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guest blogger, Michael Sauder

I want to thank our recent guest blogger, Mario Small, who was finishing a book while doing this.  I can’t wait to see it in print.  You can learn more about Mario’s fascinating research on organizations and inequality at his website.

As part of our ongoing efforts to provide the best blogging in organizational theory, we’re excited to welcome Michael Sauder as our newest guest blogger.  Michael is a sociologist at the University of Iowa.  Michael’s research focuses on status and reputational rankings in organizational fields, examining the effects that rankings have on organizational activities.  Last summer I blogged about his paper (coauthored with Wendy Espeland) published in AJS that looks at the effects of law school rankings.  Michael has more excellent papers on the way. He has forthcoming papers in the American Sociological Review and Administrative Science Quarterly.

I’m happy to welcome Michael to orgtheory!

Written by brayden king

June 9, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Posted in uncategorized

new book Handbook of Qualitative Organizational Research Innovative Pathways and Methods (2015, Routledge) now available

At orgtheory, we’ve had on-going discussions about how to undertake research.  For example, I’ve shared my own take on dealing with the IRB, gaining access to organizations, undertaking ethnography , timing and pacing research, writing for wider audiences, and what is ethnography good for?  Guest blogger Ellen Berrey elaborated her thoughts on how to get access to organizations, and we’ve had at least three discussions about the challenges of anonymizing names and identities of persons and organizations, including guest blogger Victor Tan Chen’s post, guest blogger Ellen Berrey’s post, and Fabio’s most recent post here.

Looking for more viewpoints about how to undertake organizational research?  Preparing a research proposal?  Need a new guide for a methods or organizations class?  Rod Kramer and Kim Elsbach have co-edited the Handbook of Qualitative Organizational Research Innovative Pathways and Methods (2015, Routledge)

HandbookQualitativeOrgResearch

In the introduction, Kramer and Elsbach describe the impetus for the volume:

There were several sources of inspiration that motivated this volume. First and foremost was a thoughtful and provocative article by Jean Bartunek, Sara Rynes, and Duane Ireland that appeared in the Academy of Management Journal in 2006. This article published a list of the 17 most interesting organizational papers published in the last 100 years. These papers were identified by Academy of Management Journal board members—all of whom are leading organizational scholars cognizant of  the best work being done in their respective areas. A total of 67 board members nominated 160 articles as exceptionally interesting; those articles that received two or more nominations were deemed the most interesting. Of these exceptional articles, 12 (71%) involved qualitative methods.

This result strongly mirrors our own experience as organizational researchers. Although both of us have used a variety of methods in our organizational research (ranging from experimental lab studies and surveys to computer-based, agent simulations), our favorite studies by far have been our qualitative studies (including those we have done together). One of the qualities we have come to most appreciate, even cherish, about qualitative research is the sense of discovery and the opportunity for genuine intellectual surprise. Rather than merely seeking to confirm a preordained hypothesis or “nail down” an extrapolation drawn from the extant literature, our inductive studies, we found, invariably opened up exciting, unexpected intellectual doors and pointed us toward fruitful empirical paths for further investigation. In short, if life is largely all about the journey rather than destination, as the adage asserts, we’ve found qualitative research most often gave us a road we wanted to follow.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

December 18, 2015 at 5:27 pm

foucault and american sociology

Let’s start off Foucault week with a simple question: what has American sociology absorbed from Foucault? A few anecdotes. At Chicago, I saw Foucault only once on a syllabus. At Indiana, I think he only appears in the social theory course. This may be shocking to some readers. Sociology is supposed to be the discipline of namby pamby post-modernism. Yet, as I’ve pointed out, Foucault isn’t a major figure in American sociology, as it’s defined by research coming from the PhD programs. This is changing, though. One of our guest bloggers, Michael Sauder has published a series of papers on rankings and self-discipline. Alice Goffman’s ethnography relies on self-surveillance. The work of Wacquant, and his followers, relies on a Foucauldian framework to some degree.

The get a sense of why Foucault hasn’t been wholly absorbed by empirical American sociology, it helps to outline Foucault’s main contributions and their appeal.

