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sociologists in asq

So I was toying around with the “future of org theory” line of thought, and started thinking about the past of org theory instead, because that’s so much easier.

In my mind ASQ straddles sociology and business schools, or at least has, historically. I thought that ASQ used to publish a fair number of sociologists and now publishes fewer. I figured that was part of the decline-of-org-theory-in-soc story.

But when I took a look, it turned out (based on a limited, totally nonscientific sample) I had the story totally wrong. There were hardly any sociologists publishing in ASQ 20 years ago, either.

A little data, based on the author bio pages: The last four issues of ASQ had, collectively, 45 authors. One, Olav Sorensen, has a courtesy appointment in sociology. Three — Sorenson, Amanda Sharkey, and Brayden King — have soc PhDs but B-school appointments. That’s it for sociologists. Not all the rest are at B-schools, but they’re not in soc departments either.

But. Ten years ago, in 2003-04, ASQ had 34 authors. Not one was appointed solely to a soc department. Two had a joint appointment in sociology and something else, and one a courtesy appointment in soc. Six (including the joint/courtesy appointments) held sociology PhDs.

Okay, I thought. I’m just not going far back enough. The decline of sociologists took place earlier, maybe in the late 90s. So I looked at 1993-94.

Nope. No dice. 36 authors. 1 with a sociology appointment, 1 with a joint appointment in sociology. Three soc PhDs.

That’s where I stopped, since it was getting time-consuming, though I’m curious if another decade would have made a difference.

I suppose on the one hand this shouldn’t be so surprising. I mean, “Administrative Science” kind of gives it away: not a sociology journal. But why would I have had the impression that there used to be more sociologists publishing in ASQ? Has org theory as done in business schools moved further from sociology in other ways?

Written by epopp

June 6, 2014 at 3:16 pm

22 Responses

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  1. Try going back to the 1970s. If you go back there, however, where sociologists will turn up is “people with PhD’s in sociology but working in b-schools.” E.g. both Mike Hannan & John Freeman earned PhDs in sociology at UNC-CH, and both worked for a time in sociology departments. But then, like many subsequently, they switched sides, as it were. John moved from UC-Riverside to UC-B & Mike gradually transitioned to the GSB at Stanford. I published a handful of stuff in ASQ in the 1970s, but I was in a hybrid department in an applied school (ILR).

    When people reminisce about the good old days of sociology & ASQ, I believe, underlying their lament is the loss of sociology PhDs to b-schools that started in the 1970s.

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    Howard Aldrich

    June 6, 2014 at 3:23 pm

  2. There are people like myself who publish in ASQ, were trained in business schools, teach in business schools, and consider themselves sociologists. My committee included Ezra Zuckerman and Roberto Fernandez. I sit in a department with Michael Hannan, Glenn Carroll, Huggy Rao, Sarah Soule, Jesper Sorensen, and Amir Goldberg, all of whom got their PhDs in Sociology departments. I submit my papers to sociology journals as well as to ASQ and other management journals, and I train my students to do the same. My colleagues, here at Stanford and back at MIT, also train their students this way. Indeed, Amanda Sharkey, whom you mentioned above, got her PhD in Sociology from Stanford but with Sorensen and Hannan on her committee.

    I make this point because I think you’re making an accounting error: you are using as your distinguishing criterion of “sociologist” whether someone was trained in or works in a sociology department, not whether someone does sociology. The latter is harder to tally but, I think, more accurate.

    It should also be fairly intuitive. When these periodic discussions about sociology’s “loss” of org theory to business schools crop up, there is an implicit assumption that, once a sociologist moves to a business school, they…well, they don’t necessarily stop *doing* sociology, as your listing of Olav, Amanda, and Brayden suggests, but they certainly stop *training* sociologists. But what grounds are there for making that implicit assumption? Is there such a strong purity norm that we will never be accepted as “real” sociologists? I don’t think that that’s necessarily the case. But if it *is*, note that this is a sense of isolation that sociologists are imposing on themselves; the rejection does not come from those of us in business schools.

