there to read (either as a tool or as a setting of ethnographic research). I’m not sure if there is an equivalent board exclusively for the management market, but if anyone knows about such a board please post it in comments.
I’m sure many of you have seen the announcement already, but in case you haven’t, my department at Northwestern is hiring. This is a multidisciplinary search. We’re looking for qualified candidates who have PhDs in “organizational behavior, management, strategy, sociology, psychology, and related fields.” So, that includes just about every PhD in our readership. Here’s the official announcement. The application deadline is Nov. 15.
Institutional theorists have become obsessed with explaining sources of institutional change in organizations. During neoinstitutional theory’s rise to prominence, it was mostly a theory of stability and homogenization of society, but in the last decade or so more and more institutional scholars have started focusing on change dynamics. There are some obviously good reasons for this, including the purpose of making institutional theory a more useful tool. Theories of institutional change often try to find endogenous explanations, e.g., institutional contradictions, competition between institutional logics. Still most of these explanations, because they give primacy to higher-level processes, ignore what’s going on at the ground level or at least fail to take into account the processes whereby people change their beliefs, adapt values, and alter their identities to make room for a new institutional practice.
In our rush to generate endogenous explanations for institutional change, it seems that some of the obvious micro-level processes of institutional change have been ignored. This research completely ignores the people whose “hearts and minds” must change in order to actually create lasting institutional change, even though for a new routine to become institutionalized people have to put it into action and for a new policy to be seen as “legitimate” people have to be convinced of the policy’s appropriateness. Perhaps the lack of emphasis on these micro-dynamics is the result of methodological biases. Demographic analysis, public opinion research, and experimental methods are mostly outside the toolkit of most institutional theorists. And yet, there’s probably a lot we could get from these analyses.
One potentially very important mechanism of institutional change is cohort replacement. By that I mean the replacement of old guards of organizational members and leaders with newer cohorts who have different beliefs, opinions, and values. It’s strange, when you think about it, that institutional theorists haven’t considered in any serious way how cohort replacement affects organizational practices and policies, even though opinion research indicates that cohort differences explain significant variation in beliefs and attitudes. Cohort differences may often matter more than life stage differences in explaining political opinions and attitudes. Take the case of liberalizing beliefs about same sex marriage. One study indicates that about half of the growth in support for same sex marriage is the result of cohort replacement. Younger generations are simply more open to this practice than preceding generations. We can expect that in a couple of generations, same sex marriage will be legal everywhere due to cohort replacement.
How might cohort replacement explain organizational change? One way to examine this would be to look at how demographic differences across organizations explain openness to new policies/practices or rates of early adoption. Another fruitful path would be to explain how cohort replacement creates identity conflict in organizations, a potentially crucial source of friction underlying change. Cohorts, in this sense, could be conceptualized as the carriers of different identities and logics. A nice illustration of this type of research is Nancy Whittier’s 1997 ASR paper about micro-cohorts and the transformation of the feminist movement. Even though the paper is often cited as an important illustration of how collective identity matters in movements, I think it’s undervalued as a study of institutional change. Another potential line of investigation would be to examine the link between cohort replacement and selection processes at the field level-of-analysis. One of my students pointed out to me yesterday that Haveman’s and Rao’s 1997 AJS paper on the thrift industry relies to an extent on the imagery of cohort replacement to explain why certain forms of thrift were selected.
More generally speaking, there should be a stronger link between research on organizational demography (e.g., see Damon Phillips’s work on law firms; Heather Haveman on managerial tenure) and institutional theory. Obviously, rates of entry and exit of managers affect organizational processes. The question for institutional theory is, how do these demographic changes affect institutional stability and heterogeneity?
Someone out there must use LinkedIn and know how its networking tools work. If that’s you, I need your help. I’d like to use LinkedIn to show students how to analyze their social network. I know that LinkedIn has its own network mapping tool that lets you visualize your network, but I don’t know if there is a way to export the nodes so that you can do your own analysis of it. I’d really like a way to export the network in a text or excel file. Does anyone know of a way to do this?
