Archive for the ‘Institutions’ Category

a rant on ant

Over at Scatterplot, Andy Perrin has a nice post pointing to a recent talk by Rodney Benson on actor-network theory and what Benson calls “the new descriptivism” in political communications. Benson argues that ANT is taking people away from institutional/field-theoretic causal explanation of what’s going on in the world and toward interesting but ultimately meaningless description. He also critiques ANT’s assumption that world is largely unsettled, with temporary stability as the development that must be explained.

At the end of the talk, Benson points to a couple of ways that institutional/field theory and ANT might “play nicely” together. ANT might be useful for analyzing the less-structured spaces between fields. And it helps draw attention toward the role of technologies and the material world in shaping social life. Benson seems less convinced that it makes sense to talk nonhumans as having agency; I like Edwin Sayes’ argument for at least a modest version of this claim.

I toyed with the possibility of reconciling institutionalism and ANT in an article on the creation of the Bayh-Dole Act a few years back. But really, the ontological assumptions of ANT just don’t line up with an institutionalist approach to causality. Institutionalism starts with fairly tidy individual and collective actors — people, organizations, professional groups. Even messy social movements are treated as well-enough-defined to have effects on laws or corporate behavior. The whole point of ANT is to destabilize such analyses.

That said, I think institutionalists can fruitfully borrow from ANT in ways that Latour would not approve of, just as they have used Bourdieu productively without adopting his whole apparatus. In particular, the insights of ANT can get us at least two things:

1)      It not only increases our attention to the role of technologies in shaping organizational and field-level outcomes, but ANT makes us pay attention to variation in the stability of those technologies. It is simply not possible to fully accounting for the mortgage crisis, for example, without understanding what securitization is; how tranching restructured, redistributed and sometimes hid risk; how it was stabilized more or less durably in particular times and places; and so on.

You can’t just treat “securitization” as a unitary explanatory factor. You need to think about the specific configuration of rules, organizational practices, technologies, evaluation cultures and so on that hold “securitization” together more or less stably in a specific time and place. Sure, technologies are sometimes stable enough to treat as unified and causal—for example, a widely used indicator like GDP, or a standardized technology like a new drug. But thinking about this as a question of degree improves explanatory capacity.

An example from my own current work: VSL, the value of a statistical life. Calculations of VSL are critical to cost-benefit analyses that justify regulatory decisions. They inform questions of environmental justice, of choice of medical treatment, of worker safety guidelines. All sorts of political assumptions — for example, that the lives of people in poor countries are worth less than people in rich ones — are baked into them. There is no uniform federal standard for calculating VSL — it varies widely across agencies. ANT sensitizes us not only to the importance of such technologies, but to their semi-stable nature—reasonably persistent within a single agency, but evolving over time and different across agencies.

2)      Second, ANT can help institutionalists deal better with evolving actors and partial institutionalization. For example, I’m interested in how economists became more important to U.S. policymaking over a few decades. The problem is that while you can define “economist” as “person with a PhD in economics,” what it means to be an economist changes over time, and differs across subfields, and is fuzzy around the borders.

I do think it’s meaningful to talk about “economists” becoming more influential, particularly because the production of PhDs happens in a fairly stable set of organizational locations. But you can’t just treat growth theorists of the 1960s and cost-benefit analysts from the 1980s and the people creating the FCC spectrum auctions in the 1990s as a unitary actor; you need ways to handle variety and evolution without losing sight of the larger category. And you need to understand not only how people called “economists” enter government, but also how people with other kinds of training start to reason a little more like economists.

Drawing from ANT helps me think about how economists and their intellectual tools gain a more-or-less durable position in policymaking: by establishing institutional positions for themselves, by circulating a style of reasoning (especially through law and public policy schools), and by establishing policy devices (like VSL). (See also my recent SER piece with Dan Hirschman.) Once these things have been accomplished, then economics is able to have effects on policy (that’s the second half of the book). While the language I use still sounds pretty institutionalist—although I find myself using the term “stabilized” more than I used to—it is definitely informed by ANT’s attention to the work it takes to make social arrangements last. Thus I end up with a very different story from, for example, Fligstein & McAdam’s about how skilled actors impose a new conception of a field — although new conceptions are indeed imposed.

I don’t have a lot of interest in fully adopting ANT as a methodology, and I don’t think the social always needs to be reassembled. The ANT insights also lend themselves better to qualitative, historical explanation than to quantitative hypothesis testing. But all in all, although I remain an institutionalist, I think my work is better for its engagement with ANT.

Written by epopp

June 5, 2014 at 8:31 pm

book review: moral movements and foreign policy by joshua busby

I recently reviewed Joshua Busby’s book social movements and foreign policy. He uses a number of case studies from American and European politics to show how moral pleas, in certain contexts, can move policy. From PS: Perspectives in Political Science:

Busby asks a simple question: How do activists affect a state’s foreign policy? He answers with a two-part theory. First, there is the balance of values and costs. Activists may demand something that is expensive or cheap. Similarly, activists may demand policies that have low or high resonance with moral values. Second, activists must successfully interface with gatekeepers, such as legislators or policymakers, who have the power to legitimize the movement’s demands. The author then goes on to support his theory with empirical studies of a range of policy domains, such as AIDS policy and the international courts.

The importance of Busby’s argument is that it is an alternative to the interest-based view of foreign relations, which asserts that states do what they must to protect a narrowly defined resource such as trade, military power, and so forth. His view is that the beliefs of citizens are very important, not because political leaders follow the whims of voters but because domestic public opinion defines a spectrum of possibilities. The moral resonance of an issue defines the political cost of taking an action.


Works like Moral Movements and Foreign Policy illuminate the relationship between sociology and political science. This book is an example of the use of sociological theory to enrich a topic typically associated with political science. The international relations field has been dominated by arguments among realists, liberals, constructivists, and others over state behavior. Social movements have not usually been at the center of this debate. By itself, Busby’s book does not upend these theories, but it does suggest that there is still unexplored territory in IR theory. Social-movement activists are now recognized as a group of actors who are not state elites, nor are they average voters, nor are they marginalized cranks. Rather, they are specialized political entrepreneurs who use tactics ranging from lawsuits to protest to promote their causes. Research on transnational activism documents a global network of actors who influence and create the policy environment for states. By showing when and how activism leads to changes in foreign policy, Busby shows one way that sociology and political science can enrich each other and expand a research area that may appear to be well covered.

Buy the book here.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

June 4, 2014 at 12:01 am

is higher tuition a faculty pay raise in disguise?

A number of analyses have shown that (a) college tuition has outpaced inflation, (b) administrators have increased in number and in cost, and (c) graduate student and faculty pay have remained flat. This isn’t to say that the only force behind higher tuition is administrative growth, but it’s certainly one important factor. The way that this normally interpreted is that you have greedy administrators who are just voting themselves raises which, in the absence of competition, go unrestrained.

Here is a slightly different framing. Increased college costs are a collective pay increase for faculty. How? It helps to realize that faculty salaries are fairly constrained. In the arts and sciences, salaries top out at, about $95k, for full professors at most colleges. Research profs can add about $10k, liberal arts can subtract $10k. Not bad, but still modest compared to top professionals in other fields. It also helps to realize that people start hitting the full professor rank in their forties, which means you could have 20-30 years of work with few pay increases in real terms.

