orgtheory.net

is org theory out of touch with sociology?

Recently I was talking to a statistician in a business school and he mentioned that he’d seen my paper about the Matthew effect and status bias in baseball. He said that he knew I was a sociologist as soon as he saw the title of our paper. “All sociologists study status and the Matthew effect right?”  He asked me why sociologists care so much about status. The answer I gave him was that sociology as a discipline is very focused on explaining inequality – its antecedents and consequences – and status is one important manifestation of inequality. We have many theories, like the Matthew effect or status characteristics theory, that are fundamentally about explaining the persistence of inequality. Other subfields in sociology – e.g., social movement theory, social networks – try to figure out power imbalances, yet another source of inequality.

Of course, the statistician was partly wrong. Yes, it’s a good assumption that if a scholar studies the Matthew effect he or she is probably a sociologist, but there are still some sociologists – some of whom are in business schools – who are not as interested in studying inequality. Organizational theory, setting aside work and occupations research or status scholars, is one of those subfields within sociology that has historically been less concerned with inequality than with other dynamics. I’ve said in the past that the major contribution of organizational theory is that organizations “become “infused with value” independent of any technical or rational contribution they make to society. They become their own ends.” This insight distinguishes sociological theories of organizations from economics and organizational behavior. The contribution runs deep in the history of organizational theory as well, linking the old institutionalism of Selznick to contemporary theories like new institutional theory, organizational ecology, and identity theory. But this contribution has nothing to do with inequality. I can see how graduate students who are not immersed in organizational theory might even find this insight irrelevant.

Perhaps this disjuncture between what organizational sociologists and the rest of sociology find interesting explains some of the distancing of organizational theory from mainstream sociology. Organizational theory increasingly seems to be going through a long divorce process from sociology as more established scholars leave sociology departments and as top sociology departments fail to replace them with up-and-coming scholars.  Now, of course, before I lament too much, I should add that even if there is a disjuncture, it hasn’t prevented organizational scholars from publishing in mainstream sociology journals. Some of the most prolific scholars in ASR and AJS are people who are very much working in the organizational theory tradition. But as I see papers like this get published, I wonder, to what extent do graduate students, outside of those few schools that still teach an organizational theory course in their sociology curriculum, find these studies interesting or relevant? I’m not sure. Perhaps they see them as a weird alien species that occasionally shows up and reproduces in their territory. Adding to this divide is the fact that because many of the organizational scholars who publish in ASR and AJS are now located in business schools, their relational embeddedness in mainstream sociology is quite weak.

I think two trends have taken place that may explain this growing distance between organizational theory and mainstream sociology. The first is that sociology has become more focused on inequality than ever.  Although inequality and social problems have always been of interest to sociologists, it has never quite captured the discipline as it has in this moment. Even cultural sociologists are now inequality scholars. The second is that organizational theory has become increasingly abstract and removed from practical issues, such as figuring out how to make organizations more effective for resolving social problems. Selznick believed that this ought to be one of the main motivators for organizational theory. It was the impetus for his TVA study, and he later criticized new institutional theory for losing that practicality. Perhaps as organizational theory has become more focused on generalizable propositions (e.g., see the formal theory of ecology), most sociologists find it less interesting and less relevant to what they do. They certainly see it as being unconcerned with sociology’s bread-and-butter topic – inequality.

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Written by brayden king

April 24, 2014 at 3:05 pm

39 Responses

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  1. Brayden – Great post, but I think the org theory vs. mainstream sociology thing is a bit off. Talk to people in just about ANY area in the field in which good research is being done and most will report feeling disconnected from something called “mainstream sociology.” The reason why is probably a three-parter — One, sociology is multi-paradigmatic. Two, “mainstream sociology” is a fiction that lives on only in introductory textbooks. While most biologists, for instance, can swallow most of what is presented in an “introduction to biology” text, very few thinking sociologists can do the same. If “mainstream” = what appears in introductory texts, then nobody other than attentive undergrads are “mainstream.” Three, sociology, as a multi-paradigmatic field, has a very hazy public reputation. You shouldn’t be surprised that all that a statistician can muster when thinking “sociology” is something about Merton and status (i.e., sociology of the functionalist heyday). When he thinks “organizational sociology,” William Whyte is probably among the first three things that come to mind. So, chill. It is all good bro. Org soc is real, mainstream soc.