One of my reading habits that changed significantly after leaving grad school was that I started reading more popular nonfiction. In grad school my reading time was completely soaked with accumulating a knowledge of the Literature. If I ever wanted a break, I’d pick up a novel and have a few moments of respite before diving into the next treatise on decoupling and organizational routines. But recently I’ve started reading more popular nonfiction. I still like escapist reading, and good nonfiction can be as absorbing as any novel. I’m also constantly on the search for good observational details about organizational life that I can pull into the classroom. Students in my undergrad classes at BYU got pretty sick of every organizational example I’d use being about church or school. Second hand stories from a friend of a friend who works at an investment bank don’t carry the same punch. But there are plenty of great examples of organizational intrigue in compelling nonfiction. MBA students also thrive on real life illustrations. Another reason is that good nonfiction writing often comes with its own ethnographic analysis that can be readily adapted to the concept or idea we’re trying to explain in class. There are some obvious examples that often get picked up (e.g., Liar’s Poker; Moneyball; Team of Rivals), but here are some books that you might not have thought of as having good organizational analysis in them. I’ve used (or will use) all of them in class.
- Our Band Could be Your Life by Michael Azerrad. The chapters of the book are a series of vignettes about indie rock bands formed in the 80s and 90s and their attempts to build a fan base with very little organizational infrastructure or label support. Azerrad captures a number of dynamics in the music industry – collective identity and genre creation, entrepreneurship, anti-corporate movements, team building – that would make great fodder for class discussions.
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. This was a popular press book that launched Bourdain’s career as the Travel Channel’s official tour guide to the world. People familiar with the show will recognize his schtick, but what will surprise you are all of the gritty details Bourdain reveals about life in the kitchens of New York. It’s a great case study of how a partially underground labor market works, the dynamics around organizational loyalty and commitment, and a solid memoir of work.
- These Guys Have All the Fun by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. I’m still finishing this one, but I can already tell you that it’s a rich source of details about the power and politics inside a well-functioning organization, the cable sports network ESPN. I read a review of the book that said there were too many details in this book about the mundane details of business and not enough about the personalities behind the show. I think that’s exactly the reason I love the book! Miller and Shales, by collecting a bunch of oral histories of current and past employees of ESPN, tell a super engaging story about how a small business gets started and becomes a dominant player in the television industry. Much of the focus of the book is about the behind-the-scenes interactions of people creating an entirely new industry and about the business acumen and political savvy needed to survive that kind of launch.
- King of the Club by Charles Gasparino. This book follows the rise and fall of Richard Grasso, the former chair of the NYSE who was notoriously ousted from his position after the public discovered he was due a compensation worth over $100 million. The details about the eventual compensation scandal were intriguing, of course, but what makes this book great is its demonstration of how Grasso climbed the corporate ladder, starting off on the lowest rung on the totem pole and ending up the most powerful man on Wall Street. I use this book in my MBA class to talk about the importance of the “rules of the game.” Grasso was adept early on at learning and mastering those rules, but at some point he become detached from the broader cultural expectations of equity and fairness, which led him to make some poor political calculations.
- The Beatles by Bob Spitz. Yep, this is the greatest book about teamwork and the deterioration of a team that I’ve ever read. One of my favorite parts of the book is the telling of them learning how to be the Beatles during their time in Hamburg.
Yeah, I know, the answer to this question is no. In numerous ways, sociology has evolved into a discipline with a strong liberal tendency, especially inasmuch as much sociological research is about inequality, its causes, and potential solutions. Our emphasis on inequality, economic and social, is perhaps the distinctive feature of a contemporary sociological perspective. You can’t get any more liberal than that, right?