The solution? Stop being a professor. Switch to a more fluid labor market for executives. Unlike professor jobs, your skills are portable and there is actual demand. Luckily, there has been a recent increase in college cash flows, so the budget is bigger. If you believe this story, then the escalation of tuition and costs is simply society’s way of paying more to people who used to get “stuck” at the full professor level. They’re just called associate deans now.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz 

Written by fabiorojas

May 9, 2014 at 12:01 am

scheduling and demonstrating accountability

It’s that time of year, when students and faculty alike sport long faces about the end-of-year crunch of deadlines.  Unfortunately, in academia, the lists of to-dos never disappear, as new requests and calls for responsibilities sprout constantly like dandelions after a spring rain.  One round-the-year task is  planning, particularly for courses to ensure that major areas,  student needs’ and/or faculty’s interests are covered.

Stanford magazine recently featured a tongue-in-check illustration of student schedules to go along with a professor’s reflection upon administrative demands for accountability:

FR_Sleep Illo Final

Prof. Appelbaum recounts a previous employer’s (Mississippi State University) attempts to get him to publicly account for every moment of his time within a 8am-5pm block:

I taught at Mississippi State University for three years before joining the Stanford faculty in 2000. I found MSU to be an organization dedicated to intercollegiate athletics, but sometimes less inspired when it came to academic and scholarly attainment. One of the things that irked me was the idea that you had to account for your time but not your achievement.

At the start of each semester we found blank schedules tacked to cork bulletin boards on our office doors. I filled mine out on my first day. I had an enormous course load, abundant office hours, copious committee meetings, rehearsals, a bevy of independent studies and a weekly faculty meeting. The generic sheet only accommodated Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. even though, as music professors, we had ensemble rehearsals in the evenings and on weekends, not to mention concerts by our students almost every night of the week. I figured that people understood that we were working more than 60 hours a week, so surely we wouldn’t need to account for every minute of our time.

Upon completion, my schedule looked very thick to me—and this was without any reference to time for composing music, recording CDs, writing articles, designing and constructing new instruments, practicing the piano, writing grants, attending professional conferences, giving guest lectures and all the other enterprises that characterize my research. It didn’t account for course design, class preparation or grading. It made no mention of the student electronic music studio I maintained. So, naïvely, I sat back with a feeling that this schedule conveyed that I was fully committed to my new job.

But my department chair immediately informed me that I must complete my schedule—there couldn’t be any empty spaces left on my sheet. I thought he was joking. With a look of compassionate embarrassment, a “welcome to Mississippi State University” glance, he apologized. Still, he insisted I fill in every blank lest the dean wander down the hall and see that someone had free time.

Shocked, and a bit miffed, I put “lunch” down from noon to 1 as I was told to do. (In Mississippi, everyone eats from noon to 1; if you enter a restaurant at 1:05 you can have your pick of any table.) Even so, I still had four empty spaces: 90 minutes on Monday, an hour on Tuesday, an hour on Thursday and a three-hour block on Friday. I filled them in as follows: Barry Manilow Research Project; Office Nap; Eating Bugs; and, for the three-hour block, Stapling.

My chair never asked me to “complete” my schedule again.


Written by katherinechen

May 7, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Posted in academia, Institutions

book spotlight: from social movement to moral market by paul-brian mcinerney

I had the pleasure of reading Paul-Brian McInerney’s book, From Social Movement to Moral Market, as it was being written. It’s a good book that expands on the new sociology of markets, which focuses on how ideas of worth and value influence firms and exchange. The main contribution of McInerney’s book is explaining how one specific movement, the Circuit Riders, innovated the field of IT for non-profits. This is a big area of the  market and it raises a number of issues that are worth discussing.

At first, the Circuit Riders start off as a typical movement.  A small cluster of nerds who have the dream of helping non-profits exploit new information technologies. Later, things get interesting as Microsoft jumps into the fray and creates a hybrid organization that bridges the IT consulting world and the idealistic nerd world. This creates a sort of situation of moral ambivalence where people question the role of various organizations in helping non-profits. Thus, movements create new spaces that have to be negotiated as markets mature and become institutionalized.

The bigger picture is that McInerney’s book makes a strong case that movements are vital actors in society. Not only do they push for political change, but they are responsible for creating markets and organizations. I think research likes this makes the case that studies of social change should more consistently look for movement like actors across different social domains.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

May 7, 2014 at 12:01 am

high risk, high reward? kunda’s reflections on ethnography and organizational studies

While catching up on some reading during spring break, I ran across an Journal of Organizational Ethnography article by organizational ethnographer Gideon Kunda.  In this article, Kunda’s reflections about his development as an organizational ethnographer seem pertinent to the on-going orgtheory discussion of ethnography.  Kunda not only describes how he became drawn to organizational studies (hint: questioning a figure of authority about the differential treatment of patients based on class), but also how he arrived at his topic and research site, generating the now iconic study Engineering Culture.

During his training, Kunda worked on several projects using other data collection methods (i.e., surveys), during which Goffman’s work on Asylums was instructive:

Here once again was a science that starts with ready-made theories, selectively uses them in accordance with interests unrelated to (or even opposed to) the logic and spirit of scientific inquiry, collects data using a method that assumes it knows what and how to ask before encountering the world of its subjects, and disrespects or ignores their complex realities, or for that matter, their feelings about who is studying them and why. What factors effect quality is a legitimate question, if one takes the managerial perspective (although this is not the only perspective that could and should be taken). But in order to answer it, in fact in order to even know how to go about studying it, I began to realize, one has to find ways to collect valid data. And the data, if that was what the facts of life should be called, were found in the richness of the stories I heard and the complexity of the interactions I observed, in people’s sense of who they were and what they were up to, and in their willingness to convey it to an interested outsider. Whether or not all this could or should be ultimately reduced to numbers and statistically analyzed seemed much less important than finding ways to collect, understand and interpret evidence that was respectful of its complex nature. If this was the case, it seemed to me, then the scientific system I was enmeshed in, even by its own standards – the norms of science that demand respect for the empirical world – was woefully inadequate. And worse – its procedures and output were embarrassingly boring, to me at least, when compared to the richness of the world it set out to comprehend.

In conclusion, Kunda states:

Over the years I have continuously noted and wondered about the extent researchers in the early stages of their careers, and graduate students in particular, feel, or are made to feel, that while they are granted the methodological license, and sometimes looseness, of “qualitative methods” (a phrase that often replaces or refers to a watered down version of ethnography), the academic authority system (in terms of funding, supervision, publication requirements and career options) compels them to limit their questions, choice of theory and writing style to those that enhance the chances of approval, funding and quick publication. I encounter again and again the ways that this commitment comes at the expense of a willingness to let fly their own sociological imagination, to cultivate and trust their own interpretive resources and analytic instincts, to respect and develop their innate language and authorial voice, or, for that matter, to risk long-term ethnographic fieldwork.

The issue then is not, or not only, one of competing methods, and to overstate such distinctions is, I believe, to miss my point.  Rather, I see my story as an invitation to acknowledge and explore the shared conditions of all scientific claims to knowing and depicting social reality, organizational and otherwise, under whatever theoretical and methodological guise, that together place limits on the depth, insightfulness and indeed the validity of interpretation: the endless complexity of data, the incurable subjectivity of the observer, the fundamental flimsiness of formal method and the prevalence of unsubtle yet often disguised institutional pressures to confirm to standards and ways of thinking outside and often against the pure logic of scientific inquiry.

If I am to formulate a conclusion, then, it is this: the continuing need to devise personal and collective ways – and I have suggested and illustrated some of mine – to release “discipline” from its misguided equation with an institutionally enforced a priori commitment to hegemonic theoretical discourse and methodological frameworks, and to apply it instead to its legitimate targets, the questions for which there can never be a final, authoritative answer, only continuing exploration and debate: What is data, what is a valid and worthwhile interpretation, how does it come about, what are and how to cultivate the personal sources of imagination that make it possible, how to report it and, not least, to what end.