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    Rich

    April 24, 2014 at 4:13 pm

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful and helpful post. Most of my work has been doing ethnography in schools (my dissertation and my current project), and I’m primarily interested in processes of identity and socialization into certain visions of the good. Boundaries, practices, and a lot of the tools of cultural sociology are very useful for my research, as are the insights of organizational sociologists, who obviously have a pretty good relationship with the study of schools. Yet, because I don’t really look at inequality, I’m struck by how little I have in common with the vast majority of the sociology of education–and a lot of the rest of sociology besides. Being a loner isn’t the problem though (I’ll just try to publish in other subdisciplines): the problem is the degree to which a focus on inequality obscures other equally interesting and important questions, like how and why people come to care about what they care about, how those values are maintained over time, and the processes through which organizational forms and logics can explain often radical differences in actions and values, practices and boundaries. That work is obviously being done, yet I often get the sense it has a boutique sensibility, and the real bread and butter is the work of explaining inequality.

    I suppose I have two criticisms of this. The first is that there are a lot of important things to understand and explain besides inequality–even if, as a typically leftist sociologist, I feel the compulsion to insist that, of course, studying, explaining, and seeking to correct inequality is, in fact, important. The second is that the brilliance of someone like Bourdieu was his ability to take questions of meaning as a starting point for other questions about stratification. Now, I have plenty of criticisms of PB, and I’m not at all suggesting that the study of culture or organizations is only useful as a means of understanding stratification. I am, however, suggesting that the study of stratification would be deeply impoverished without smart and sophisticated work on culture and organizations, work that (like Bourdieu’s) can provide insights into mechanisms hitherto unnoticed.

    I don’t think that what I’m suggesting here (culture and organizations matter as ends in themselves and not simply as means to understand stratification) is actually that controversial, at least not outside the very “normal science” universe of the sociology of education. However, I think you’re right that increasingly even cultural sociologists have to prove their work’s relevance to this or that social problem, and that social problem usually has something to do with stratification. All of which raises interesting questions about the essence of our discipline–are we really studying social life, or are we actually much more specifically studying inequality? I think most folks would say the former, but it often feels like the latter.

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    Jeff Guhin

    April 24, 2014 at 4:34 pm

  3. I don’t have a position on the main question, but I do have a related question/concern. Do you think that, as orgs types have fled to business schools, they have had less influence on hiring in sociological departments? Has the balance of power shifted a bit toward fuzzy critical research in leading departments because of this?

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    feeling abandoned

    April 24, 2014 at 5:23 pm

  4. Rich – you make a good point about sociology’s fragmentation leading all of us to feel non-mainstream. I wonder though if inequality is the only thing that seems to unify our field and that if there is a single paradigm within sociology it centers on the reproduction of inequality. If that’s true, then I think subfields like organizational theory will be more outside the discipline than inside. Of course, there is also a structural component to it as well. The more that a subfield is made up primarily of sociologists, then the more likely that subfield will be seen as mainstream. Organizational theory is not only a subfield within sociology, it also overlaps with an interdisciplinary field of study – organizational studies.

    But I also think that there is some truth to the notion that organizational sociology is moving out of mainstream sociology departments. I would bet that most top 20 departments do not offer an organizational theory seminar anymore. The course is even less likely to be offered in the next tier of grad schools. Departments just don’t hire organizational theorists anymore. The result of this is that students interested in organizational theory have to go outside of sociology to get the course, which has an implicit effect on how mainstream it seems to incoming grad students. Most sociology students don’t really have a good mental map of the field and so they will believe that sociology is what their departments tell them it is. If their departments don’t tell them that sociology includes organizational theory, then they will believe that it is really outside the field or a very specialized subfield.

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    brayden king

    April 24, 2014 at 5:30 pm

  5. feelingabandoned – yes, I think that’s right. If there are no internal advocates for hiring a new organizational sociologist, then the likelihood of hiring one in the future is very slim. The tendency is to put the blame entirely on business schools for poaching organizational scholars, but part of the blame must also be put on departments that gave up the fight and have failed to make hiring organizational sociologists a priority. I had a conversation recently with a retired professor who was in a department that was once regarded as one of the top places to study organizational theory, and he told me that there is simply no desire to hire organizational sociologists in the future. He believes it is a lost cause.

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    brayden king

    April 24, 2014 at 5:33 pm

  6. Brayden: “The tendency is to put the blame entirely on business schools for poaching organizational scholars, but part of the blame must also be put on departments that gave up the fight and have failed to make hiring organizational sociologists a priority.”

    Can you present a strategy whereby Indiana (NRC rank 12) soc can compete with the $100k + salaries of similarly ranked business schools? (NYU, Virginia, Yale – US News rank 10-13) There are full profs that don’t make that much around here.I am completely serious.

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    fabiorojas

    April 24, 2014 at 6:03 pm

  7. Business Schools don’t offer Org theory related courses/seminars either at the MBA or Undergrad level. They used to offer courses on Organizational Design, Power & Influence etc. but they are increasingly getting cut-down. The only Org Theory course that is consistently being offered in many B-Schools in the Org. Theory/Macro-OB PhD Seminar. At the MBA level, most “org. theory” hires end up teaching a OB/People Management/Leadership type of a course or an Innovation-related course. In fact, if I remember right, the OMT division even helped create this website http://teachomt.com/ to encourage B-Schools to offer OT-ish courses.