But a couple of things happened at the last ASA that made me rethink this fairly simplistic take on sociology. Both of these issues have been discussed on other blogs and so I’ll refer you to those blogs to get more information. The first issue was the pointedly negative reaction that a number of sociologists had to Vegas as a host city. It was actually surprising to me that many sociologists’ reactions to Vegas were so condemning and prudish. It wasn’t just they disliked the Vegas aesthetic – in my conversations with some of my colleagues, whose opinions I greatly respect, there seemed to be a condemnation of the very idea of Vegas as something morally reprehensible. This made me think twice about my long-held view that sociology is morally relativistic. That’s not to say that I thought sociologists didn’t have morals, but I just like to imagine that the discipline itself is more-or-less value neutral. Maybe that’s a bad assumption. Deep inside the sociological imagination, I think there are a strong set of values that guide sociologists’ work (e.g., an aversion to exploitation). Vegas seemed to provoke that moral center.
The second issue was the award given to David Brooks for “Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues.” Now I’m not a huge Brooks fan, and I think a lot of sociologists share this view. In fact, enough sociologists have a distaste for Brooks that the reception of his award was apparently accompanied by some jeers and boos. I wasn’t there to see this, but it’s not surprising to me. It is disappointing though. Despite my reservations about the quality of Brooksian analysis, I do think that it’s wise to cultivate relationships with journalists who read and translate sociology to the masses. Brooks is definitely in that camp. But Doug Hartmann thinks there is another reason we shouldn’t exclude people like Brooks from our discipline’s outreach efforts. It is because he believes there is a genuine conservative perspective within sociology. Here’s Hartmann:
But even to the extent he does represent particular ideological points of view (and who doesn’t?), we will step up and defend Brooks’s right to read, interpret, and mobilize our work. Anything less would be both elitist and a failure to appreciate our discipline’s genuinely conservative (not Republican) impulses and insights with respect to norms, solidarity, and the high ideals that support and sustain social order and democracy in the contemporary world.
I like the distinction Hartmann makes between conservatism and Republicanism. The two shouldn’t be equated. I think what he means is that many sociologists do ultimately care about designing institutions that promote ideals and values. We may not always agree on what those values are (although we have a general consensus that exploitation and inequality are bad!), but sociology should be open to a conversation about what those values are. Anyway, if nothing else, the Vegas-ASA experience has made me aware of the need for greater disciplinary self-reflexivity about the values that motivate our work.
Like many of our readers who belong to the Academy of Management, I’m headed to San Antonio tomorrow for the annual meetings. Tex-Mex awaits, yum.
Here is a list of events sponsored by the Organization and Management Theory division. It looks like we’ll have at least two chances to socialize – tomorrow at the OMT reception and Monday evening at the OMT social hour. If you see me at the reception be sure to say hello.
We can always count on Sekou to tell us where the parties are. If you’re looking for a soundtrack for your San Antonio experience, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist just for you. All of the songs are about Texas or by an artist from Texas.
Feel free to post interesting sessions or panels in the comments section.
Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld published an important paper in the American Sociological Review that shows that deunionization has significantly contributed to increases in economic inequality. They make the case that the effect of deunionization on inequality growth is partly the result of a change in norms surrounding equity. Unions “contribute to a moral economy that institutionalizes norms for fair pay, even for nonunion workers.” When unions are less powerful and as those norms fade, even the the wages of nonunion workers decline.
A variance decomposition analysis estimated the effect of union membership decline and the effect of declining industry-region unionization rates. When individual union membership is considered, union decline accounts for a fifth of the growth in men’s earnings inequality. Adding normative and threat effects of unions on nonunion pay increases the effect of union decline on wage inequality from a fifth to a third. By this measure, the decline of the U.S. labor movement has added as much to men’s wage inequality as has the relative increase in pay for college graduates. Among women, union decline and inequality are only related through the link between industry- region unionization and nonunion wage dispersion. Union decline contributes just half as much as education to the overall rise in women’s wage inequality. These results suggest unions are a normative presence that help sustain the labor market as a social institution, in which norms of equity shape the allocation of wages outside the union sector (532-33).