Another major take-away for budding researchers is that peers can offer support.  That is, scholarly development is not necessarily a hierarchical transmission of information from mentors to mentees, but the co-production of knowledge with peers.

Written by katherinechen

April 16, 2014 at 9:14 pm

how corporations got rights

This week the Supreme Court considered whether corporations ought to have constitutional rights of religious freedom, as given to human individuals, in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. For many people, the idea that companies ought to be given all of the rights of humans is absurd. But in recent years, this idea has become more and more of a reality, thanks to game-changing cases such as Citizens United vs. FEC. How did we get to this place?

In an article on Slate, Naomi Lamoreaux and William Novak briefly go over the history of how corporations evolved from artificial persons to real persons with human rights. They emphasize that this change was a slow descent that still seemed unthinkable to justices as late as the Rehnquist court.

The court’s move toward extending liberty rights to corporations is even more recent. In 1978, the court held in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti that citizens had the right to hear corporate political speech, effectively granting corporations First Amendment speech rights to spend money to influence the political process. But even then, the decision was contentious. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, in dissent, reminded the court of its own history: Though it had determined in Santa Clara that corporations had 14th Amendment property protections, it soon after ruled that the liberty of the due-process clause was “the liberty of natural, not artificial persons.”

If you find this piece interesting then I would encourage you to read Lamoreaux’s collaboration with Ruth Bloch, “Corporations and the Fourteenth Amendment,” a much more detailed look at this history. One interesting point that emerges from this paper is that our general understanding of how rights became ascribed to corporations is historically inaccurate. Bloch and Lamoreaux assert that although the Court in Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad  likened corporations to individuals and asserted that they might have some protected rights, they were careful to distinguish between corporate and human civil rights.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Supreme Court drew careful distinctions among the various clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Some parts it applied to corporations, in particular the phrases involving property rights; but other parts, such as the privileges and immunities clause and the due -
process protections for liberty, it emphatically did not. Although this parsing might seem strange to us today, it derived from a remarkably coherent theory of federalism in which the Court positioned itself both as the enforcer of state regulatory authority over corporations and as the guardian of individual (but not corporate) liberty against state intrusion. To the extent that the Court extended constitutional protections to corporations, it did so to protect the interests of the human persons who made them up.

Read the whole paper. It’s fascinating!

Written by brayden king

March 28, 2014 at 3:15 pm

world wide heavy metal

My good friend Jeffrey Timberlake and his MA student Adam Mayer have a forthcoming paper on the world wide diffusion of heavy metal (early version here). It is coming out in Sociological Perspectives:

The purpose of this paper is to explain the timing and location of the diffusion of heavy metal music. We use data from an Internet archive to measure the population-adjusted rate of metal band foundings in 150 countries for the 1991–2008 period. We hypothesize that growth in “digital capacity” (Internet and personal computer use) catalyzed the diffusion of metal music. We include time-varying controls for gross national income, political regime, global economic integration, and degree of metal penetration of countries sharing a land or maritime border with each country. We find that digital capacity is positively associated with heavy metal band foundings, but, net of all controls, the effect is much stronger for countries with no history of metal music prior to 1990. Hence, our results indicate that increasing global digital capacity may be a stronger catalyst for between-country than for within-country diffusion of cultural products.

My inner Beavis yearns to come out.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz 

Written by fabiorojas

March 10, 2014 at 12:05 am

the end of institutionalism as have known it

Around 2004 or so, I felt that we were “done” with institutionalism as it was developed from Stinchcombe (1965) to Fligstein (2000). My view was that once you focused on the organizational environment and produced a zillion diffusion studies, there were only so many extra topics to deal with. For example, you could propose a strong coupling argument (DiMaggio and Powell 1983) or weak coupling argument (Weick 1976 or Meyer and Rowan 1977). Then maybe you could do innovation within a field (DiMaggio’s institutional entrepreneur argument) or how people exploited fields (Fligstein’s social skill argument). Finally, starting with Clemens (1999), and then Armstrong (2004), then Bartley (2006), and then the work of the orgs/movement crowd (including Brayden and myself) you got into contention. So what else was left?

Well, it turns out there are two major moves that force you in a new direction. One might be called the “aspects of fields” program – which means that you study some element of an organizational field in depth and really analyze the living day lights out of it. For example, the Ocasio/Thornoton/Lounsbury stuff on institutional logics is an example. Another example is the new stuff by Suddaby and Lawrence on institutional work, which includes some of my work on power building in organizations.

The other program is the Fligstein/McAdam Theory of Fields, which essentially marries “social skill” era Fligstein with the incumbent-challenger dynamics that was highlighted in The Dynamics of Contention book. In other words, you rub the Orange Bible and DoC together and hope the child is attractive.

The purpose of this post is not to evaluate these programs. That’ll come later, and there will some special summer action concerning ToF. But here, I am just mapping out institutional theory as it stands these days. The “aspects of institutionalism” program is clearly a deepening and refinement of the theory that emerged in early post-Parsons sociology. On Facebook, I asserted that ToF was our “new new institutionalism,” and there was push back. I think my position is that, as far as genealogy and conent is concerened, ToF is a merger of two separate ideas.

As far as the discipline is concerned, management likes the aspects program because it is relatively easy to stick to firm level dynamics. Studies of executives, or regulations, or what have you can be pegged to “institutional X” theory. In contrast, sociologists like conflict a bit more and movements, so ToF will prove popular. If nothing else, it provides a simple and intuitive vocabulary for the types of social processes that contemporary macro-sociologists like to talk about.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz 

Written by fabiorojas

January 17, 2014 at 12:01 am

“disbelief in authority: jfk, milgram, and me” by barry wellman

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  Given this occasion, guest blogger Barry Wellman asked me to post, on his behalf, his 1993 article “Disbelief in Authority: JFK, Milgram and Me.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

Update: Here’s the entire excerpt, with Barry’s permission:


Reminiscences for the 30th Anniversary of Obedience to Authority, Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Toronto

Barry Wellman, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto

August, 1993

Not only was 1963 the year that Stan Milgram’s Obedience to Authority was published, it was also the year that Stan, JFK and I came together for one explosive moment in November.

SOC REL 200 was the centerpiece of Harvard’s Social Relations Department. Each week a Harvard star gave new graduate students the word on his[1] latest masterpiece.  Each week, I sat shaking in my seat, a New York City street kid who had never studied sociology before, trying to figure out what was going on and to make believe that I already knew.

You’ll recall that Soc Rel’s raison d’etre was to bring together social and clinical psychologists with sociologists and anthropologists. In no other graduate school, would I have routinely encountered Erik Erikson or Roger Brown, or met Stan Milgram.

Stan was new at Harvard too, an untenured professor. I didn’t know if he was shaking or not. In those days I looked at faculty members with awe, and even addressed them as “Professor”. (Nowadays, when a Toronto student calls me “Professor,” I immediately wonder what s/he wants out of me.) In mid-November, Stan did SOC REL 200. He enthralled us with the shocking news of his then-recent “obedience to authority” experiments. This clearly was a formidable guy; this clearly was a crafty guy. You’d never know when he’d pull an experiment on you.

The following week, Talcott Parsons lectured to SOC REL 200 about the nature of social systems. In the midst of Talcott’s guided tour through the labyrinth of A, G, I and L boxes, Stan Milgram burst into the lecture hall, and rushed to the podium.

“I have horrible news,” he announced. “President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas!”

“Cut the crap, Milgram,” I remember blurting out from my seat, forgetting even to call him “Professor”. “You’re just doing another experiment on us.”

“No, it’s true! Listen, Ed Kelly has it on his radio.”

Sure enough, Ed Kelly (then a psychology graduate student) brought in a transistor radio which kept announcing that President Kennedy had been shot.

