Archive for the ‘great scholars’ Category

aldon morris book forum #1: pulling dubois from the margins


April is the sociology of race month at this blog. We will start with a book forum dedicated to Aldon Morris’ The Scholar Denied. This book is bound to be a seminal contribution to the history of social thought and it speaks to how sociologists view race as a central topic in their field. In this first installment, I will discuss what this book is about and how it fits into broader arguments about American intellectual history. Later, I will discuss strong and weak points of the book.

In a nutshell, this is a book about the career and scholarly trajectory of W.E.B. DuBois. This is not a biography. As Morris reminds us, we already have multiple biographies of Dubois. This is not a survey of DuBois’ ideas either. Instead, this book is an investigation into why DuBois got marginalized in the history of sociology.

The basic issue for Morris is that DuBois has been relegated to secondary status in sociology as an interesting sociologist of race. Morris wants to correct this view and argue that DuBois deserves to be remembered as an originator and founder of American sociology, not a footnote. As I’ve written about before, this is puzzling to me since DuBois is considered by most historians to be an extremely important intellectual and activist.

The book is not a biography, but a series of shorter arguments about why DuBois should be at the center of sociology and not at the margins:

  • Precedence: Morris argues that DuBois’ innovated many key ideas and introduced methods before others who normally get credit.
  • Institutional development: DuBois’ created a network of scholars who should rightfully be viewed as the true first school of American sociology.
  • The Weber-DuBois connection: Weber and Dubois were colleagues and friends. Weber was not his mentor or teacher, except that Weber was a TA for a course that DuBois attended and Weber took over the class when the instructor got sick.
  • The Park-Washington conflict: One reason that DuBois was marginalized was theat Robert Park at Chicago was Booker Washington’s former employee and ally and he got a lot of credit for the sociology of race instead of DuBois.

As you can see, this is not biography but rather a historical analysis that undermines the view that DuBois was a secondary figure in early American sociology. If Morris is correct, history of social thought courses should incorporate DuBois just as they do Weber, Durkheim, and Parsons. Next week: More critical discussion of the book. Use the comments for your own thoughts.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 5, 2016 at 12:01 am

james coleman: a rememberance

At Education Next, Sally Kilgore offers a thoughtful overview of James Coleman’s career. For example, the aftermath of the EEOC report:

Coleman’s claims drew a vitriolic response, particularly from some fellow sociologists, who assumed he no longer favored desegregation.  At the 1976 meeting of the American Sociological Association, posters bearing swastikas and Coleman’s name were displayed in the main auditorium, and the ASA’s president, Alfred McClung Lee, led a failed attempt to have him expelled. The flap eventually subsided, and though Coleman’s work on education remained controversial for more than a decade, he was elected president of the ASA in 1990.

The attacks by colleagues must have been especially painful for a man who had actively opposed segregation. In July 1963, he and his first wife, Lucille, had taken their three boys—Tom, 8, John, 6, and Steve, 5 months—to participate in a demonstration at a whites-only amusement park outside of Baltimore. As the Colemans attempted to enter the park with a black family, they were arrested, as anticipated, along with nearly 300 fellow demonstrators.


“Public and Private Schools,” which reported our results to the Department of Education, generated a new wave of controversy for Coleman. The report’s most contentious finding was that minority students attending Catholic schools had higher levels of achievement than those in public schools. The study also found that students in private schools increased their participation in extracurricular activities in each succeeding grade, while public school students appeared to decrease their participation. Critics pointed out, justifiably, that we had not adequately controlled for initial differences in the student populations as they entered either public or private schools. For instance, the family background variables we used to control for such differences may have failed to capture more nuanced variations in parental interest in education. Coleman never balked at criticism; he quickly looked for alternative methods to improve the control over initial differences. (A few years later, using survey data from the second round of “High School and Beyond,” the team showed that students in private schools had greater learning gains between their sophomore and senior years than did students in public schools. Thus, the achievement gap could not be attributed solely to the performance of the incoming freshmen.)

Read the whole thing.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 26, 2016 at 12:01 am

howard aldrich on his intellectual trajectory and the history of organizational studies

Orgtheorist and loyal orgtheory commenter Howard E. Aldrich is featured in a video about his intellectual trajectory and the history of organizational studies.  Learn about Howard’s start in urban sociology and organizational studies, why he finds cross-sectional studies “abhorrent,” his years at Cornell where he overlapped with Bill Starbuck, and how he got started publishing in organizational ecology.  He also explains how the variation, selection, and retention VSR) approach was a “revelation” for him, and how various institutions (University of Michigan, Stanford, and others) have promoted his intellectual development via contact with various colleagues, collaborators, and graduate students.  Towards the end of the interview, Aldrich describes his latest research on the Maker movement, including hacking and the rise of affordable 3-D printing and other hardware and software that may propel technological innovation.*

The videoed interview is courtesy of Victor Nee’s Center for Economy & Society at Cornell University.  More videos, including a presentation on his work on entrepreneurship, are viewable here.  Also, those looking for an organizational studies text should see his seminal Organizations Evolving with Martin Reuf here.

* The Maker movement has strong affinities with Burning Man.  In fact, that’s partly how I started attending Maker Faire – check out my photos of past Maker Faires, which included performance artists from the now-defunct Deitch Art Parade.

Written by katherinechen

November 25, 2013 at 12:55 am

qu’il repose en paix, Michel Crozier

It has been a while since I have posted on and sadly I am jumping back into the fray to announce the death of one of the great men of organizational sociology.  Michel Crozier died last night in Paris.  He was 91.