An interesting comparison is the paper by DiPrete et al. (2010), who showed that increases in CEO pay are the result of firms “leapfrogging” their compensation benchmarks. Firms first identify peer groups, and they then try to match or exceed what their peers pay their executives. Continual leapfrogging of peers leads to an escalation in CEO compensation. The same kind of benchmarking was happening with union wages, but the pattern was moving in the opposite direction. Nonunion firms essentially pegged their wages to those of union firms. As unions lost negotiating power, they no longer had the ability to set wage targets, and nonunion firms were not forced to raise their employees’ wages at the same pace they had in prior years. This lack of normative pressure to keep up with the Joneses gradually eroded notions of fair pay.
The three main sociological theories about organizations to arise in the late 1970s/early 1980s were institutional theory, population ecology, and resource dependence theory. Of the three, I think it’s fair to say that resource dependence has had the least amount of staying power. Institutional theory has become a dynasty. Population ecology is influential even beyond those who self-identify with the theory (e.g., see the prevalence of event history analysis and density dependence models). But resource dependence, although ritually cited, failed to carry forward as a vibrant research agenda among the current generation of scholars. Why is that?*
This wasn’t always the case. You could argue that in the early 1980s, resource dependence theory had the greatest potential for developing a coherent research community. Looking at this Ngram graph, you can see that by 1982 Pfeffer and Salancik (1978) was getting cited far more often than Meyer and Rowan or Hannan and Freeman. It appeared to be the dominant theory. But something happened in 1983 that caused a sudden reversal of that trend. It’s pretty clear from the graph that in 1983 the influence of Pfeffer and Salancik began to decline while the influence of DiMaggio and Powell began to accelerate at an even greater rate. Ecology continued to rise in influence during this same time period, peaking in citations in the mid-1990s.
The decline of resource dependence theory has a number of causes. I don’t think that the problem was that resource dependence was not a good theory. If you were able to transport your academic self back to 1983, I think you’d find that resource dependence had as much potential for building an expansive theoretical program as institutional theory did. You could imagine that resource dependence could have expanded its conceptual artillery to embrace resource dependencies of various types (e.g., cultural resources, symbolic resources) and across different sources of dependence (e.g., state, professions, consumers). Resource dependence could have co-opted the burgeoning literature on interorganizational networks and provided it with a theoretical lens with which its fancy methods could be put to use. (It’s always seemed strange to me that Ron Burt’s structural holes concept was not more tightly associated with resource dependence theory given that one of the central concepts in his theory, structural constraint, is all about dependence.) The theory could have branched out to explain phenomena as varied as firms’ symbolic responses to shareholder activism or the influence of corporate board networks on patterns of diffusion. These studies happened and some were informed by Pfeffer and Salancik, but they were not closely associated with resource dependence theory. Instead, many of these studies ran to institutional theory for cover.
I think there are a number of reasons resource dependence theory failed to cohere into a community of scholars. Here are a few:
Other than financial measures (like ROA) I can’t think of another firm-level variable that is more commonly used in organizational studies than patent activity. Patents are used to track everything from innovation to technological niches to social networks among scientists. Patents are an all-purpose measure because we think they are tightly linked to creativity and knowledge production, the engine that drives both science and capitalist enterprise. But what if this is increasingly not true? What if patent use is becoming decoupled from creativity?
This is one of the questions posed made by last week’s This American Life, my favorite NPR show and one of the most consistently interesting programs of journalism out there. The show talked about patent trolls – companies or individuals who acquire patents for the primary purpose of suing other actors who might use technology that potentially infringes on that patent. The show focused on the firm, Intellectual Ventures, and its founder Nathan Myhrvoid. Through a couple of interesting vignettes and sly investigations, they showed how the company uses lawsuits, brought by a number of shell companies, to get large settlements out of technology companies, some of which are struggling enterpreneurial groups. The show demonstrates how, rather than protect and promote innovation, increasingly patents are being used to stifle innovation by wiping out or financially weakening companies that are actually trying to bring innovation to the marketplace. Meanwhile, patent trolls sit on those patents and do nothing to advance the innovations.