“This guy Milgram sure is a great experimenter,” I said to my classmates. “Just like Orson Welles, he’s even rigged up a simulated radio broadcast to convince us that this is true. I wonder what the experiment is really about.”

It was only after we left Emerson Hall,[2] went out into Harvard Yard and talked to others, that we realized that JFK had been shot and that Stan Milgram had only been telling us the truth this time.

The “experiment” had been an inadvertent one: my persistent denial of a painful truth. However, I am sure that if Stan Milgram hadn’t had such a reputation as an imaginative researcher and hadn’t demonstrated it just a week before, I would have accepted the news much more easily.


Stan and I became friendly after this. I was a great fan of his ingenious experiments and noble goals. I especially remember the time in the mid-sixties that he mailed a bunch of envelopes to the southern US. Some of the envelopes had return addresses indicating that they were from racerelations groups; others were more innocuous. Sure enough, many of the race-relations envelopes were opened en route, Milgram had a trick to show that.

Stan and I have kept on dancing around the same issues — similar perspectives, different techniques. His “Small World” research became one of the touchstones of social network analysis. Our communities are far-flung networks. Stan showed that we’re all connected to each other by five (or fewer) interpersonal ties. My students are skeptical of this until I demonstrate that they’re all linked to Wayne Gretzky: one of my students always knows him, or knows someone who knows someone who knows him. They’re even more convinced (although less excited) when I demonstrate our links to Inner Mongolian yak herders (three indirect ties via one of my graduate students).

Stan moved to CUNY and New York City; they taught each other many things. I think warmly of Stan every year when my urban sociology students read “The Experience of Living in Cities” (Ed: see article) — which is about everywhere but reeks of New York. Stan not only talked about the lack of neighborhood community; he showed how to investigate it — simply and neatly. You must remember that Toronto is both the safest and the most uptight city in North America. People here fear interpersonal contact when they have the least reason to do so. Right after reading Stan’s article, I send my students out to do an experiment: “Just look people in the eye and smile at them. Record who smiles back, by age, gender, social circumstances and personal characteristics.” Most

Toronto students find this hard to do, but they plunge in as a wild adventure. They report that almost all of the people they smiled at, violently twist their heads away from them.

We call this experiment, “The Neckbreaker”. Stan would have loved it.

[1] Sexist pronoun empirically accurate.

[2] Where Love Story was later filmed.

Written by katherinechen

November 22, 2013 at 3:56 am

post-curator art

I was recently listening to the podcast, Bad at Sports, which covers the contemporary art world. This episode is a long interview with dealer, writer, and provacteur Matt Gleason. A lot of good stuff, but this caught my ear. Gleason claims that one of the major reasons that Jeffrey Deitch was disruptive as director of LAMOCA was that he pursued “post-curator art.” What does that mean? My translation:

Over the last 50 years, the art world has institutionalized. Museums are run by professionals, artists get MFA, and the art market is centralizing around art fairs. What is so disruptive about Dietch was that rejected the institutionalization of the curator – the people who pick art, stage exhibitions, and manage collections.

In other words, in a world of professionalization, Dietch said: “Screw it, my kid can do this.” And he did it. Dietch fired one of the main curators, had celebrities do shows, and curated many shows himself. Very “post.”

 I once asked an art professional what he learned from interacting with Dietch, and he said something like, “I learned that you can hand over an art gallery to teenagers and it’ll work.” Metaphor perhaps, but it captures the spirit. People with degrees don’t have a monopoly over good taste. Gleason notes that this is self-serving. A museum with poor finances, like LAMOCA, might not have the cash for carefully curated shows and it would be easy to have some SoCal celebrity show work. But still, the comment is telling. The art world has institutionalized, but it rests on jello foundations.

Sacred Texts for Pious Grad Students: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

November 20, 2013 at 12:46 am

more higher education bashing or the end of univerisities as we know them?

In the past couple of weeks, two journalists who I enjoy reading wrote controversial diatribes about the travesties of contemporary higher education. Both Matt Taibbi  and Thomas Frank, each in their own brilliantly polemical ways, compared higher education to the housing bubble that led to our last serious financial crisis. Both writers attacked the integrity and ethics of the administrators of the current regime of academia. Both bashed a system that would allow students to acquire more debt than they could possibly pay given the job prospects for which their education prepares them. These are real nuggets that academics ought to consider seriously. Ignore, if it offends you, the abrasive rhetoric, but at the heart of both of their arguments is a logic that ought to resonate with our sociological sensibilities.

Here is Taibbi:

[T]he underlying cause of all that later-life distress and heartache – the reason they carry such crushing, life-alteringly huge college debt – is that our university-tuition system really is exploitative and unfair, designed primarily to benefit two major actors.

First in line are the colleges and universities, and the contractors who build their extravagant athletic complexes, hotel-like dormitories and God knows what other campus embellishments. For these little regional economic empires, the federal student-loan system is essentially a massive and ongoing government subsidy, once funded mostly by emotionally vulnerable parents, but now increasingly paid for in the form of federally backed loans to a political constituency – low- and middle-income students – that has virtually no lobby in Washington.

Next up is the government itself. While it’s not commonly discussed on the Hill, the government actually stands to make an enormous profit on the president’s new federal student-loan system, an estimated $184 billion over 10 years, a boondoggle paid for by hyperinflated tuition costs and fueled by a government-sponsored predatory-lending program that makes even the most ruthless private credit-card company seem like a “Save the Panda” charity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

September 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm

lifting the crimson curtain: Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education

As a grad student, I always found crossing the bridge over the Charles River from Harvard University to the Harvard Business School (HBS) to be a bit like approaching Emerald (or more appropriately, Crimson) City. On the Allston side, the buildings seemed shinier (or, as shiny as New England vernacular architecture allows), and the grounds were undergoing constant replantings, thanks to a well-heeled donor. In addition, HBS has loomed large as an institution central to the dissemination of organizational theory and management practices, including Elton Mayo’s human relations.

HBS has certain peculiarities about teaching and learning, like the use of case studies which follow formulaic structures as the basis for directed class discussion.* Moreover, instructors follow a strict grading break-down: mandatory “III”s assigned to the lowest-performing students of classes – a source of concern, as students with too many IIIs must justify their performance before a board and possibly go on leave.** To help instructors with grading, hired scribes document student discussion comments.***

Such conditions raise questions about the links, as well as disconnects, between classroom and managerial leadership, so I was delighted to see a new ethnography about business school teaching at the UChicago Press book display at ASAs.

With his latest book, Michel Anteby lifts the crimson curtain from HBS with his new book Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education (University of Chicago Press, 2013).


Here’s the official blurb:
“Corporate accountability is never far from the front page, and as one of the world’s most elite business schools, Harvard Business School trains many of the future leaders of Fortune 500 companies.  But how does HBS formally and informally ensure faculty and students embrace proper business standards? Relying on his first-hand experience as a Harvard Business School faculty member, Michel Anteby takes readers inside HBS in order to draw vivid parallels between the socialization of faculty and of students.

In an era when many organizations are focused on principles of responsibility, Harvard Business School has long tried to promote better business standards. Anteby’s rich account reveals the surprising role of silence and ambiguity in HBS’s process of codifying morals and business values. As Anteby describes, at HBS specifics are often left unspoken; for example, teaching notes given to faculty provide much guidance on how to teach but are largely silent on what to teach. Manufacturing Morals demonstrates how faculty and students are exposed to a system that operates on open-ended directives that require significant decision-making on the part of those involved, with little overt guidance from the hierarchy. Anteby suggests that this model-which tolerates moral complexity-is perhaps one of the few that can adapt and endure over time.”

Check it out! And while you’re at it, have a look at Anteby’s previous book, Moral Gray Zones (2008, Princeton University Press).