    Even if you look at the Management job market, you either have a micro- opening for folks with a social psych background or a macro- opening for folks with a strategy or econ. background. Very very few of the macro- openings deliberately look for/hire “pure” Org theory folks.

    So heck yeah. Org theory is an outcast not just with Soc. departments but also in B-Schools.

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    Andy

    April 24, 2014 at 6:48 pm

  8. Interesting post as usual Brayden. But, let me make a few points. First, Fabio nailed it. How in the world can normal soc departments be expected to compete with b-schools that can pay twice as much or more for even junior professors? We should maybe be asking why b-schools have come to control so much more financial resources than colleges of arts and sciences.

    Second, I think you really overstate the dominance of inequality in sociology. Think about what sections are largest in soc. Top is culture, second is gender, third is medical. IPM didn’t even exist until a few years ago, and only became necessary because “mainstream” soc was not studying inequality as much as in the past. Further, though IPM has done fairly well, it still has about 300-400 less members than culture. If anything is dominant in contemporary soc, it is culture.

    Third, a comparative perspective would be helpful here. Inequality might seem big in soc, but it is much bigger in economics, and even political science these days. The reality is that inequality has become one of the most pressing issues of our time, and it is getting more attention in a lot of fields and even journalism. Soc probably reflects this too, but like I said above, soc depts are much more excited about culture, health, and other areas than they are about inequality. If anything, I think soc is lagging behind other fields’ interest in inequality.

    Last, I agree with earlier poster. If you ask 10 sociologists in 10 different areas, each would feel their area is under-appreciated and some other areas are getting all the attention. This may be due to the high fractionalization of our field or it may say something about how scholars tend to simply feel like their areas just don’t get enough love.

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    anonymous

    April 24, 2014 at 6:51 pm

  9. Brayden: That wasn’t quite my question. I accept Fabio’s rhetorical position. The hit rate for hiring organizational sociologists is so low in sociology departments because of the salary differential. Even places with some largesse have repeatedly lost out to business schools because they can’t justify the salary disparities that would arise from matching the offers that come in from business schools in January. They keep trying, but they keep failing. Some departments have given up trying.

    My question, incompletely stated, was what are the consequences for leading sociology departments of this undeniable fact?!? As much as orgs research is not my cup of tea, I do regard it as a subfield with much higher scientific standards than most others in sociology. Do we know of departments where the turn to other types of scholarship that value engagement and advocacy more can be related to the departure of orgs researchers? I can’t really think of any, but I don’t follow these patterns very closely.

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    still feeling abandoned

    April 24, 2014 at 6:57 pm

  10. Fabio – I think there are definitely org. sociologists coming out fresh on the market who would take a job at a place like Indiana. Few business schools hire sociologists, and those that do end up competing for a small handful of sociologists who already have an AJS or ASR piece. But besides focusing on hires, I think a lot of departments could simply offer a graduate OT course. Where, for example, would an OT-interested grad student take a course like that at Indiana?

    Andy – Although “OT jobs” are disappearing, people who do OT are still getting jobs teaching MBA courses in OB, strategy, and ethics/social issues in management. The OMT division recently did an analysis of scholars who attended past doctoral consortia for OMT, and we found almost 100% employment. So they’re getting jobs – they’re just in teaching typical MBA courses, not OT.

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    brayden king

    April 24, 2014 at 6:58 pm

  11. Brayden – Don’t you think there is at least some connection between OT-ish courses disappearing from the MBA program to the fast-vanishing OT jobs? I think so. And I don’t know the level of dissonance that the OT folks experience when they are asked to teach OB or Strategy courses.

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    Andy

    April 24, 2014 at 7:05 pm

  12. anon – an emphasis on inequality is greater in political science and economics than sociology? I think we’re working from a different definition of inequality. Gender, for example, is exactly in the sociologist’s wheelhouse because of an interest in understanding gender inequality. Inequality is not just limited to income or wealth inequality – to a sociologist inequality is about all of the many ways that people limit the power, influence, and resources available to different groups. Interestingly, one reason that it took so long to create an inequality and poverty section is because many sociologists felt that to limit inequality to one section was to do a disservice to the topic. Why create one section about inequality when all of sociology was about inequality?

    abandoned – I think you overstate the extent to which b-schools are going after organizational sociologists. Every year there are 2-3 organizational scholars that end up getting offers from top departments in both sociology and b-schools. But we shouldn’t hold up the exceptions as the rule. There are many other scholars who get jobs in sociology departments who could teach organizational theory courses but who do not. There are organizational scholars who end up getting jobs in Europe because there aren’t enough jobs for organizational sociologists in the U.S. What worries me is that because fewer org. theory grad school classes are being offered in sociology, the future generation of sociologists who could teach such a class is drying up.