This must have some implications for our current understanding of patents as indicators of creativity and innovation. One of the startling revelations in the program was just how much redundancy there is in the patent system. The number of patents issued that cover the same basic function is often in the thousands, especially in the software industry. Patents may be more indicative of turf wars than they are of real innovation.
Even if you’re not a technology scholar, I highly recommend that you listen to the podcast of the show.
Martin Ruef’s The Entrepreneurial Group won this year’s Max Weber award as the best book in the Organizations, Occupations, and Work section of the ASA. (Notably, the books of two former orgtheory guest bloggers, Katherine Chen and Celeste Watkins-Hayes, received honorable mentions.) Diane Burton also reviewed Ruef’s book in the most recent issue of ASQ. The review, while generally positive about Martin’s conceptualization of entrepreneurship as a product of collective action and group formation, has some pointed criticisms of Martin’s approach.
On the book jacket, Arthur Stinchcombe, a distinguished organizational sociologist, describes this book as a “drop of sanity in an ocean of fraud about entrepreneurship, especially in teaching positions financed by corporations.” In describing what is distinctive about his approach, Ruef makes a similar— although less polemically charged—claim in chapter 2 when he contrasts “business management” studies of entrepreneurship and “social science” studies of entrepreneurship. According to Ruef, “Scholars in the business field tend to focus on group performance in high-growth and high-capitalization enterprises. This sampling approach may appeal to an audience of practitioners and business school students, but limits the external and internal validity of empirical conclusions” (p. 36). But by dismissing the related work that has been done by others, Ruef risks alienating the largest audience for his work, some of whom have done valuable research on “enterprises” that are not necessarily highgrowth or high capitalization, and others who have a clear theoretical rationale for studying a non-representative sample.
Throughout the book, Ruef drives home his distinctive perspective. In doing so, he avoids in-depth engagement with the extant literature. Rather than relying on existing scholarship, he invents constructs and measures and redefines terms to suit his purposes. Readers steeped in the entrepreneurship and management literatures are likely to be surprised by this approach. For example, Ruef describes his theoretical framework as “relational demography” but does not connect it to the extensive literature on this topic. His group-level approach is inconsistent with both the traditional dyadic approach (Tsui and O’Reilly, 1989) and the emerging multilevel approach (Riordan and Wayne, 2007). While his expositional style highlights his own theoretical creativity and empirical ingenuity, its disconnection from related work may limit its potential to influence the broader community of entrepreneurship scholars. This is unfortunate, because there are many valuable insights and ideas in this book.
Princeton University Press categorizes the subject areas of the book as sociology, economics, and finance. Although the topic of entrepreneurial groups is clearly relevant to each of these fields, this is a sociology book written by a sociologist for other sociologists.
This is a nice review that is not afraid to speak to the bigger intellectual issues circulating around the book, not unlike a recent review published in ASQ by Martin Ruef. Having recently finished the book myself, I agree with Diane that The Entrepreneurial Group is quite original. But I would argue that the book is able to push boundaries precisely because it extracts itself from the literature on entrepreneurship. If Ruef had tried to rely on current measures/operationalizations and had spent more time engaging with existing scholarship, the book would have lost some of its freedom of thought and would have been less original, I think. Positioning himself as the outsider frees Ruef from constraining conventions. Rather than reading the book as a (mere) sociological account of entrepreneurship, I would hope entrepreneurship scholars would read it as a unique theoretical perspective with lots of seeds for future research in the entrepreneurship field.
With all of the talk and debate about nonprofits, it seems like an opportune time to share a book review I’ve written about Politics and Partnerships: The Role of Voluntary Associations in America’s Political Past and Present by Elisabeth Clemens and Doug Guthrie.