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

August 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm

when fighting is normal

Russ Roberts interviews political scientist Mike Munger on the topic of rules and institutions, using sports as an example. One of the most interesting things about sports is that there are informal rules governing fighting. A few key ideas:

  • To decrease overall fighting, you allow a little bit. It acts as a deterrent.
  • In sports with little protection, like hockey or baseball, you get ritualized fighting.
  • In sports with ritualized fighting, you get fight specialists. You don’t want skilled players getting injured.
  • In low fighting sports, like football, you need to slow things down with heavy referee intervention.
  • Once you  protect athletes with equipment, fighting goes up because it is less damaging.
  • If sports becomes lucrative, then norms change to reduce fighting. You don’t want your money generating stars missing the game.

A nice discussion of how norms, rules, and technology all affect each other.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

August 22, 2013 at 12:01 am

why are there no asian american colleges?

Puzzle for higher ed folks and organizational theory types: If you look at US higher education, you’ll notice that there are institutions that serve nearly every niche. Rich students , poor students, historically black colleges, tribal colleges, Biblical colleges, Hispanic students, etc. Heck, even the transcendental meditation movement has an accredited school – Mahavishnu University in Iowa.

But I really had a hard time trying to think of a college that was aimed primarily at Asian Americans. Why is that? Did I overlook something? If not, what is it that prevents such a college from existing? According to wiki, there are roughly 18 million Asian Americans. You’d think that at least a few schools would be aimed at them. If nothing else, perhaps an old liberal arts college in Oakland founded in the early 20th century, aimed at helping Asian Americans get jobs, in a way analogous to the HBC’s like the Tuskegee Institute that helped freedmen and their descendants.


  • Cultural – perhaps attitudes toward education somehow make the concept of such an institution seem odd and out of place.
  • Density – outside of the West Coast, maybe they simply weren’t present in large enough number to justify such an institution
  • Cultural heterogeneity – “Asian American” is a catch all label, there’s a lot of groups and no cohesion needed to pull a college together
  • Satisfaction – Maybe Asian Americans simply are satisfied with American institutions
  • Vintage – since the bulk of Asian America is post-1965, they simply haven’t had the time to create such an institution.

Other ideas?

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

July 16, 2013 at 12:08 am

book spotlight: why are professors liberal and why do conservatives care?


Neil Gross cements his position as the leading sociologist of American intellectuals with his new book Why are Professors Liberal and Why do Conservatives Care?*  This book collects into one text a series of arguments about the American professoriate that Gross and his collaborators have presented in a series of articles. Essentially, Gross argues that American academia, on the average, is liberal because of self-selection on the part of conservatives. The specific issue is that academia, for a number of historically specific reasons, has acquired an aura of extreme liberalism. Thus, conservative students say “Why bother? Academia is for liberals. What’s the point?”

What is impressive about Gross and his confederates is that they test all kinds of alternative hypotheses. For example, one might think that academic skills explain conservatives lower enrollments in PhD programs. But it doesn’t. Differences in values don’t explain much either. In other words, Gross et al systematically test all kinds of hypotheses and show that they are simply not true or that they only explain a small proportion of the differences between conservatives and others.

Eventually, using historical evidence and interview data, Gross makes a good case for self-selection. Sociology is a good example. In principle, there’s lots of places for non-liberal sociologists. For example, one could work on non-ideological aspects of sociology, like research methods. Or, as many conservatives have done, they could work in areas of interest like family sociology, where in some cases (like studies of negative divorce effects on kids), they could work on topics that are consistent with their ideology. But if you sit down and ask a typical conservative undergrad why they didn’t take many soc courses, they’ll tell you an image of evil ultra-liberals who are bent on political correctness.

Now, where I would criticize this book is the study of conservatives. For example, Gross argues that there isn’t much evidence of bias against conservatives. He uses the example of a study he conducted with Jeremy Fresse and Ethan Fosse where they contacted graduate directors with email from fake students. Some emails mentioned working for a GOP candidate, some a Democrat, and other none at all. Gross et al find no differences in how graduate directors responded.

First, there’s the issue, which Gross acknowledges, that graduate directors probably write a lot of boiler plate emails. But there’s a deeper criticism – why didn’t Gross interview people at risk for discrimination from liberal colleagues? For example, why not interview liberal (Keynesian) and conservative economists (monetarists or Austrians)? Or, why not interview Rawlsian philosophers (liberals) and compare their careers with Nozickians (libertarians) or Burkeans (conservatives)? Or, even better, why not collect materials from people who submitted books or articles on conservative topics but were rejected?

I think that Gross is right – anti-conservative bias is not nearly as bad as people think, if it exists at all – but the treatment of conservatives is not nearly as nuanced as the treatment of liberals. This probably speaks to the development of the project, which started with analyzing massive data (like the GSS) that trues to tease out conservative/liberal differences. Developing a theory or map of conservative intellectuals probably came late in the game.

Regardless, this book is massive progress on a central issue in the study of American intellectuals and the academy. This will be required reading for anyone interested in this topic.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

* And I’m not saying that because he said nice things about me in the book. But he did. Oh yeah, and I’m not just saying it because he edited another cool  forthcoming book about academia with a chapter by moi. But he did. Ok, maybe he buttered up a little. But just a little!

Written by fabiorojas

June 25, 2013 at 12:07 am

reviving resource dependence theory

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 »

Written by brayden king

May 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm

religion and immigration rights in the US

Yesterday’s WSJ featured an interesting (gated) front page article on growing support among some evangelical congregations for extending immigration rights to undocumented immigrants. Drawing on the Bible to justify “welcoming the stranger,” leaders have urged outreach efforts and political mobilization for overhauling immigration reform, even though these activities may alienate some congregants and politicians. According to the WSJ, one opposing politician has countered supporters’ assertions with the claim that “The Bible contains numerous passages that do not necessarily support amnesty and instead support the rule of law. The Scriptures clearly indicate that God charges civil authorities with preserving order, protecting citizens and punishing wrongdoers.” Clearly, groups and individuals are tapping logics of religion and the state to offer various rationales for the status quo versus change.

Sociologist Grace Yukich has conducted research on a similar movement for immigration rights among Catholic groups. Her forthcoming book One Family Under God: Religion and Immigration Politics in the New Sanctuary Movement (Oxford) examines how supporters simultaneously engage with a larger social movement at the grassroots level and reshape the composition of their flock. Check out more about Yukich’s work via her blog posts on Mobilizing Ideas and The Immanent Frame.

Written by katherinechen

April 10, 2013 at 5:55 pm

delegitimization as a new world order

Imagine going to the ATM and discovering you can’t withdraw your money because the ATM is out of cash. Not only that, but the bank is closed because of a national holiday so you can’t use the bank teller to withdraw money, electronic transfers of funds are frozen, and the stores refuse to accept credit cards out of concerns that electronic payments won’t be made. If you are able to get to your money, you learn that 6.75% of your funds (or 9.95% if you are a lucky ducky with over 100K euros in your account) will be converted into bank shares under a compulsory levy intended to prop up the banking system. The mortgage payment that you scheduled, the student loan check that you deposited to pay for your education, the vendors that you need to pay for your small business – all are up in the air.

Even if you are told “nevermind, we’re re-evaluating that policy, back to the drawing board!”, what’s the rational thing to do? Most likely, you as a depositor will lose trust in the banking system and pull out as much as you can. If you are in an adjoining country with a shared currency, the mattress, precious metals, and alternate currencies are looking like more attractive places to keep your money. This is the scenario currently unfolding for residents in Cyprus and those who were parking their money in what seemed like a safe haven.