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    brayden king

    April 24, 2014 at 7:15 pm

  13. Actually, now that I think about it 2-3 is an overestimate. Every year there is ONE organizational scholar who gets offers from both b-schools and sociology.

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    brayden king

    April 24, 2014 at 7:18 pm

  14. And I can’t believe you used the survey of OMT doctoral consortia participants as an indicator of folks finding jobs. The OMT consortia typically gets 1 student per university, usually the top one, across all the colleges and departments.

    And yes, the ones who do OT from the elite schools such as Northwestern do get a good position. Plus there is this “econ soc” clique of MIT, Stanford & Chicago that hire from each other. Apart from that, from what I heard, even very good students from mid-tier schools with a A-journal publication (ASQ/AMJ/AMR/OS) are finding it very difficult to get a half-decent OT position. Most of the folks I know of are re-positioning themselves as strategy or innovation researchers in their job market application. Just a sad & depressing story.

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    Andy

    April 24, 2014 at 7:19 pm

  15. Andy – I buy your claim that OT courses in MBA programs do not exist, and so yes, there are no OT jobs anywhere in business schools (except for in Europe). But this has been true for 20 years or so. OT people teach other courses besides OT. So this idea that they are repositioning to teach OB or Strategy isn’t right. They are trained to teach such classes from the beginning of their careers, as they TA for other professors who teach those classes. This is true even of the elite programs you mention. I teach a class on Power and Politics, which is essentially a leadership class with applied sociology and social psychology. The OT folks at Stanford teach Strategy. Every school is a little bit different.

    Sociologists realize when they move to a b-school that they’re going to have to teach something that is an applied version of OT. I’ve actually enjoyed it. Finding ways to make your research practical is really fun.

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    brayden king

    April 24, 2014 at 7:25 pm

  16. Yes, it sounds like you’re defining inequality much more broadly than me. But, I think you’re defining it more broadly than sociologists of inequality would as well. I see your position that if one includes all “inequalities” of power, status, resources, influence, etc. But, I’d respectfully suggest that makes the meaning of inequality so broad I’d have a hard time saying what does not fit within it. Just as org theorists probably have some claim on what org theory is, wouldn’t it be fair to suggest inequality sociologists have some claim on what inequality sociology is. If so, I doubt they would accept your definition.

    You make a good point about gender inequality. But, my impression an awful lot of the gender section is about identity, culture, etc. I don’t see a ton of overlap between gender and IPM sections of ASA, but I agree gender inequality at work is a pretty huge area.

    Last, I stand behind my claim. Inequality is a much bigger topic in Econ and poli sci these days. I’m sure you’ve noticed this guy named Pikketty lately? Tons of articles in APSR study economic inequalities as cause or consequence of politics. Plus, if we accept your aforementioned broad definition of inequality, one could argue all of poli sci is about inequality. Power would be a form of inequality by your def right? I think it was Laswell that defined poli sci as who gets what… But, even with my stricter def of inequality, I read far more work in poli sci that is truly about inequality in poli sci.

    Plus, what about the biggest section of ASA being culture, or that Econ soc and OOW are still much larger than IPM? Would it be unreasonable to suggest there is more networks and culture in Econ soc and OOW than stricter study of inequality? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest it.

    Good debate Brayden and many valid points. Please don’t take my comments as flippant or snarky.

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    anonymous

    April 24, 2014 at 7:36 pm

  17. True for 20 years? I’m not sure about that. There used be Org. design or Power & Influence type of courses when I was active teaching 5-6 years back before I moved to an administrative role. I know of similar courses being offered in a number of neighborhood universities until the mid 2000s. Don’t know what happened after that.

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    Andy

    April 24, 2014 at 7:38 pm

  18. Brayden: I would have guessed more like 3 rather than 1, and that quite likely means that my experience is atypical. I don’t doubt that there are orgs types who cannot find jobs, but I don’t think sociology departments want to pick only from among those that the top 15 or so business schools have passed on. Not the sort of selection dynamic that allows a department to build distinction in an area. I guess the most relevant pieces of information are answers to the following: Of people who had both sociology offers and b schools offers when they came on the market, in how many cases did sociology departments win? What is the Markov model for movement between sociology departments and business schools as careers develop?