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    John-Paul Ferguson

    June 6, 2014 at 4:00 pm

  3. I agree with JP’s take. As organizational sociology has moved into business schools, the training of future organizational sociologists increasingly takes place in that context as well. To clarify what I wrote in my earlier post, it’s not that there is less organizational sociology happening today than there was in the past (just open up the pages of ASR and AJS to see for yourself how prevalent it is), but the recognition of organizational sociology as sociology is becoming more of a problem because of the context in which it’s happening.

    Maybe there have never been as many organizational sociologists as there are today, if the standard of inclusion is that you write about organizations in a sociologically-informed way. ASQ is the home to some of the best organizational sociology. But you can also find a lot of organizational sociology in Organization Science, Organization Studies, and Management Science.

    As a member of the ASQ board I’ve seen the debate from the opposite perspective as well. A few years ago many management scholars had convinced themselves that ASQ had turned into a sociology journal and that it was no longer welcoming of research from any other perspective (e.g., organizational behavior; psychology). I think that Jerry has done a nice job of dispelling that myth as well. ASQ really is multi-disciplinary, and so we shouldn’t be surprised to see an article that is very sociological sitting right next to an article that has its foundations in OB. The category-spanning nature of ASQ may be one reason why non-organizational sociologists are disinclined to see it as a journal of particular sociological importance. But for those of us who are part of the organizational sociology community, we know that ASQ has been and will continue to be a central journal to our field.

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    brayden king

    June 6, 2014 at 5:16 pm

  4. Wow, great comments. @Howard Aldrich, I just looked at 1973-74, but unfortunately the bios were not all in one place then, which makes collecting them a lot slower. I guess if I get bored this weekend…

    Let me be clear that I didn’t mean to suggest that ASQ is not sociological or that people trained in business schools are not sociologists. But I guess what I see is 1) an intellectual community of organizational sociologists in business schools, and 2) a diffusion of organizational concepts in sociology departments, but 3) fewer people in sociology departments who identify as organizational sociologists, which implies that 4) the next generation of people trained in sociology departments aren’t going to learn all this really valuable stuff. I think this is unfortunate, and means sociology (in soc depts) is going to lose knowledge — it will fall off the radar. I don’t have any ax to grind here, I’m just trying to think through some things I’ve noticed.

    My perspective is also driven a bit by having just read a giant pile of books for the OOW award committee. Books are a peculiar sample, but I was struck by how much good work on organizations was being done in sociology, but not put into conversation with a broader organizational literature.

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    epopp

    June 6, 2014 at 5:56 pm

  5. I too have had reason recently to consider the disconnect between orgs research in business schools and in sociology departments. This spring, I taught two short PhD classes (Work and Employment in Organizations and Stratification in Organizations) that brought in several students from Stanford Sociology. They were all good students (I’m not just saying that because some of them read this blog!) planning interesting research projects; nonetheless, several said that they really hadn’t much exposure to “the orgs literature” before this point.

    It’s one thing to say that, especially at schools like Stanford or MIT (where Harvard is just up the road and where there’s a joint seminar), the reproduction of sociologists, at least within the business schools, is not that problematic. It’s another entirely to assume that research and training in the business schools diffuses back into the sociology departments. About *that*, it’s fair not to be sanguine.

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    John-Paul Ferguson

    June 6, 2014 at 10:37 pm

  6. Nice thread going! Couple of responses:
    @epopp – June 6th comment: YES!
    @John-Paul Ferguson: the last line of your comment captures what I was implying & what Dick Scott & I have lamented for years: sociology –> b school is a one-way street. I can’t think of any sociologists trained in b-schools who’ve been hired by sociology departments (ok, Heather, you are the one exception!). If the traffic is entirely one way, then all the great sharing that occurs via publication (where no editors set litmus tests of where someone got their degree) does not offset the dwindling #’s of soc grad students doing organizational sociology (John-Paul’s report of what his Stanford students told him is very relevant).

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    Howard Aldrich

    June 8, 2014 at 1:57 am

  7. I guess my Saturday nights aren’t very exciting, because I just checked ASQ in 1973-74. 48 authors, of which 6 were sociology faculty and 2 sociology students. So…more than in the last 20 years, but 1/6 still isn’t a huge fraction.