  1. Self-discipline/theories of power: The transition to modernity coincided with a switch from overt forms of discipline to self-discipline. Power is decentralized and “relational.” This is probably the idea that most practicing sociologists are familiar with.
  2. The critique of institutions: Foucault wrote a series of books on various institutions – schools, clinics, etc. – arguing that they are more about social control than social benefit.
  3. Biopolitics and governmentality: Western political and intellectual institutions are focused on issues of population control.
  4. The archaeology of knowledge: Scientific and humanistic discourse rests on a way of seeing things, a logic of how one reasons about different kinds of things.
  5. The death of the subject: Western culture made a shift that removed the subject as the focal point.

I’m sure that Foucauldians will correct my sketches, but they reveal enough. Basically, #5 – the death of the subject – is far outside what most sociologists work with. Basically all sociological research assumes well formed subjects. it might even be considered a “humanities” issue, though I disagree. Point #4 might be popular in the sociology of science, but Foucault doesn’t fit into the Mannheim-Merton-SSK/Latour history, so he gets ignored. #3 is well known to Foucault nuts, but the English translations were only published after Foucault’s death and his fame was cemented with Discipline & Punish, History of Sexuality, and other works. #2 is a point by many writers in a Marxist/post-Marxist vein, so I don’t think he has much traction.

That leaves #1. What makes this version of Foucault popular is that many American sociologists don’t have many alternatives to Weber, Marx, or Parsons when it comes to theories of social control. Weber rests on socially constructed legitimacy, Marx on domination, and Parsons on functionalism/differentiation. Decentralized power and self-control is an actual alternative that has many appealing features, such as the recognition of resistance and a plausible account of the (apaprent) orderliness of Western societies.

Next Foucault post: What *is* the Order of Things and should sociologists care?

Written by fabiorojas

July 5, 2011 at 3:26 am

institutionalism and public policy

Two weeks ago, I reviewed Between Movement and Establishment, an institutional analysis of youth advocacy groups. My big complaint was that institutional scholars needed to get up to speed and work on policy. Lots of good work on describing youth advocacy organizations, not enough on the outcomes. So what can institutionalists add to debates over organizational outcomes and policy? A few suggestions:

  1. Institutionalism is pretty useful for coming up with hypotheses about the creation and adoption of policies. The movement/institutional literature has good descriptions of how interest groups affect the policy environment. For example, one hypothesis is that movement generated policies usually have to be watered down to be accepted. Another hypothesis is that policy adoption waves are like management fads. There’s already a decent literature on this in org studies and public policy.
  2. Institutional theory has promise on the issue of implementation. Once the organization adopts policy, how does it get translated into practice? The new research on institutional work I think has promise. You have to consider what organizational leaders do to make something acceptable, or to reframe the rules so that new policy is possible.
  3. Outcomes – here the link is less obvious. One way that institutionalism could contribute is to discuss how culture affects the definition and monitoring of outcomes. Another insight, drawing from our former guest Michael Sauder, is that the ranking/rating of outcomes creates new incentives for organizational behavior, “teaching to the test.” I wonder if there’s an interesting story about how institutional processes change the behavior of people targeted by policy (performativity strikes again!!!!). It’s a stretch, but worth considering.

#1 isn’t bad and #2 is a straight forward application of current institutional theory. Doing #3 for real would be a home run.

Written by fabiorojas

September 27, 2010 at 1:48 am

what we know about higher ed

Jason’s last post brought up some good issues about research on higher ed. But I side with the skeptics a bit. We actually know a bit about higher ed, even if it’s not recognized as a formal specialty in sociology or management. Consider the following:

  • Access and outcomes: We know a lot about who gets into higher ed and why. We also know who graduates.
  • Life course: We know quite a bit about life course – how going to college allows you to get into better segments of the labor market and how it affects long term well being such as health.
  • Org population: We know a fair amount about the organizational population, especially the liberal arts and research sectors.
  • Sociology of science: We know a lot about the work inside higher ed. It’s called the sociology of science. We know about citations, pay, career patterns, & productivity of scholars.
  • Global diffusion: We know a fair amount about the international growth of higher ed.