Less than a year ago, Greece was in a similar situation and is still dealing with the consequences. Now, it’s Cyprus’s turn. These supposedly one-off, “unique” situations involving untested interventions are becoming regularities as banking and governance systems around the world are becoming more tightly coupled together. Although Chick Perrow‘s Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies discusses nuclear plants and chemical plants, his concept of how reactions, once started, are hard to stop (much less understand) in tightly coupled systems, is a helpful read. Add to his concept the erosion of a shared understanding and belief in institutions for a potent mix – that is, the delegitimization processes of trust in banking and governance that we may be seeing in the EU.

For those of us who have been living under the various rocks of committee work/teaching/research/other commitments, a little background reading: Dealbreaker’s take, with plenty of links to others’ analysis, Reuters,and Zero Hedge’s mordant posts.

Written by katherinechen

March 21, 2013 at 2:47 pm

open thread – call for questions for ESS conversation on Fri., March 22, 2013

As I posted earlier, I’ll be presiding over a conversation between George Ritzer and Carmen Sirianni from 3:30-5pm on Fri., March 22, 2013 at ESS in the Whittier Room (4th Flr) of the Boston Park Plaza hotel.

In the past several years, disasters like Hurricane Sandy and Katrina have sparked growing interest in what both conventional and innovative organizations can (and cannot) do given conditions of uncertainty vs. certainty. Both featured scholars’ work cover the limits of particular organizing practices (i.e., Ritzer’s work on McDonaldization), as well as the potential of organized action (i.e., Sirianni’s work on collaborative governance). Thus, I’ve given this particular conversation the broad title “Organizations and Societal Resilience: How Organizing Practices Can Either Inhibit or Enable Sustainable Communities.”

What would you be interested in hearing Ritzer and Sirianni discuss about organizations and society? Please put your qs or comments in the discussion thread.

For those unfamiliar with Ritzer and Sirianni, here is some background about their work:
George Ritzer is best known for his work on McDonaldization and more recently, the spread of prosumption in which people are both producers and consumers.

J. Mike Ryan‘s interview of Ritzer about his McDonaldization work:

J. Mike Ryan’s interview of Ritzer about why we should learn about McDonaldization (corrected link):

Carmen Sirianni is known for his work on democratic governance.

A brief video of Sirianni arguing that citizens should be “co-producers” in building society.

A more extensive video of Sirianni presenting on his book Investing in Democracy: Engaging Citizens in Collaborative Governance (Brookings Press, 2009).

Written by katherinechen

March 12, 2013 at 3:21 pm

thank you john padgett and woody powell

I’d like to take a moment to thnk our February guest bloggers – Woody Powell and John Padgett. They wrote about their new book The Emergence and Organization and Markets. You can their blog posts here.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

March 9, 2013 at 12:37 am

the emergence of organizations and markets, part 2: a guest post by john padgett and woody powell

A guest post by John Padgett and Woody Powell about their new book The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Read post #1 here:

Single autocatalytic networks generate life, but they do not generate novel forms of life. There is nothing outside of a single decontextualized network to bring in to recombine with what is already there. Self-organizing out of randomness into an equilibrium of reproducing transformations, the origin of life, was a nontrivial accomplishment, to be sure. But this is not quite speciation, which is emergence of one form of life out of another.

Transpositions and feedbacks among multiple networks are the sources of organizational novelty. In a multiple-network architecture, networks are the contexts of each other. Studying organizational novelty places a premium on measuring multiple social networks in interaction because that is the raw material for innovation. Subsequent cascades of death and reconstruction may or may not turn initial transpositions (innovations) across networks into system-wide invention.

Through fifteen empirical case chapters, Padgett and Powell extracted eight multiple-network mechanisms of organizational genesis:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

February 12, 2013 at 12:01 am

emergence of organizations and markets, part I by padgett & powell

A guest post by John Padgett and Woody Powell about their new book The Emergence of Organizations and Markets:

Innovation in the sense of product design is a popular research topic today, because there is a lot of money in that. Innovation, however, in the deeper sense of new actors—new types of people, new organizational forms—is not even much on the research radar screen of contemporary social scientists, even though “speciation” (to use the biologists’ term for this) lies at the heart of historical change over the longue durée, both in biological evolution and in human history. Social science—meaning mostly economics, political science and sociology—is very good at understanding selection, both at the micro level of individual choice and at the macro level of institutional regulation and lock-in. But novelty, especially of actors but also of alternatives, has first to enter from off the stage of our collective imaginary for our existing theories to be able to go to work. Our analytical shears for trimming are sharp, but the life forces that push up novelty to be trimmed tend to escape our attention, much less our understanding. If this book accomplishes anything, we at least hope to put the research topic of speciation—the emergence of new organizational forms and people—on our collective agenda.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

February 7, 2013 at 12:01 am

february guest bloggers: john padgett and woody powell

It is my pleasure to announce our February guest bloggers: Woody Powell and John Padgett. Professor Powell is Professor of Education and (by courtesy) Sociology, Organizational Behavior, Management Science and Engineering, Communication, and Public Policy at Stanford University. Professor Padgett is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

Woody and John are both leading figures in the study of organizations and networks. Professor Powell is co-author, with Paul DiMaggio, of the groundbreaking “iron cage” article and then went on to publish a series of highly influential papers in social network analysis. John Padgett is one of political science’s leading formal modellers, having written seminal papers on budgeting & garbage can processes, the courts, and state formation. His most well known work is likely the “Medici paper,” which used network analysis to describe the cultivation of political power in early modern Italy and introduced the idea of “robust action” into modern social theory.

They will be discussing their new book: The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Here’s a summary:

The social sciences are rich with ideas about how choice occurs among alternatives, but have little to say about the invention of new alternatives in the first place.  These authors directly address the question of emergence, both of what we choose and who we are.  With the use of sophisticated deductive models building on the concept of autocatalysis from biochemistry and rich historical cases studies spanning seven centuries, Padgett and Powell develop a theory of the co-evolution of social networks.  Novelty in new persons and new organizational forms emerges from spillovers across multiple, intertwined networks.  To be sure, actors make relations; but the mantra of this book is that in the long run relations make actors.  Through case studies of early capitalism and state formation, communist economic reforms and transition, and technologically advanced capitalism and science, the authors analyze speciation in the context of organizational novelty.  Drawing on ideas from both the physical sciences and the social sciences, and incorporating novel computational, historical, and network analyses, this book offers a genuinely new approach to the question of emergence.

This week and next week, I’ll post some thoughts that John and Woody have shared with me. This is *required* reading for sociologists, management scholars, political scientists, and economists. And yes, there, will be a quiz!

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

February 5, 2013 at 12:01 am

trouble in institutionalist land

Last week, I argued that there was kind of a big problem in modern sociology: one of our dominant macro theories is highly inconsistent with many of our favorite micro theories. If we look at various popular account of individual action in cultural sociology (e.g., toolkit theory), many don’t produce isomorphism.

Here’s the outline of the argument:

  • The gist of institutional theories of isomorphism is that people working in org fields experience pressures for conformity. If you don’t follow a pre-existing cultural script, you can’t run your organization. 
  • For this argument to work, you need to assume that people respond to their environment in fairly uniform ways.
  • In the original D&P ’83 article, in the hypotheses section, they admit variance when status orders are weak. Otherwise, the prediction is when status orders are well established, or when high status actors propagate norms, you get conformity.
  • Different authors offer different social psychological mechanisms. D&P ’83 and ’91 (the intro) often appeal to a wide range of scholarship to justify isomorphism. They appeal to Berger and Luckman, as well as Bourdieu. You can also concoct a rational choice version, which is consistent with resource dependency arguments.
  • If you actually read the fine print of these social psychology theories, most do not predict isomorphism, except Bourdieu’s habitus theory. For example, Berger and Luckmann’s book describes how people develop a stock of knowledge that defines their social reality. Fair enough. But nowhere do B&L ever say that this social reality is highly uniform, resistant to change, or otherwise offer a mechanism that acts as an iron cage. The slip is that “taken for granted” is interpreted as “hard to challenge.” Look at Griswold’s theory of cultural objects, or Zelizer, and it’s all about local constructions of meaning. Does not imply isomorsphism. Another case is rational choice institutionalism, where you set up a game theory model to predict norm following. Fair enough, but you have lots of hidden assumptions – uniform agents, low enforce costs, etc. Drop these and you get heterogeneity. Indeed, what you get is from the way less popular Meyer and Rowan ’77 institutionalism.