    So if the diagnosis about orgs in soc is more-or-less accurate, I can imagine a couple of futures. One is that you get spinoff communities of people doing organizational work in specific areas, and at least some of those are coherent enough to maintain an organizational focus. There are a bunch people doing org-type work on higher ed, on urban orgs, on politics, on nonprofits. In higher ed, which I know best, there’s lots of low-hanging fruit because so much of the scholarship has been strat. I can imagine a coherent orgs approach to higher ed emerging — Amy Binder is incoming chair of the ed section, which is promising.

    Another possibility I see for orgs in soc is more scholarship at the intersection of work and orgs. The employment relationship, and what work means, has been transformed in the last 20 years and understanding that means understanding the organizations in which it’s occurring. I don’t see a lot of that going on yet. But how do orgs transform their relations to workers? What kind of an org is Uber, and what does that mean for work? What about orgs’ ability to use data to control the work process much more closely, like at UPS? Or how about the ability of retail orgs to demand workers be available seven days a week while not guaranteeing more than 30 (unspecified) hours? There’s also plenty to be done on the incorporation of professional work into orgs — what does this do to the professionals, and to the org?

    I also wonder whether there are some questions ppl in soc depts can ask that ppl in b-schools can’t. I don’t know how constraining it is to be in a b-school — but certainly some critical questions will be more likely to come from outside. Thinking here partly of Michel Anteby’s book and the demand for relevance (to managers) at HBS.

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    epopp

    June 8, 2014 at 4:09 am

  8. Saturday night reading the ASQ archives…@epopp, would you always so wild & crazy?!
    If I understand Jerry Davis’ take on org’l analysis, he argues that we should focus on trying to explain stuff & follow that strategy wherever it leads us, which — by @epopp’s description — often mandates that we invoke some principles from OT.

    There is a big difference between what academics in (many but not all) European write about, in a “critical” way vs. what happens in the USA. At the extreme, Copenhagen Business School and the U of Lancaster come to mind. So, expand the horizon globally & the picture is a bit different.

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    Howard Aldrich

    June 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm

  9. Is it fair to criticize the self-defined org literature for being excessively focused on business organizations? Or am I just out of date in my reading? There are a lot of people who study organizational issues in social movements and there are a lot of nonprofits and voluntary associations, but it seems to me that the study of the dynamics of voluntary associations and the issues of political and movement organizations (e.g. debates about organizational form, coalitions, etc.) has pretty much dried up as a field that is understood to be part of “organizations” in a standard org course. I know a bunch of you orgtheory folks are social movement folks and presumably think you at least are carrying the non-business ball in orgtheory, but all in all I don’t see much theorizing about how organizations are different when you are not paid to be a member or when your goal is not profit-making, and the theory that is there calls itself social movement theory. But again, please feel free to set me right if I just have not been reading enough.

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    olderwoman

    June 8, 2014 at 8:02 pm

  10. PS I spent time recently with two very senior SM scholars–McCarthy & Jenkins–who said they routinely train their students to be ready to fill an org niche in sociology departments as a way of expanding their job options.;

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    olderwoman

    June 8, 2014 at 8:03 pm

  11. OW – fair point. I organized a conference a few years ago around the idea of trying to reinvigorate comparative organizational scholarship – i.e., explaining organizational heterogeneity and its consequences – but besides a RSO volume, we didn’t seem to generate a lot of interest. We probably didn’t do a good enough job bringing in scholars from a variety of perspectives. We had 3 social movement folks there, but we didn’t have anyone there from education or nonprofit management.

    But I certainly agree with the idea that org. theory should encompass more than just business organizations. Org. theories should be generalizable enough to cover a variety of organizations (e.g., ecologists applied their theory from everything to labor unions to newspapers to civil rights organizations), but we also need to know what the boundary conditions are and do a better job of theorizing difference.

    By the way, if anyone is interested in reading the introduction to the volume that we wrote about comparative organizational research, here is a link to the paper. I would really love it if someone picked this up and ran with it.

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    brayden king

    June 9, 2014 at 4:54 pm

  12. Thanks Howard. And since we’re now promoting ideas, I will also mention that Howard has a really interesting chapter in the volume about using a life course perspective to understand temporal and cohort differences among organizations.