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    feeling a little less abandoned

    April 24, 2014 at 7:51 pm

  19. anon – don’t worry, I didn’t read your comment as snarky. :) At any rate, I doubt that my view about inequality is especially unique. Sociologists see inequality and social injustice everywhere. It’s in our theoretical DNA. We most certainly wouldn’t limit it to income or wealth inequality. Take the OOW section, which has really shifted its focus in the last decade or so to become more inequality-focused and less OT-oriented. The research that dominates OOW is more likely to come out of a grad seminar on Work and Occupations than it would from an org. theory seminar. Here is a link to last year’s program: http://oowsection.org/2013/05/16/2013-asa-program-for-oow-sessions/

    The more I write, the more afraid I am that I’ll be misperceived as saying that we need less inequality-focused research. I absolutely do not believe this. I am just wondering if org. theory is losing its resonance with sociologists because it builds on a different set of principles than most sociology does.

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    brayden king

    April 24, 2014 at 7:54 pm

  20. Andy – I’m confused. So org. design and power/influence classes are OT classes but Strategy is not? I guess rather than categorize MBA classes this way, I would just say that any junior scholar whose research is OT-related ought to be prepared to teach anything. The kinds of classes you are asked to teach vary incredibly by institution. In other schools they might have me teach a core strategy class or nonmarket strategy or values-based leadership. I don’t think any of these are particularly OT-specific, just as I don’t think org. design is an OT class (honestly, I know far more about strategy than I do about org. design). So if you’re going to teach MBAs, be prepared to be flexible and be overjoyed if you get to teach an OT PhD class.

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    brayden king

    April 24, 2014 at 7:58 pm

  21. abandoned – I would guess b-schools usually win, but that’s also indicative of the kind of people who would apply to both jobs. Chances are that if you apply to both kinds of jobs and you interview at both kinds, you believe a b-school is a good fit and so you’re likely persuaded by its other benefits. But there are plenty of other org. scholars for whom a b-school might no be desirable. I’ve talked to several students who feel this way. Other students would be happy to just get a job, period.

    One problem that org. students have when they go on the market is that they’ve been taught that the only journals that matter are ASR/AJS/ASQ. These are the biases of most top org. scholars. We need to be a little less elitist when training our students. Gender scholars don’t demand that their students only publish in three (extremely selective) journals. If they did, many more gender scholars would end up unemployed! If we widen our scope a bit and encourage more org. scholars to publish their high quality work in places like Soc. Science, Social Forces, Socio-Economic Review, perhaps we wouldn’t have such disparity in outcomes. Seriously, it’s either rags or riches among org. theorists, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to be that way.

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    brayden king

    April 24, 2014 at 8:03 pm

  22. This is interesting as an empirical question. I think we can both offer examples to fit our story. To settle the issue would be tougher, and I’m not entirely sure what would be the right metric. Maybe jobs advertised? Or, number of tenured faculty in soc depts? I suggested section memberships, but the ASA program is also interesting. As would be new PhDs.

    To be clear, I don’t think org theory is the big winner in the absence of inequality studies. I wish. I would suspect culture, health, demography, networks. Of those, the last three are more fundable than strict inequality research. For the record, I’m sorry to say I accept your basic point that org theory has become less central and prominent in soc — especially compared to 3-4 decades ago. I just don’t think inequality is the central tendency of soc.

    One last point on the definition of inequality. Wouldn’t almost all org theory fit within your definition? Certainly org ecology work. I would only push back against the quite vague and squishy definition of inequality that a lot of sociologists traffic in. It is hardly coherent and I suspect mostly reflects little more than a normative commitment to injustice in some vague way. But, us inequality scholars shouldn’t be considered as responsible for all that.

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    anonymous

    April 24, 2014 at 8:05 pm

  23. Speaking from experience in a soc department, making an offer to a junior who is also on the B-school market has become tantamount to Charlie Brown thinking that this time, Lucy won’t pull the football. The applicants swear up and down that they want to work in a sociology department, but lo and behold, they see that six figure starting salary with virtually unlimited research resources and change their minds. From the point of view of the sociology department, it’s a wasted offer, and often a lost search year.

    The people who are getting these offers aren’t objectively better than candidates in other subfields. In fact, many have much less impressive publication records or serious flaws in their research. (No, I won’t name names!) Dip further in the pool to get an org sociologist who won’t be attractive to B schools, and you wind up passing on 25-30 people in other areas who are stronger scholars. Given this, it’s no surprise that org soc has all but moved out of sociology departments.

    I also don’t agree with the claim that sociology has become increasingly focused on inequality. I’m older than Fabio, enough to remember when the nickname for ASR was American Stratification Review, and when you couldn’t pick up an issue without seeing at least one mobility study. That’s just not true anymore, unless you define the boundaries of inequality broadly enough to include family demography, all of race and gender (even research that is more about identity than inequality), etc.