Here’s the big gaps in higher ed research:

  • Dark matter: There are 7,000+ institutions of higher ed. A small fraction are research schools or liberal arts schools. There’s an ocean of community colleges, vocational schools, and biblical colleges. In sociology, researchers know very little about this sector. In higher ed programs, there’s actually some knowledge about the community colleges.
  • Boundary zones: As Jason eloquently pointed out, higher ed is close to every major institution. Jason’s own research on bio-tech and the academy is about one such border zone, which may explain why he thinks higher ed is  understudied. These zones *are* understudied.
  • Organizational Forms: We know very little about the organizational forms of higher ed. For example, are business schools always found with medical schools? Structurally, how are the biblical colleges different than other liberal arts colleges?  The “blue print” issue is pretty much unexplored. This may be a variant of the dark matter problem.
  • Professorial and student politics: Here we have a lot of empirical facts and research, but no great theory to tie it all together. My work is one attempt to get at this.
  • Organizational culture: There’s a whole area in higher ed called “Student affairs” and deals with how people get through the university. There isn’t any grand theory of how students experience the university that would satisfy a hard core sociologist. It’s practitioner oriented.
  • Deans and other administrators: Aside from the occasional study of university presidents, social scientists are almost silent on deans and provosts, who weild real power in universities. This is similar to soc of ed: tons on teachers, almost nothing on principals.
  • State-college relations: Once again, most social scientists are silent governance.
  • Learning: What do people retain from college? Does any of it help aside from the professions?
  • Graduate education: Except for Burris’ piece on the academic job market in sociology, there’s a pitiful amount of sociological research on graduate education.

A related issue is that higher ed research is often seen as “navel gazing.” I was told that by some prominent  folks in grad school. This struck me as bizarre. Higher ed is probably the third or fourth largest industry in America and you need to go through to get anywhere. Also, a lot of great classical and modern sociologists have studied higher ed. Among my contemporaries, I count Kieran (philosophers), Jason (bio-tech), Neil Gross (professor politics), Marion Fourcade (the economics profession), Elizabeth Armstrong (college sex cultures), Michael Sauder (status/law schools), Michele Lamont (culture and judgment among profs) and Mitchell Stevens (admissions). Classical sociologists  include Durkheim, Parsons, Weber, and Bourdieu. Maybe people don’t realize this and think higher ed research is trivial. But it’s really important.

Anyway, I say the glass is half full. In a lot of areas, we have the answers. But there are some pretty massive gaps, and that’s a good thing for all the grad students out there.

Written by fabiorojas

January 18, 2010 at 12:52 am

Posted in academia, education, fabio

new yorker piece on the michelin ratings

Sticking with the food theme, let me call attention to John Colapinto’s great article on the Michelin Guide in the recent New Yorker food issue.  There’s a lot in this article that should be of interest to org theorists and institutionalists, especially given former guest blogger Michael Sauder’s important work (with Wendy Espeland) on the U.S. News & World Report rankings of law schools.  In the piece, Colapinto gains access to a covert Michelin inspector, a task that fell to him after the famously secretive Michelin dragged its heels on letting another reporter talk with an inspector. In it, he describes a lunch at Jean Georges shared with “Maxime” (the inspector) and Michelin managing director Jean-Luc Naret, which he uses as an entry point for describing the way that Michelin recruits and trains its inspectors, its very French orientation to judging the quality of the cuisine and ambiance of the establishment, and the way that chefs and restaurant owners respond to the rankings.

The piece inherently raises a number of organizational questions, such as:

  • How well do the cultural understandings inherent in an institutionalized rating system translate into new environments?  The more populist Zagat guides (or crowd-sourced websites like Yelp.com) seem to be much better suited to the U.S., although they too suffer from worries that interested parties will try to game or cheat the ratings.  On the other hand, the role of the disinterested, anonymous expert Michelin critic seems to encourage a sort of standardization.  A dish is either “right” or “wrong,” in true French form.  Indeed, as Rao has pointed out, French cuisine went through considerable changes associated with the rise of the insurgent nouvelle cuisine form, and in which those chefs who borrowed from a rival form of cuisine in their dishes became significantly more likely to lose a Michelin star as a result.  Consider the following case in which Maxime describes why famed Upper East Side restaurant Daniel scored only two out of three Michelin stars until very recently:

[It lacked] consistency — and accuracy… It’s just technical.  I mean, cooking is a science, and either it’s right or its wrong. And that’s something that’s very objective.  Either a sauce is prepared accurately — or it’s not.  A fish is cooked accurately — or it’s not. There’s the talent, the creativity that has to be applied to get a three-star — he has to be a very talented chef — but there was just a lot of inconsistency.