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    brayden king

    June 9, 2014 at 5:22 pm

  13. @OW, I think there are clusters of people doing organizational work in those areas — in nonprofits, Nicole Marwell, Emily Barman come to mind; in political soc Edward Walker, Lyn Spillman, Tom Medvetz…all clearly studying organizations, but I don’t know how many of them see themselves as “orgs people,” and I think they’d be less likely to be taught in an orgs class, particularly outside a soc dept.

    @Howard Aldrich, don’t worry, earlier Saturday night I went out for a wild game of mini-golf with a bunch of children. I get around.

    Looking forward to reading the RSO piece.

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    epopp

    June 10, 2014 at 2:21 am

  14. For the last few years, David Strang and I have been doing research on the intellectual and professional development of organization studies. Obviously, ASQ features prominently. We did the same sort of sleuthing Elizabeth did in her post above, but we went back to the founding of ASQ in 1956. As you might expect, the influence of scholars affiliated with sociology departments declined precipitously over time, while those affiliated with business schools soared.

    Here’s a chart reporting the affiliations of first authors of articles in the first issue of ASQ for every year from 1956-2008:

    I think in part what we’re seeing here is a field founded and conceived as an eclectic interdiscipline developing a unique intellectual/professional turf over time. Sociology appears to be hanging on to a small niche in the journal, which is in contrast to political science, which was essentially wiped out. I think business schools, sociology departments and ASQ all benefit from fostering and sharing strong research agendas in organization studies, via both publishing and hiring choices. Hopefully this continues in the future.

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    Kyle Siler

    June 10, 2014 at 2:47 am

  15. @Kyle, this is great, thanks! (I could have done something better with my Saturday night.)

    Also see more relevant work-in-progress at https://sites.google.com/site/ksiler/.

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    epopp

    June 10, 2014 at 3:39 am

  16. @Kyle_Siler, the 4 “period” categories you used are quite broad — do you have a graphic that uses smaller intervals? I”d be curious to know when the upturn accelerated (if it did) or the transition was smooth.

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    Howard Aldrich

    June 10, 2014 at 7:46 pm

  17. @Howard – Here’s another graph with smaller intervals:

    It looks like the upturn in B-School affiliations started in 1972 and shows no signs of subsiding.

    I’m fond of using Kathleen Carley’s work to explain how interdisciplines become disciplines. Institutions (such as ASQ) foster interaction, which fosters information sharing, fact complexity and new social boundaries, which facilitates further interaction, and so forth…

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    Kyle Siler

    June 10, 2014 at 11:01 pm

  18. I guess now that I think about it (funny how pressing “send” makes you come up with new revelations and notice egregious typos), I’d characterize ASQ as disciplinary more in a professional sense than an intellectual one. Many of these B-School contributors were trained in sociology departments and use theories and methods germane – if not familiar – to sociology. This raises the question of what the boundaries are that seem to be pushing those affiliated with sociology departments away from ASQ. I suppose this thread is a good start for brainstorming, and the upcoming ASA session on the future of organizational scholarship in sociology seems like another worthwhile event.

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    Kyle Siler

    June 10, 2014 at 11:17 pm

  19. @Kyle_Siler: Without repeating all of what I’ve already said, the simplest interpretation of the substantial drop in contributions from sociology and increasing contributions from business schools reflects the new affiliations of OT people with sociology degrees – – in the 1970s, they were increasingly in business schools. As the “macro” Associate Editor of ASQ for about 10 years, from the mid-70s until the mid-80s, I experienced this first hand. (Some would say, I had a hand in it…)

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    Howard Aldrich

    June 11, 2014 at 2:41 pm

  20. Just to reiterate Howard’s point – the reason you see more business school contributions isn’t because ASQ has become less sociological; it’s because organizational sociology is increasingly being housed in business schools.

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    brayden king

    June 11, 2014 at 3:55 pm

  21. Serious question, not meant to be snarky: What does it mean to be sociological? And if it becomes decoupled from soc, will it keep being sociology? And does that matter (for the b-school side; obviously I think it matters for soc)? IIRC, part of the original discussion was about whether OT is struggling a bit in business schools as well.

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    epopp

    June 11, 2014 at 10:05 pm


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