Of course, I am not the only person who noted these issues. DiMaggio’s idea of the inst entrepreneur is one attempt to get around this problem. The Clemens and Cook ’99 note that even iron cage institutionalism only predict stasis if you assume perfect reproduction. Admit imperfect reproduction and the theory breaks down. In the 2000s, the focus shifted to logics, institutional work, and conflict/movements. Substantively, it’s an implicit rejection of earlier institutional. Theoretically, it’s (almost) a complete reworking of the theory. These may not be institutionalist in the sense of the 70s or 80s, or even early 90s, but at least it is consistent with how many sociologists describe motivation and action.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz 

Written by fabiorojas

January 31, 2013 at 12:01 am

deep culture and organization theory

This weekend, Omar wrote a detail post about the “depth” of culture, the degree to which some idea is internalized and serves as a motivation or guide for action. I strongly recommend that you read it. What I’d like to do in this post is use Omar’s comments as a springboard for thinking about organizational behavior.

The reigning theory in sociology of organization is neo-institutionalism. The details vary, but the gist is that the model posits a Parsonsian theory of action. There is an “environment” that “imprints” itself in organizations. Myth and Ceremony institutionalism posits a “shallow imprinting” – people don’t really believe myth and ceremony. Iron cage institutionalism takes a very “deep” view of culture. Actors internalize culture and then do it.

Omar posits, I think, is a view of culture that is constitutive (you are the ideas you internalize) and interactive (your use of the idea modifies the cultural landscape). Omar wants to get away from the metaphor of “deep” vs. “shallow” culture. He also discusses dual process theory, which merits its own post.

What is important for organization theorists is that you get away from Parsons’ model:

Note that conceptually the difference is between thinking of “depth” as a property of the cultural object (the misleading Parsonian view) or thinking of “depth” as resulting from the interaction between properties of the person (internalized as dispositions) and qualities of the object (e.g. meaning of a proposition or statement) (the Bourdieusian point).

The implication for orgtheory? Previously, the locus of orgtheory has been the “environment” – all the stuff outside the organization that people care about. That’s highly analogous to “culture” getting internalized deep within the individual. Thus, different institutional theories reflect a deep/shallow dichotomy. If you buy Omar’s post-Swidler/post-Giddens view of things, then what is really interesting is the interaction creating at the point of contact between environment and organization. Orgs don’t passively await imprinting. Rather, there is variance in how they respond to the environment and there is interesting variation in the adoption/importation of stuff from the environment.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

January 9, 2013 at 12:01 am

what have we learned from jerry davis and other neo-institutionalism haters?

I’ve finished writing a brief bibliography on institutionalism, which includes a section on the critics that I blegged about earlier. What did I learn from reading the critics? Well, the critics come in a few flavors:

  1. Weak model of human behavior – This can be found in Stinchcombe’s Annual Review and the discussion of the “cultural dupe” model. The good news, for institutionalists, is that this problem has been addressed. Between the inhabited institutions folks like Hallett and his buddy Marc Ventresca and the Lawrence/Suddaby institutional work folks (including myself), I think we’ve simply abandoned the DiMaggio and Powell 83 model of behavior and replaced it with an improvement (people have agency, but they must deal with institutions).
  2. Vague – Jerry and others have claimed that the theory is vague or incoherent. This obviously motivated the Jepperson ’91 chapter and the endless army of books that followed (Scott 2000, the handbook of organizational institutionalism, etc). My verdict is mixed. A lot of basic ideas, like “field,” still retain the “you know it when you see it” flavor and are quite vague.
  3. Empirically false – No one, I think, has successfully answered the Kraatz and Zaajc (1996) article, which speaks to a major chunk of institutional theory – the view that organizations must act in accordance with cultural scripts to ensure survival. Jerry Davis is right about this. Yet, other rather simple neo-institutional hypotheses have been repeatedly tested. For example, there’s a lot of evidence for mimetic isomorphism in various fields. The recent work by Sauder/Espeland/etc focuses on how practices (such as rankings in higher ed) become taken for granted, which supports a Zucker 77 kind of institutionalism.  Also, it seems nearly impossible to test the “B” hypotheses in DiMaggio and Powell 83 because you need to compare fields, which seems hard since fields can only be defined inductively.

My verdict? The haters are correct. New institutionalism has a number of severe issues. The good news is that some problems have been dealt with in positive ways, such as a better model of individual action. It’s really a rejection of late 70s/early 80s organizational institutionalism, but that’s ok . Other areas are mixed. I’d say that at least one major hypothesis has been refuted, while others seem to be ok. Finally, there seems to be some fundamental conceptual issues (e.g., how to know a field, what exactly counts as an institution) that really need to be rethought from the ground up.

Essential texts for serious readers: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

November 23, 2012 at 12:09 am

trashing new institutionalism bleg

I’m trying to collect major (and minor) critiques of either new institutionalism. So far, I’ve got Perrow ’86, Kraatz/Zajac ’96, Hirsch ’97, Mizruchi et al (not quite a critique), Herrigal’s 2005 discussion of recent political science institutionalism in Socio-economic Review, and my own critique of Fligstein’s Architecture on the Journal of Institutional Economics.

What else? What am I missing?

These books make great Christmas gifts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

November 19, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Posted in fabio, Institutions

interviewing Roger Friedland

The OMT Blog has a great interview with Roger Friedland, one half of the duo that wrote the now classic 1991 paper about institutional logics. I highly recommend reading the entire interview. In the interview he talks about how the institutional logics paper was inspired by a heated debate with Theda Skocpol, why he’s the Rip Van Winkle of institutional theory, and what organizational scholars can learn from studying religion. I enjoyed this bit:

A few months ago a graduate student approached me in Banff, Canada, where I had been invited to give a talk to a group of management scholars who do institutional research.

“Nice to meet you,” he said as he extended his hand.  “Can I tell you something.  It is a little embarrassing.”

“Go ahead,” I encouraged him.

“Well, I thought you were dead.  I didn’t see your name after that 1991 piece.”

I laughed; I loved it.

Written by brayden king

November 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Posted in Institutions, sociology

The “Old” New Institutionalism versus the “New” New Institutionalism

I signed on to blog on Orgtheory a couple of months ago with the express purpose of writing about “A Theory of Fields” (Oxford Press, 2012), my new book with Doug McAdam. So here it goes.

Today I want to explain something about the shape of research in organizational theory for the past 35 years ago in order to situate “A Theory of Fields” in that research. The cornerstones of the “new institutionalism” in organizational theory are three works, the Meyer and Rowan paper (1977), the DiMaggio and Powell paper (1983), and the book edited by Powell and DiMaggio (1991).

I would like to take the provocative position that since about 1990, most scholars have given up on the original formulation of the new institutionalism even though they are ritually fixated on citing these canonical works. It is worth thinking why they found that formulation limited.