  • Further, consider NYT food critic emeritus Frank Bruni’s thoughts on what gets lost in applying a universal standard:

… I wonder if a certain sort of chromosomal stodginess can ever really be completely leached out of the Michelin guide and the system. […] The other thing that has always made me wonder about Michelin rankings is that they claim a lot of science to them, but is there a lot of soul to them? When Michelin describes its own system, I think, where is the allowance for just a visceral, emotional response to a restaurant?

  • As Surowiecki notes about the worries many have about the impact of health reform, anxieties about losses tend to overpower the pleasures associated with potential gains.  Losing a Michelin star can be catastrophic for a restaurant in a concentrated market, even though being rated at all remains a considerable status marker.  Colapinto recounts the story of former La Côte d’Or chef Bernard Loiseau, who threatened that he would kill himself if he ever lost one of his Michelin stars.  Shortly after losing the star, Loiseau made good on that promise.
  • Do the judgments of one rating system tend to spill over to others?  There’s indication in the story that the Michelin Guide has been struggling to build its legitimacy in the U.S. market since its arrival here in 2005, and that its editors feel considerable pressure when its ratings are inconsistent with those of Zagat or the Times.  They may, therefore, be more inclined to give an additional star to a restaurant others have rated quite highly, or to take one away for a negative reputation.

Written by etwalker

November 30, 2009 at 4:49 pm

milgram obedience to authority experiment, replicated (with tweaks)

So, today in class we watched part of the BBC replication of the Milgram obedience to authority experiment (the documentary aired May 2009).  Boy, this one is a doozy.  The replication even tweaked Milgram’s original experiment in ways which, one would think, lessen the subjects willingness to obey authority. For example, the subjects met and interacted with the confederate they were about to shock; subjects thought they were chosen randomly to be the teacher (the person administering the shocks, rather than receiving them); the subjects watched the confederate being tied to the chair; the subjects were also given a 45 volt test shock, etc. *(A commenter rightly calls me out on these differences, here’s the wiki on the experiment with a description of the original along with subsequent variations.)

But, alas, nine out of twelve subjects were nonetheless willing to obey the authority figure and to administer the full 450 volts, enough to kill a person.

A powerful documentary.  (Some notes: Watch how readily the young student carries out the orders.  Are professors really this powerful?  The clear, inner turmoil of some of the subjects, who nonetheless obey, is hard to watch.  The ‘diffusion of responsibility’ aspects of this are fascinating.  And, then some of the debriefing in clip 3 of course is interesting.)

Here are the links: BBC Milgram Experiment 1, BBC Milgram Experiment 2, BBC Milgram Experiment 3.

Michael Sauder had a nice post last year about using the Milgram experiment (specifically the associated film) in one of his classes.

Written by teppo

October 7, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Posted in psychology, the man

scatterplot: do as we say and no one gets hurt!

That’s right, scatter brains. We’ve got one of your precious little “ribbons.” And he’s frayed. Very a-frayed. But you have the power to end the suffering. Just comply with the following five demands and no one gets hurt.

  1. Immediately release Michael Sauder, Jenn Lena, and all other orgtheory guests who have been forced to write for you.
  2. Jeremy shall rename the computer text game “Violet.” The game’s new name shall be “Teppö.”
  3. Drek shall now be known as “Drek the Underwhelmed.”
  4. When Jeremy assumes his position on the ASA publications committee, he shall require all ASA journal articles to cite at least one sociology blog.
  5. By midnight tomorrow, drop off 1,000,000,000 scatterplot dollars in a small duffel bag by the Panda Express, next to the guy in the panda suit.

These demands are not negotioable. And if there’s any funny business, Dr. Khan, you’ll find a tangle of white and blue thread in your faculty mailbox.

The Orgtheory Liberation Army

Written by fabiorojas

April 1, 2009 at 1:15 am

ranking scholarship

If you’re unconvinced that academic rankings matter to organizational outcomes, you’ve never been associated with a professional school. I used to joke with Teppo about the size of the poster that hung in the glass doors of the Marriott School building announcing BYU’s ranking in BusinessWeek’s top 10 undergraduate business programs. (I can only imagine what calamity of modesty hangs from the doors now that BusinessWeek ranked BYU 22nd among MBA programs!) Business, law, and medical schools care greatly about where they’re ranked because ranking is tightly connected to revenue streams. The relevance of rankings changes the schools’ administrative practices and policies; they adapt what they do to excel according to the criteria of the ranking systems. This behavioral transformation is one of the main points made by Michael Sauder and Wendy Espeland in their research on rankings and reactivity (see these past posts about their work).