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    krippendorf

    April 24, 2014 at 8:33 pm

  24. krippendorf: An even narrower version of that joke was American Status-Attainment Review. I could believe that inequality is a bigger topic now across the social sciences, what with the interests of economists and political scientists these days. But, I’d guess fairly constant level of attention within sociology. And probably inequality is lower in status than it used to be, as it does not seem to be the place to debut methodological advance as much as it used to be.

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    feeling abandoned again

    April 24, 2014 at 8:47 pm

  25. I was also going to push something along the lines of “anonymous,” but thought I might be misunderstanding you. Apparently not. Much of the “focus on inequality” that you see in sociology is not seen as a “focus on inequality” by sociologists studying inequality. Identity politics, mesearch, and hyper-reflexive intersectional judo != “inequality research.” My point (again) — just like people who study orgs, people who study inequality, or networks, or social psychology, or ^any other area with good work ALSO feel disconnected from “mainstream sociology.” We’re all in the same boat, bra.

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    Rich

    April 24, 2014 at 8:51 pm

  26. There will be an OOW session on these questions at the upcoming ASA meetings with a great lineup of panelists. Hope you all come and join the debate. Here’s the info:

    Title: Section on Organizations, Occupation and Work Invited Session. Does Organizational Sociology Have a Future?

    Description: Few sociologists today consider themselves primarily scholars of organizations. Sociologists who study different types of organizations within their primary fields–such as economic sociology, science, social movements, political sociology, and urban sociology–are often not in conversation with each other. Many sociologically-trained scholars have migrated to business schools and become absorbed by the large interdisciplinary field of organization studies, which tends to have a managerial orientation. Little attention is directed to the broader impact of organizations on society. This invited session will consider these and other trends in the study of organizations within the discipline of sociology. It will ask whether “organizations” still constitutes a coherent subfield, whether it can or should be revitalized, and what its future direction might look like.

    Participants:
    Organizer: Elizabeth Gorman, University of Virginia
    Panelists:
    Howard Aldrich, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
    Elisabeth Clemens, University of Chicago
    Harland Prechel, Texas A&M University
    Martin Ruef, Duke University
    Ezra Zuckerman, MIT Sloan School

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    elizabeth gorman

    April 24, 2014 at 10:56 pm

  27. +1 for the view that sociology has no mainstream and almost all sociologists thus feel on the fringes of the discipline. In my small department, every single one of my colleagues has told me that they feel like their work is on the margins of the field. Including the one who studies race and class in education systems and the other that studies money and gender in migration – both topics I would consider inequality.

    More broadly, I worked from ASA numbers to draw a map of how sections memberships fit into larger subfields of sociology for my undergraduate theory course. The inequality section memberships broadly defined (focus on stratification, dominance, or marginalized group) were about 28% of all memberships. Orgs and econ soc alone are 8%. Political, historic, and global sociology sections are another block with 18% of section memberships. While the numbers will vary based on where you put a section, the point is that inequality may be bread and butter, but substantial numbers of sociologists are also eating focaccia with goat cheese.

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    cwalken

    April 24, 2014 at 11:08 pm

  28. I’m with Brayden on the broad understanding of the study of inequality, which can basically be understood as the study of why certain groups or individuals gain more or better resources, advantages, habits, field positions, and performative expectations than others. Even in cultural sociology, someone like Michele Lamont (and her students) are deeply concerned about this (e.g. symbolic vs. social boundaries): for example, one of her best students, Chris Bail, doesn’t really study stratification, but he does look at how culture empowers some while harming others. Like Brayden, I think that’s important work, both socially and intellectually. However, it’s quite different from work that’s more explicitly focused on organizational forms or cultural processes as ends in themselves–a DiMaggio or Vaisey or a lot of the Stanford School. I think it’s fair to say that, even if the ASR is more open to this kind of paper than it used to be, it’s still considered much less hirable and less important that stratification and inequality understood more broadly (for all the talk of culture’s growth at ASA and in the discipline, it’s still very hard to get a culture job, let alone a comparative-historical one!).

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    Jeff Guhin

    April 24, 2014 at 11:09 pm

  29. Does anyone have thoughts on joint appointments? It sounds like junior organizational scholars are sort of stuck in the middle – competing with sociologists in other subfields in sociology departments AND with economists, psychologists, and management scholars in business schools. As has been noted by most everyone, there are reasons sociology departments might shy away from competing with business schools for organizational sociologists. This is to the detriment of teaching Organizations to sociologists and possibly to the perceived marginality of the field in sociology. At the same time, as Andy noted, business schools don’t exactly expect organizational sociologists to stick closely to sociology. Could joint appointments/hiring be a viable solution to this?