The Meyer/Rowan and DiMaggio/Powell position on organizations is that actors in organizations do not have interests and that their actions are “programmed” by scripts. Moreover, actors are unable to figure out what to do, so they either follow the leader (i.e. mimic those they perceive as successful), act according to norms often propagated by professionals, or else find themselves coerced by state authorities. The Meyer/Rowan and DiMaggio/Powell world was not only void of actors; it was also void of change. Once such an order got into place, it became taken for granted and difficult to dislodge. “People” in this world told themselves stories, used myth and ceremony, and they decoupled their stories from what they were doing. This meant that the consequences of their actions were not important.  DiMaggio recognized this problem in 1988 when he suggested that in order to explain change we needed another theory one that involved actors, interests, power, and what he called “institutional entrepreneurs”.

The core of organizational studies since the early 1990s has been to reintroduce interests, actors, power and the problem of change into the center of organizational studies. Indeed, the field of entrepreneurship in management studies is probably at the moment, the hottest part of organizational theory. If one looks at these papers, one still sees ritual citing of DiMaggio/Powell and Meyer/Rowan. But the core ideas of these papers could not be farther from those works. The focus on entrepreneurial studies is on how new fields are like social movements. They come into existence during crises. They invoke the concept of institutional entrepreneurs who build the space and create new cultural frames, interests and identities. In doing so, the entrepreneurs build political coalitions to dominate the new order. Indeed, the gist of the past 15 years of organizational research is entirely antithetical to the “old” new institutionalism.

I submit to you that the time is now right to reject the “old” new institutionalism” entirely, free our minds, and produce a “new” new institutionalism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fligstein

August 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm

ASA session with Fred Block: Democratizing finance

In a series of posts about real utopias (see the earlier posts by Gar Alperovitz and Jerry Davis), we’ve invited Fred Block, professor of sociology at UC-Davis, to write about his session that will take place Sunday at 10:30 at the ASA conference.

My Real Utopia proposal for this ASA meeting is on “Democratizing Finance.”  It is posted at the Real Utopias website.  Writing this was much more difficult than I ever imagined, and this draft still needs a lot of work.   It was hard because at the current moment, getting unemployment in the U.S. down to 7% seems unimaginably difficult and unrealistic goal.    It follows that major structural changes such as democratizing finance appear to be wildly utopian with no element of realism whatsoever.  The other problem is that almost all the work we have in the sociology of finance is focused on what happens in one or another specific market.   We have very little work that generates an overview of the financial system as a whole, but serious reform has to look at the entire structure.

My argument proceeds through the following steps:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by orgtheoryguest

August 15, 2012 at 5:13 pm

ASA session with Gar Alperovitz: A pluralist commonwealth and a community-sustaining economy

We’ve invited Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy at the University of Maryland, to write about his “real utopia” session with Steve Dubb that will take place at the upcoming ASA conference (details below).

Our session, “A Pluralist Commonwealth and a Community-Sustaining Economy,” aims to prompt broader discussion of what we see as a central question of our times: “If you don’t like capitalism and you don’t like traditional socialism, what do you want?”  For too long those seeking to “change the system” have been taunted by the famous Margaret Thatcher line, “There is no alternative.”  We think it is time to begin to systematically think through the building blocks of what a systemic alternative that moves beyond the old options of state capitalism and corporate capitalism might look like in the real world.

Based on ongoing research on various forms of emerging democratic ownership being done at the Democracy Collaborative, the paper also suggests some practical paths that we believe can help move in the proposed direction. We hope our panel and the paper spark an intellectually rigorous, fun, and engaging discussion of these topics.

The essay is posted at the Real Utopia website, and the session will take place Friday, August 17, 8:30am-10:10am.  We welcome those of you get up early morning on Friday to join us!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by orgtheoryguest

August 14, 2012 at 7:43 pm

deep springs and institutional isomorphism

A few days ago, I posted about Deep Springs College’s decision to admit women in 2013. In the comments, “Frances Quarel,” disputed my contention that the decision reflected institutional pressures (i.e., single ed was a much less legitimate organizational form in the 2000s). Essentially, Quarel argued that Deep Springs reflected *no* response to the institutional environment. Quarel correctly notes that the Deep Springs displays very little resemblance to other colleges. So isomorphism is a bad explanation.

My response: theories of isomorphism are usually arguments about resource dependency. In most formulations, the argument is that the more that an organization requires material or symbolic resources, the more it will be susceptible to external pressures for conformity. If you want to establish a university with thousands of students and tons of research grants, you’ll probably need to conform. If you want to let thirteen dudes clean stables and read Plato on a desert ranch, no need to conform. As long as you have a little pot of money, nothing will prevent you from doing your own thing.

So I’d agree with the general thurst of Quarel’s comment. Deep Springs hasn’t conformed much to the higher ed system. But that doesn’t mean that Deep Springs is completely immune to external pressures. The school just has a very low responsiveness to the outside world. The new co-ed policy reflects one of the ways that the college is connected to a broader institutional environment – the association with Telluride and newer cohorts of students, who turn into the alumni who then pressed for change. The emergence of coed education as a taken for granted standard in higher wasn’t hatched in the deserts of California.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

July 4, 2012 at 12:03 am

book spotlight: philanthropy in america by olivier zunz

Students of orgtheory should like Philanthropy in America by Olivier Zunz, a well known American historian at the Unviersity of Virginia. PiA is a comprehensive overview of the non-profit sector in America. If I teach a graduate course on the non-profit sector, I’d definitely put this on the reading list. You would be hard pressed to find another  book that so deftly conveys the ups and downs of the non-profit world. It’s a nice compliment to more social science approaches like The Non-Profit Handbook that focus on questions that economists and sociologists would ask.

Much of the material will be familiar to students of the non-profit sector, especially the chapters on post-war philanthropy. We get a chapter on the 1969 tax reform act. The various approaches to philanthropy over the years get a lot of coverage (e.g., civil rights oriented charity vs. Cold War era programs of the 1950s). PiA also has some material on the most recent wave of philanthropy driven by the new superwealthy, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

What orgtheory readers will find most rewarding is the emphasis on the changing nature of the state-non-profit relationship. Zunz correctly points out that Americans have never exactly sorted out how they feel about the non-profits. Sometimes, non-profits are treated as central actors in American social policy. At other time, Americans view philanthropists as wealthy meddlers.

No where is this more apparent than in a highly instructive chapter about the 1920s. Hoover, contrary to popular wisdom, did not respond to the great depression by ignoring people and relying on the free market, though he did engage in laissez-faire rhetoric. Instead, Hoover believed in strong Federal intervention in the economy, but he wanted much of the effort channeled through philanthropic organizations. It’s a view that is not common now, but it might be called “local charities/national direction.” FDR also believed in having a strong welfare state, but his approach was to exclude private third parties and administer relief programs directly through the state.

Overall, a solid book that will lead to more insight into the evolution of the non-profit sector.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

May 30, 2012 at 12:01 am

conference for orgtheory in developing regions

Writing from the home office in Switzerland, Tim draws my attention to a conference for management PhD scholars interested in development. From the call for papers for the UNDP Development Academy:

The oikos UNDP Young Scholars Development Academy 2012 provides PhD students and young scholars working on poverty, sustainable development, and the informal economy from an Organisation and Management Theory perspective a platform to present and discuss their on-going research projects with fellow students and senior faculty.

Research on inclusive business models, market development and sustainability between the informal and formal economy is a promising and challenging field for young researchers and PhD students. It calls for a multitude of methods, combination of disciplines in strategy, organisation studies, sociology, anthropology and economics, and new research designs, e.g. market ethnography in organisation studies.

Great opportunity for orgtheory PhD students and tenure track/post docs. Check it out.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

February 8, 2012 at 12:15 am


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,072 other followers