Is there a similar kind of reactivity influencing the kind of scholarship academics do? Do we care so much about which journals are ranked highly that we choose research topics, theories, and methods that would help us get published in those journals? These are questions that came to mind when skimming this interesting exchange in the recent issue of the Academy of Management Learning and Education – the Academy journal that publishes essays about the practices of business education and scholarship. The lead article by Nancy Adler and Anne-Wil Harzing presumes that the current ranking system does not provide incentives to management scholars to do research about “questions that matter most to society.” The leading organizational and management journals (e.g., Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science), they argue, do not promote research that benefits the public good. And because business schools tend to reward scholars for publishing in these journals, our literature lacks the public impact it might otherwise have. They quote the former president of the Academy of Management, Steven Kerr, who said that we have mistakenly embraced the practice of “of rewarding A [publications in a narrow set of top-listed journals] while hoping for B [scholarship that addresses the questions that matter most to society].”  Adler and Harzing (somewhat ironically) use institutional theory to support the idea that the norms of the field pressure schools to become isomorphic in their estimation of journal quality and to reward scholars accordingly.

A number of scholars, including the dean of the Kellogg School, respond to Adler and Harzing and based on a quick skim, the responses are cautionary when engaging with A&H’s idea that we should put an immediate moratorium on all rankings. One of my first responses to A&H’s argument is that, unlike professional school rankings, scholarly output rankings don’t really exist in a formal sense. There may be lists of top journals (e.g., ISI’s Web of Knowledge) but journals are not formally ranked in the same way that schools are. I suspect that schools would actively resist such a ranking. There’s a benefit to having some ambiguity about what is a top journal. It allows local elites (i.e., those who are dominant in any one school) to assert their own definition of status (which itself revolves around the field’s definition of status). Thus, at school X, the status hierarchy of journals will have a more disciplinary feel, while at school Z the hierarchy is more firmly rooted in the management journals. Having a slippery, informal, and local status system allows departments to make tenure decisions based on its particular personality rather than on a strict count of publications (granted, some schools have formalized their review process to the point that counting publications is the most important way of assessing scholarly quality).  The fuzziness of the status hierarchy also gives more weight to outside letter writers, who can provide a quality assessment from the point of view of the scholar’s audience and peers.

There is a more general point of disagreement I have with the claim that current management scholarship matters little to society. This claim, which has been made by many others (see, for example, Teppo’s post about our “theory fetish”), typically privileges one world view over another and is asserted when one theory or one topic of interest is not getting as much attention as the claimant would like. I cringe when I hear management scholars argue that we need to become more relevant because what they often mean is that our scholarship should have a greater impact on the way business is done. While I can’t disagree with the idea that I’d like the business community to read and care about my research, there is a lot of research out there that I’d prefer the business community never heard of at all. Further, my idea of improving the public good is probably somewhat different than views held by other scholars. Rather than getting in a shouting match about which values our top journals should promote, I think the academic community (and the nonacademic community) is better off if we leave it to journals to figure out what is high quality scholarship and then let the market of ideas take over to sort the relevance of those ideas.

Written by brayden king

March 27, 2009 at 7:47 pm

the super-mega orgs. issue of asr

Orgheads are dizzy with glee over the most recent issue of the American Sociological Review, which is thick with organizational or economic sociology-related content. If they’re not substantively organizational, the papers all deal with concepts that are core to organizational sociology, like status. Take the first paper by the uber-productive Robb Willer, which examines how status rewards motivate cooperation and help groups overcome the collective action problem. The issue also features an article by former orgtheory guest blogger, Michael Sauder, coauthored with Northwestern’s Wendy Espeland, which looks at how law school rankings change law schools as schools internalize the new performance standards and become self-disciplining.  Their paper draws extensively from Foucault’s theory of discipline and contributes to theories about how organizations respond to their environments. More orgtheory posts on Sauder’s work can be found here and here.

