where is the org. theory in the most cited works in sociology?

Neal Caren has compiled a list of the 102 most cited works in sociology journals over the last five years. There are a lot of familiar faces at the top of the list. Bourdieu’s Distinction, Raudenbush’s and Bryk’s Hierarchical Linear Models, Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged, and Grannovetter’s “Strength of Weak Ties” make up the top 5.  It’s notable that Grannovetter’s 1973 piece is the only article in the top 5. The rest are books. I was also interested to see that people are still citing Coleman.  He has three works on the list, including his 1990 book at the number 6 spot.  Sadly, Selznick is nowhere to be found on the list (but then neither is Stinchcombe).  Much of the work is highly theoretical and abstract. There is a smaller, but still prominent, set of work dedicated to methods (e.g., Raudenbush and Bryk). I’m glad to see there is still a place for big theory.

It’s striking, however, how little organizational theory there is on the list.  Not counting Granovetter, whose work is really about networks and the economy broadly, no organizational theory appears on the list until 15 and 16, where Hochschild’s The Managed Heart (which might be there due to the number of citations it gets from gender scholars) and Dimaggio’s and Powell’s 1983 paper show up.  There are several highly influential papers in organizational theory that I was surprised were not on the list. One could deduce from the list that sociology and organizational theory have parted ways.

I don’t think this is really true, but I think it speaks to some trends in sociology. The first is that most organizational sociology, excluding research on work and occupations, no longer appears in generalist sociology journals outside of the American Sociological Review and the American Journal of Sociology. Journals like Social Forces or Social Problems just don’t publish a lot of organizational theory.  Now, there are a lot of great organizational papers that get published in ASR and AJS, but that is a very small subset of the entire population of sociology articles. The second is that Administrative Science Quarterly no longer seems to count in most sociologists’ minds as a sociology journal anymore.  Perhaps its omission  leads to some significant pieces of organizational sociology being underrepresented (or perhaps not since ASQ publishes fewer articles than many of the sociology journals). To be fair to Neal, I don’t think he’s unique among sociologists as failing to recognize ASQ as an important source of sociology.* One reason for this, I’m guessing, is because a lot of non-sociologists publish in it. But a lot of non-sociologists publish in other journals that are on the list as well, including Social Psychological Quarterly, Mobilization, and Social Science Research. Another reason may just be that it’s because a lot of organizational sociology is no longer taking place in sociology departments, making the subfield invisible to our peer sociologists.  Although I have no data to support this, my intuition is that fewer organizational theory classes are taught in sociology Phd programs today than were taught twenty years ago. Because of this, younger sociologists are not coming into contact with organizational theory, and so they are not citing it.  Again, I have no evidence that this is the case.

I don’t think organizational research is waning in quality.  A lot of organizational research still gets published in ASR and AJS. But a lot of it is probably not read or consumed by most sociologists.

UPDATE: Neal has updated the analysis to include ASQ. The major effect has been to boost DiMaggio and Powell to number 10.

*And yes, I’m lobbying Neal to include ASQ in future citation analyses.


Written by brayden king

June 3, 2012 at 11:49 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Neal made a cool network graph that let’s you see the various clusters of scholarships that emerge from the citations. If I’m reading it correctly, there are three major clusters – one for research on inequality, another for culture and identity, and between these two clusters is another with work on social capital and networks.


    brayden king

    June 4, 2012 at 12:00 am

  2. Glad you found it useful. I had a hard time drawing boundaries. I don’t think ASQ is alone in being a journal that publishes important work by sociologists but isn’t considered a sociology journal by most sociologists. At some point along the way, I decided, when in doubt, I would go by the current or PhD department of the editor. Journal of Urban Affairs and ASQ both lost out on this measure. After quick review, Social Psychological Quarterly might get tossed from the next iteration. I also had a tendency to dip my toe in the pool when I wasn’t sure, like including Demography and Criminology but not many other journals in these fields, so ASQ would be in by this criteria. Probably a better strategy would be to gather lots of data, and then make cuts based on the shape of the resulting network.

    Here’s your ASQ stats, and geese there’s a lot of AJS in there.
    74 articles citing 5,148 different works with an average article referencing 92 different works. The most frequently cited 10% of works accounted for 26% of total references.

    Rank Cites Citation
    1. 19 Dimaggio PJ 1983 Am Sociol Rev
    2. 17 Meyer JW 1977 Am J Sociol
    3. 12 Stinchcombe AL 1965 Hdb Org
    4. 12 Suchman MC 1995 Acad Manage Rev
    5. 12 Burt Ronald S 1992 Structural Holes Soc
    6. 11 Gulati R 1999 Am J Sociol
    7. 10 Ahuja G 2000 Admin Sci Quart
    8. 10 Carroll GR 2000 Am J Sociol
    9. 9 Granovetter M 1985 Am J Sociol
    10. 9 Hannan MT 1989 Org Ecology
    11. 9 Cyert RM 1963 Behav Theory Firm
    12. 9 Zuckerman EW 1999 Am J Sociol
    13. 9 Rao H 2003 Am J Sociol



    June 4, 2012 at 1:19 am

  3. There’s been a decline in the volume of ecological research, which surely accounts somewhat for fewer orgtheory cites in recent years. Also, I think the mass of institutional theory has moved to b-school journals. I’ve written a few articles on insitutitional theory and they’ve all appeared in management or heterodox econ journals. And all the action in institutional work/logics/etc is mostly outside of sociology.



    June 4, 2012 at 3:27 am

  4. […] Update June 5, 2012 to add ASQ, remove articles with fewer than 10 cites (which are probably not articles), and eliminate some […]


  5. Thanks for ranking the cites in ASQ Neal! The top 3 citations don’t surprise me at all. Stinchcombe 1965 may be the most influential piece of organizational theory of the last 50 years in its ability to spur new theory. I’m glad it’s still being cited. The D&P, M&R, and Suchman citations indicate just how central institutional theory is to organizational theory. After that, the big influence is networks, as indicated by Burt, Gulati and Gargiulo, Ahuja, and Granovetter. The ecology is still there but it’s creeping down the list. Interesting to see that the org. ecology that is being cited is almost 15 years old.

    Figuring out the right criteria for including a journal in the analysis is tricky. Is a sociology journal determined by the institutional affiliation of its editors or by the content of the journal? If it’s the latter, then clearly ASQ and SPQ belong in a list of sociology journals. They’re both the most important specialty journals in their subfields. The institutional affiliation thing is also not clear cut. While it’s true that only 1 of 7 of the associate editors are actually in sociology departments, three have their PhDs in sociology. At least four (five if you count the editor) have published in ASR or AJS. The editor, friend of orgtheory Jerry Davis, is a big player in economic sociology, whose work was instrumental to rejuvenating the link between org. theory and social movement research.

    ASQ self-identifies as an organizational theory journal, but inasmuch as organizational theory is a subfield in sociology, then it definitely belongs.


    brayden king

    June 4, 2012 at 1:27 pm

  6. I’m convinced. ASQ now contributes to the list and the graph.



    June 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

  7. […] where is the org. theory in the most cited works in sociology? ( […]


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