the relevance of organizational sociology for higher education accountability (a guest post by Joshua Brown)
(Joshua Brown is a doctoral candidate at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education)
*if you’d like to write a guest-post, contact Jeff or any of the other bloggers.
A different type of impact
There has been ongoing discussion about the influence of organizational sociology in broader spheres such as the discipline of sociology itself or public policy. I had a few additional thoughts on this matter in writing a piece about the field of higher education accountability.
First, in select contexts organizational sociology has the potential to influence or even reshape dominant narratives. For example, the field of higher education accountability is a sector heavily influenced by econometric and psychometric paradigms. Although useful, these two perspectives are limited by their focus on individual level data. The hierarchical schema that organizational scholars find useful (e.g. organizations, fields, and institutions) are rarely used by the individuals in the higher education accountability context and the schema alone provide an opportunity for new ways of thinking about an important topic.
Second, organizational sociology has the potential to systematize the complex bureaucracies that maintain, regulate, and enforce public policies. For example, the field of higher education accountability is comprised of different actors embedded within different fields. Moreover, each field possesses its own unique definition of accountability and perspective on what type of data are deemed legitimate. As the figure below illustrates, employing an organizational framework provided an opportunity to systemize the complexity across multiple fields.
Finally, the diffusion of organizational frameworks into broader spheres of society—particularly public policy—may require non-traditional strategies of publication. Berman recently suggested that ethnographic approaches may be particularly effective for this. In a similar vein, King recently highlighted that the scarcity of books by organizational sociologists limits the broader influence of the field. He urged that, “If organizational sociology wants to be relevant, not only to the discipline but also to those who will build the organizations of the future, then we must be willing to step outside of our own small corners of the academy and ask big questions about the past, present, and future or organizing.”
I would also argue that stepping out of the “small corners of the academy” requires a strategic diffusion of ideas in the publications read by “those who will build the organizations of the future.” More specifically, it requires intentionally placing ideas where they might be stumbled upon more frequently by industry leaders and practitioners who are embedded within the specific context we are examining. Such an approach looks beyond the impact rating of a given publication to the diffusion of ideas. It is a different type of impact. For example, I chose to strategically write and submit the higher education accountability piece to an open-access publication that is predominantly read by university administrators and higher education policy makers because it is not pay-walled. While it was certainly a challenge to reduce the organizational jargon within the article, readers were still exposed to fundamental principles of organizational sociology such as the embeddedness of actors and social institutions. As industry leaders and practitioners become more familiar with these principles we take for granted, it is possible they may also become more accepting of, or interested in, organizational sociology.