Two social movement/organizational theory papers are also in the issue. Ed Walker looks at the founding of “grassroots lobbying firms” – “firms, which provide services to businesses, trade associations, public interest groups, and government clients, [that] assist their clients by provoking citizen activism in their favor.”  He argues that the “privatization of civic life” is in part driven by business groups, which are using these grassroots groups to promote their interests in the policymaking realm.  Klaus Weber, or that guy in the office next to mine, has a paper in the issue coauthored with Huggy Rao and L.G. Thomas that looks at how the anti-biotech movement influenced German pharmaceutical firms’ product offerings. If you’re at all interested in work related to social movements and organizational change, you should read this paper now!! It is one of the best things I’ve read in this area of research given the sophistication of the data (they use archival, interview and secondary data sources to provide detailed case studies of the six leading pharma firms in Germany) and the importance of the research problem – “to understand how external contestation manifests itself in the internal polity of organizations.” By conceptualizing the firm as a unique kind of political setting, Weber et al. develop a nuanced process model of “how movements penetrate organizations” that takes the organization-level of analysis seriously. Definitely worth a read.

The issue also has articles by Cecilia Ridgeway et al. about the emergence of status distinctions, Nina Bandelj on the construction of global demand for foreign direct investment, and Gret Hsu et al. on the consequences of multiple category memberships.  All of those papers look really interesting and are in my need-to-read pile, which seems to be growing exponentially these days.

Written by brayden king

February 12, 2009 at 3:55 pm

influential interlopers

Michael Sauder, recent orgtheory guest blogger and sociologist at the University of Iowa, is on fire! Following up on his AJS paper with Wendy Espeland, Michael has an article in the latest issue of Administrative Science Quarterly, “Interlopers and field change: The entry of U.S. News into the field of legal education.” The paper uses in-depth interviews to examine the effect that the entry of the U.S. News law school rankings had on the interorganizational relationships within the field and on the organizational identities of law schools. Sauder illustrates that the “wedging in” of a single, disproportionately influential actor can significantly alter an organizational field, causing transformations that are not reducible to shifts in institutional logics or exogenous shocks.

One reason I like the paper is because it emphasizes the role of organizational actors in shaping their environments and identifies the conditions in which certain organizational actors are likely to be influential. Many stories of institutional change emphasize features of the institutional environment without leaving much space for the “on-the-ground processes that facilitate or inhibit such change” (228). With rich interview data, Sauder is able to examine in detail the reactions that other field actors had to the intrusion of the law school rankings. But Sauder is careful to acknowledge that not all organizations are equally effective in shaping their environment. In fact, some law schools were (and are) resistant to the rankings, but their resistance was relatively ineffective because the U.S. News had quickly become naturalized as a central member of the legal education field. By establishing itself as a neutral third-party arbiter of quality (based in the “procedural legitimacy” of the ranking system) and as an institution that already had a wide audience, the U.S. News established itself as an influential player. Thus, the paper speaks to the mechanisms of intra-field influence. It’s well worth a read.

Written by brayden king

August 18, 2008 at 2:06 am

Posted in brayden, sociology

thanks!

Thanks to Mike McBride and Michael Sauder for their highly engaging posts over the past month.

You can find Michael Sauder’s orgtheory posts here.  To keep tabs on his research, go here.  Also be sure to read his excellent paper in the current issue of Administrative Science Quarterly.

You can find all of Mike McBride’s orgtheory posts hereHere’s his web site.  Also be sure to read Mike’s forthcoming paper in the American Journal of Sociology: [.pdf] “Religious pluralism and religious participation: A game theoretic analysis.”

Thanks again! Both have been added to the orgtheory hall of fame.

Written by teppo

July 18, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Posted in guest bloggers, teppo

career goals

1) Resolve the structure agency debate once and for all (done and done)

2) Guest blog at scatterplot (alas, you take what you can get)

3) Avoid having the following sentences about me and my work published at the beginning of a refereed journal article:

 “All of the theoretical claims made by Michael Sauder are false. This is where any discussion of Sauder’s sociology should end.”

 [Check out the introduction of this Stephen Turner article here: TSQ – Turner]

Written by Michael

June 26, 2008 at 3:30 am

Posted in uncategorized

rankings and reactivity

Brayden

As Omar mentioned earlier, the latest issue of AJS is loaded with great material for orgheads. I especially liked Wendy Espeland’s and Michael Sauder’s “Rankings and Reactivity: How Public Measures Recreate Social Worlds,” which examines how the U.S. News and World Report law school rankings affects law school practices. Because law schools actually change their policies and behavior in order to boost their ranking, Espeland and Sauder maintain that this is an example of reactivity -a common methodological problem associated with measurement or evaluation affecting a subject’s behavior.