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    jsradford

    April 25, 2014 at 4:15 pm

  30. @jsradford: Joint appointments work better in theory than practice. Typically, one may have to satisfy two departmental tenure committees formally, with two reports forwarded to the next level of adjudication. Satisfying a soc P&T committee AND a B-School committee with the same dossier is not easy. And some joint appointments require two annual reviews, two peer teaching evaluations, two sets of committee assignments,…

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    Randy

    April 25, 2014 at 4:53 pm

  31. Great comments from everyone. I really appreciate the input.

    Re joint appointments: I agree with Randy’s comment. I’d also add that the expense of a joint appointment is too high for most sociology departments and/or not worth it for the business school. Most business school sociologists I know, though, have a courtesy appointment in sociology, and they often get sociology students in their PhD seminars. So that’s a positive…

    I also want to make sure that people don’t perceive me as making the argument that org. sociology is marginal to the discipline currently. I think the more-than-fair-share of ASR/AJS publications that org. scholars get is evidence that it is not. But I am concerned that if org. sociologists can’t reproduce themselves that over time it will become marginal. Currently there are enough sociologists out there who took phd classes from the old guard that there is a substantial base who find worth in this scholarship. But what happens in 20 years if org. theory hasn’t been taught in sociology departments for the last several decades? I’m not sure about that.

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    brayden king

    April 25, 2014 at 5:22 pm

  32. Two possible remedies to the structural problems discussed above that are worth mentioning:

    1) The MIT model of creating a separate PhD program in economic (or organizational) sociology that is housed in the business school. If all of the org. sociologists have left sociology departments, then perhaps we should just start training future organizational sociologists in business schools. In a sense this is what is currently happening. Although only MIT has an official program, a number of programs, including Stanford, Michigan, and Harvard train their Phds in business administration (or whatever it’s called locally) as sociologists. The only problem with this model is that most of the time these scholars will never be hired by sociology departments for reasons mentioned above. So it may just feed into the perception that organizational sociology is a separate field that is only tangentially related to mainstream sociology.

    2) Create joint sociology/organizations PhD programs. This is the model we employ here at Northwestern. We train students as both organizational scholars and sociologists and give them a degree in both fields. When a student is equipped with a sociology degree there are fewer barriers to being hired by a sociology department. The key though is to select students whose research interests are relevant to both departments. In the last 4-5 years our program has tried to be much more conscientious about the type of student we admit into this program, choosing students who are interested in organizational theory AND another core topic to the field. The hope is that we can produce students who can teach organizational theory but who can also teach urban sociology, culture, gender, political sociology, etc. We’ve been very selective and so the program is small, but I expect that you’ll see a number of students come out of this program in the future who are employed by sociology departments and not business schools. I hope the sociology departments who hire them allow them to teach graduate classes in organizational theory.

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    brayden king

    April 25, 2014 at 5:35 pm

  33. It is troubling but not surprising to hear that org theory (one of a few subfields in sociology to have survived the market test) has lost ground in business schools. Having spent a bit of time with economics/business/finance PhDs, it is really eye opening to see how little respect sociology gets from these types.

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    anonymous

    April 25, 2014 at 8:55 pm

  34. I agree with Rich. Even though symbolic interactionism is one third of the standard intro textbook (functionalism, conflict theory, SI), symbolic interactionists think of themselves as outside mainstream sociology. The problem could be that the bogeyman of structural functionalism still serves as a foil, and people simultaneously think of SF as (a) dead and (b) mainstream sociology.

    Even though I’ve done some research in income inequality, I think the problem with the term “inequality” is that it can connote both fair and unfair distributions. So inequality isn’t inherently a moral problem, but sometimes the inequality heuristic is applied to evaluate fairness. It’s unfortunate that Alan Fiske’s theory of relational models hasn’t made inroads into sociology. If it had, I think it would be clearer that when people aren’t using equality matching or communal sharing, there’s no expectation of equality as an outcome even though there is an expectation of reciprocity.

    Another problem is that the material dimension of equality is a proxy for the moral dimension of fairness, but fairness is one of at least six moral dimensions (see http://www.moralfoundations.org).

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    Chris M

    April 26, 2014 at 2:26 pm

  35. Hey Brayden, interesting post! So I’m obviously something of an outlier, so take this for what it’s worth. I came out of the NU model with ties to the management school but housed in sociology – and Marc V. and Brian U. (maybe Paul H. too) were doing essentially sociology. I took a position in a sociology department that also has ties to a management school (Barnard, with ties to CU’s CBS).

    And of course I’ve since left academia to ‘do’ organizational research in the private sector. My background has been remarkably valuable at Intel, in part because most of the ‘user experience’ is so focused on, well, end-users, and so little of it is focused on the ways technology filter into organizations. Honestly, I’ve talked quite successfully here about commensuration, mechanisms for institutional change, I used frickin’ Merton’s manifest and latent functions in a meeting just yesterday.