I moved to Paris two years ago to join the research center that Crozier founded, the centre de sociolology des organisations.  The CSO is associated with the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po).  Crozier also taught at Sciences Po for many years.

Crozier’s intellectual journey began, as mine did, with a study of the United States labor movement.   But it was his 1964 book, The Bureaucratic Phenomenon, that established him as a major voice in our field.  That book challenged (or maybe it is better to say, evolved) the Weberian view of bureaucracy.  Before him, organizational theory focused largely on what we could see in an organizational chart.  What went on behind that chart — the interpersonal relationships in which were embedded multiple, often contradictory systems of power — was seen as a distraction or, worse, something to be suppressed.   Along with his contemporary, Alvin Gouldner, Michel Crozier brought these kinds of relationships into the light.   This led Crozier to conclude that organizations limited actors as much as they enabled them; that organizations were not simply solutions to problems, they were problems to be solved too.  Myriad schools of thought within our field have followed from this.

Moreover, as I have come to understand, the distinction that many of us Americans hold on to between “objective” social science and the messier “real” world of administrative control (and  reform) holds much less sway here in France.  Crozier was not “just” an academic.  He was a critic and a crusader for changes in French society and beyond.  It was from this side of his work that his student and collaborator, Erhard Freidberg, set the intellectual tone for Sciences Po’s Master of Public Affairs, of which I am now the Director.  So I owe him not only an intellectual debt of gratitude, but an organizational one as well.

Bon voyage Monsieur Crozier.  Reposez en paix.

Written by seansafford

May 24, 2013 at 3:02 pm

the complete marcel mauss – free!

The complete works (in French) of Mauss.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

michael cohen’s last research

Like most of us in the world of organization studies, I was saddened to hear of Michael Cohen’s passing. I only met him once and he was very gracious. In the spirit of his work, let me me draw your attention to his last research project – an analysis of “handoffs.” The issue is that doctors can’t continuously watch patients. Whenever a doctor leaves to go home, a new doctor comes in and there is a “handoff.” Cohen wrote a nice summary for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website:

1. To be effective, a handoff has to happen.

It may seem incredibly commonplace, but all too often preventable injuries or even deaths trace back to handoffs that were abbreviated, conducted in awkward conditions, or downright skipped.  The easy cases to identify are things like leaving before handoff is done, or rushing the handoff in order to get out the door.

Unfortunately, many other causes are also in play. Some major examples derive from schedule or workload incompatibilities.  If patients are sent from the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit) to a floor unit during its nursing report, the nurses accepting the patients will necessarily miss out on the handoff of existing patients. If a patient is moved from the Emergency Department (ED) before her doctor or nurse has time to complete phone calls to the destination unit, the patient endures some period of having been transferred without benefit of handoff. If there is a shift change in the ED just before a patient moves, the handoff is conducted by a doctor or nurse who has only second-hand familiarity with the events. To improve handoffs, we may need to teach participants to think about the organizational structures that make it hard to do them well.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 9, 2013 at 12:01 am

J. Richard Hackman and his legacy

Over a week ago, a colleague called to let me know that our advisor, Harvard Prof. J. Richard Hackman, had passed. For months, I knew that this news would eventually come, but it’s still painful to accept. I will miss hearing Richard’s booming voice, having my eyeglasses crushed to my face from a bear hug (Richard was well over 6 feet tall), or being gleefully gifted with a funny hand-written note imparting his sage advice on a matter.

Here is Richard preparing his introductory remarks for HackFest 2011 at HBS:

Richard was a greatly respected work redesign and teams researcher. At Harvard, his classes included a highly regular and popular (despite its “early” morning time slot) course on teamwork. For those undergraduate and graduate students who have been lucky enough to take Richard’s course on teams, the course interweaves concept and practice as students must work in teams, something that most of us get very little practice with outside of organized sports or music.

In July 2012, Richard emailed several of his former teaching fellows asking us to join him in Cambridge and help him rework this course. On short notice, we assembled at the top floor of William James Hall and went over the materials, with Richard expertly leading us as a team, with clearly designated boundaries (those of us assembled for the task), a compelling direction (revising the material to attract students across disciplines), enabling structure (norms that valued contributions of team members, no matter their place in the academic hierarchy), and a supportive context (reward = tasty food, an incentive that always works on former graduate students, and good fellowship).

During this last meeting, Richard asked us about how we thought his course on teamwork could most impact individuals. I opined that his biggest impact wouldn’t be through just the students who took his course, but via those of us who would continue to teach teamwork and conduct research in other settings. This question may have been Richard’s gentle way of telling us that he was passing on the baton.

Here are several ways that I think Richard’s legacy lives on.
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Written by katherinechen

January 19, 2013 at 4:30 am

more Mayer Zald remembrances

The scholarly community continues to celebrate the life of Mayer Zald after his recent passing. A number of beautiful tributes have popped up online. Dan Hirschman’s blog served as an impromptu memorial for Mayer. The comments section of Dan’s initial post grew to include an amazing set of dedications from people who wanted to share in their love and respect for him.  The OMT blog also has posted remembrances from Mike Lounsbury, Dick Scott, Cal Morrill, Huggy Rao, Sarah Soule, Doug McAdam, and Jerry Davis. They are all worth reading. This flood of online expressions is a real tribute to his breadth of influence in the field and of the kind of person and friend that Mayer was.

Written by brayden king

August 21, 2012 at 3:50 pm