Voluntary associations play a vital, although sometimes not very visible, role in American society as engines of innovation in political and civic life. Associations create much of the fabric that weaves social life together, whether through generating social capital by linking people to others in their community or by constructing identities around which people organize and find meaning. Yet, for all their importance, voluntary associations often receive the short end of the stick in organization theory. Perhaps because they are seen as so different from firms as to need their own theories or because organizational scholars increasingly reside in business schools where there is more interest in for-profit organizations, voluntary associations have taken a backseat to firms as the focal unit in organizational theory. A negative side effect of ignoring associations in organizational theory, of course, is that we fail to fully understand the integrative role they play in society, linking the domains of market and state and serving as key nodes in civil society. The editors of this volume, Elisabeth Clemens and Doug Guthrie, have gathered a diverse and interdisciplinary set of scholarly voices to provide a rich overview of the organized nature of American voluntarism. The contributors emphasize that voluntary associations have historically been central players in the U.S. business and political worlds, and although the nature of voluntary associations has changed in recent years, their centrality has not waned.
Happy Independence day to all of our American readers! In honor of the holiday, I thought I’d post a paper that focuses on two aspects of our American legacy: baseball and racial bias. The paper, “Strike Three: Discrimination, Incentives, and Evaluation,” was published in the most recent issue of the American Economic Review. The authors show that Major League Baseball umpires are less likely to call strikes for pitchers who are of a different race. So, white umpires call fewer strikes when the pitcher is black and vice versa. Interestingly, the authors also show that racial bias dissipated after MLB instituted computer technology that allowed third parties to evaluate the accuracy of umpires’ strike calling, suggesting that close scrutiny may help alleviate this type of bias (at least in employment settings). Here’s the abstract:
Major League Baseball umpires express their racial/ethnic preferences when they evaluate pitchers. Strikes are called less often if the umpire and pitcher do not match race/ethnicity, but mainly where there is little scrutiny of umpires. Pitchers understand the incentives
and throw pitches that allow umpires less subjective judgment (e.g., fastballs over home plate) when they anticipate bias. These direct and indirect effects bias performance measures of minorities downward. The results suggest how discrimination alters discriminated groups’ behavior generally. They imply that biases in measured productivity must be accounted for in generating measures of wage discrimination.
Following up on my earlier post about the inability of courts to create social change, I discovered that Frank Dobbin makes a similar argument in his 2009 book, Inventing Equal Opportunity. Dobbin’s general point is that the U.S. state is weak and fragmented, which creates opportunities for professionals and other entrepreneurial actors to design their own institutional responses to legal mandates. His case is based around the development of equal opportunity measures created by networks of personnel experts. The experts were hired by corporations to protect them from violating civil rights laws, but the laws themselves were not clear in specifying how they expected companies to implement non-discrimination programs or even about what discrimination really was. This ambiguity created a space in which personnel professionals could engineer their own equal opportunity programs and define the appearance of discrimination.
Rather than being a strong arm of enforcement that coerced firms into adopting equal opportunity programs, the courts actually picked up cues from the corporations about how civil rights laws should be interpreted.
[O]ur fascination with judicial decisions led to a misreading of the role of the courts. Seeing that may companies have sexual harassment policies and procedures that are in line with Supreme Court guidelines, for instance, many conclude that the Court’s rulings were successful. In fact, human resources experts devised guidelines for corporations, and then the court vetted them. It was corporations that guided the judiciary, no the other way around. Congress and federal bureaucrats also took their cues from employers, approving some innovations and overturning others. For the most part, they went along with what leading employers wee doing, though they rarely ruled that any one innovation, or any concoction, would fully protect employers. This was the case in part because, while the courts were the final arbiter, they did not have the authority to make law (12).
Does this mean that courts are completely lacking influence? No, obviously companies listened to their HR professionals because they didn’t want to be punished for violating the new civil rights laws, and it was this general fear of being punished that spurred the spread of equal opportunity programs. But the court were also not active in promoting a particular interpretation of the law from the beginning. They figured out what the right response to the law was by watching the emerging consensus of best practices among the companies themselves. The courts validated equal opportunity law, rather than prescribing it.