    All this said, there’s probably not enough that’s systematic in my career path that points to a revitalization of org theory or organizational sociology, really. There are not enough jobs like mine (today at least), and there’s not enough interest (well, maybe not about interest, but let’s say a lack of capability) at PhD programs to place students into interesting, sociological, organizational positions outside of academic departments.

    Plus, the world is changing a lot as well. I have a colleague here in the labs who thinks that ethnography is pretty much on its last legs, full-stop. Due to funding changes in universities, as well as changes in markets for private sector organizations (speeding up, more complex markets, etc.).

    Obviously there’s a present-ist tendency overestimate the current moment as a transitional moment, but I think maybe there are real structural changes that have moved where value for organizational research can be best cultivated. And right now it’s not in sociology departments.

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    Peter Levin (@plevin)

    April 29, 2014 at 11:11 am

  36. Peter – thanks for sharing your perspective. This is super interesting. So do you think organizational sociology is less relevant today to non-academic organizations for methodological reasons? Because sociologists aren’t trained in the methods that these organizations look for when hiring?

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    brayden king

    April 29, 2014 at 12:42 pm

  37. I think I was hired specifically because I could do ethnography (which is central to my group), but also am methodologically agnostic (or can at least do some stats). Plus, I think organizationally and sociologically, which is highly valued…ish. It’s required some specific translation abilities – manifest and latent functions become, “here’s what you want to collect data for, and here’s a wildly useful additional use that you weren’t expecting” – and an ability to roll with uncertainty. Not super-high qualities for most academics.

    But to your point, I actually think that the kind of quick-hit ethnography that management schools are now doing to replace longer, more intensive ethnography, would still probably be quite valuable as ‘insights research.’

    Contemp. organizations are facing complicated, fast-moving markets, which are making their decisions more fateful – you make a wrong strategic move and someone unexpected comes and totally eats your lunch. It’s a kind of March-esque ambiguity environment. And many orgs respond (predictably) by rationalizing their processes. But they don’t know how to see longer-term institutional changes, they don’t really know what they are doing, they are fearful of the ambiguous future. Obviously, Intel is facing this more than most, but it’s more and more common across a range of industries.

    A colleague at RED Associates (Christian Madsbjerg) wrote a book called The Moment of Clarity, which is basically a humanities- and ethnography-centered approach to business environments. I think there’s lots of room for PhD programs to fulfill this niche, even though no one will. And so 99% of the time it will be individuals taking jack-of-all-trades abilities into the field to make their own careers. Which actually kind of sucks work-wise, insofar as I have lots of colleagues but almost no one ‘like me’.

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    Peter Levin (@plevin)

    April 29, 2014 at 3:02 pm

  38. Just to add to this conversation, a different perspective. I’m a phd student in a top 10 straight sociology program with relatively limited resources for someone interested in doing organizational sociology. Not to say there are none, but they just have to be cobbled together by someone who wants to develop that specialty. We have a number of faculty members who can speak to dimensions of organizational theory and a more senior member who’s made a career as an orgs person, but there’s no clear group or path for a grad student. I discovered this field around my third year and have since been struggling to figure out how to position my research to speak to both sociology and business school audiences. It feels like a tradeoff where you either start to engage with Organization Science, ASQ, Organization Studies debates or you stay within more mainstream sociology journals, but that they two push you in different directions (maybe ASQ straddles the line). On top of that, many B-school faculty seem to look at sociologists skeptically and vice versa. Then, as I have started to think about how to develop my dissertation and apply for jobs, I continue to face this challenge.

    Lastly, just from a scan of the ASA, AOM, and Chronicle postings, the number of postings for assistant TT jobs at business schools for OB, HR, Strategy, Innovation, Management jobs versus assistant TT sociology jobs in OOW and Econ Soc has got to be 10 to 1. I recognize that these are distinct subfields (particularly on the business side), but it seems pretty clear that not only are the salaries better on the b-school side but that there are a lot more jobs out there.

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    hard to chart a path

    April 29, 2014 at 6:55 pm

  39. htcap – ASQ/Org. Science are outstanding specialty journals (the equivalent of Demography for demographers). Most sociology departments, at least those in the top 20, know ASQ and so they won’t see publishing there as a step down, but you may need to convince sociologists of the merit of Org. Science. (If you have a hard time convincing them, point to the citation impact or have them ask established organizational sociologists what they think.) Personally, I see it as the 2nd best OT journal. It publishes a lot of excellent organizational sociology.

    And yes, I feel bad about the lack of OT jobs out there in sociology departments. This is what I meant by part of the blame falling on sociology departments. If the jobs aren’t there, then business schools become even more attractive options.

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    brayden king

    April 30, 2014 at 12:31 am


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