The paper provides a nice contrast between the intended effect of ranking organizations – to give customers and other stakeholders information about quality – and the unintended consequences. While the problem of reactivity may be reduced to a simple methodological issue, Espeland and Sauder embrace it as a theoretical problem, arguing that rankings actually reorder the social spaces they are intended to evaluate. Traditionally, law school rankings were meant to inform potential student applicants:

The producers of rankings at USN understand them as measuring real relations, rather than constructed ones, reflecting both pragmatic and metrological attitudes. Prospective law students, who know little about how rankings are made, more often adopt a metrological realist stance. Most are uninterested in ranking methodology and simply assume that rankings measure something real about the schools. A prospective law student, for example, admitted that she took rankings “quite literally” as “objective measures of quality,” ignoring their methodology (21).

But the unintended consequences are very real as well:

Most generally, rankings are reactive because they change how people make sense of situations; rankings offer a generalized account for interpreting behavior and justifying decisions within law schools, and help organize the “stock of knowledge” that participants routinely use…Administrators consider rankings when they define goals, assess progress, evaluate peers, admit students, recruit faculty, distribute scholarships, conduct placement surveys, adopt new programs, and create budgets. One dean expressed a common sentiment: “[Rankings] are always in the back of everybody’s head. With every issue that comes up, we have to ask, ‘How is this impacting our ranking?’” (10-11).

This is a really fascinating paper. Although the authors don’t try to tie their findings to the research on corporate reputation, I think there are some obvious implications. Corporate reputation scholars have spent a lot of time assessing reputation as a kind of capital, evaluating reputational differences among organizations, etc. but less research has been dedicated to understanding how reputational changes invoke responses from organizations (with a few standout exceptions). But if you believe what Espeland and Sauder are claiming in this paper, reputation does not simply measure a reality that exists outside the evaluative measures; reputational measures actually reconstitute the organizational fields they evaluate.

Written by brayden king

July 18, 2007 at 2:59 pm

Posted in brayden, research, sociology

emeritus guest bloggers

Written by teppo

June 29, 2006 at 11:06 pm

Posted in

blogs, twitter, and finding new research

Administrative Science Quarterly now has a blog – aptly named The ASQ Blog. The purpose of the blog is a bit different than your typical rambling academic blog. Each post contains an interview with the author(s) of a recent article published in the journal. For example, there are interviews with Chad McPherson and Mike Sauder about their article on drug court deliberations, with Michael Dahl, Cristian Dezső, and David Ross on CEO fatherhood and its effect on employee wages, and András Tilcsik and Chris Marquis about their research on natural disasters and corporate philanthropy. The interviews are informal, try to get at the research and thought process behind the article, and allow reader comments. I think its innovative of the ASQ editorial team to come up with this in an effort to make research more open and to draw more eyes to the cutting edge research at ASQ.

A couple of years ago I served on an ASQ task force (with Marc-David Seidel and Jean Bartunek) to explore different ways that the journal could better use online media to engage readers. At the time, ASQ was way behind the curve. It was difficult to even find a permanent hyperlink to its articles. Since that time ASQ and most journals have greatly improved their online accessibility . The blog is just one example. ASQ’s editor, Jerry Davis, said in a recent email to the editorial board that they recognize that “younger scholars connect with the literature in ways that rarely involve visits to the library or print subscriptions.” To maintain relevance in today’s academic “attention economy” (for lack of a better term), journals have to be active on multiple platforms. ASQ gets it; Sociological Science’s (hyper)active tweeter (@SociologicalSci) gets it too. In the end, everyone hopes the best research will float to the top and get the attention it deserves, but if the best research is hard to find or is being out-hyped by other journals, it may never get noticed.

It made me wonder, how do people most commonly find out about new research? I know that orgtheory readers are not the most representative sample, but this seems to be the crowd that Jerry referred to in his email. So, below is a poll. You can choose up to three different methods for finding research. But please, beyond adding to the poll results, tell us in comments what your strategy is.

Written by brayden king

January 9, 2014 at 6:59 pm