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hidden externalities: when failed states prioritize business over education

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Much has been discussed in the media about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; for example, to compensate for the absence of coordinated support, working mothers are carrying more caregiving responsibilities. However, the full range of externalities resulting from governmental and organizational decisions (or in the case of some governments, “non”-decisions which are decisions in practice) often are less visible during the pandemic.  Some of these externalities – impacts on health and well-being, careers and earnings, educational attainment, etc. – won’t be apparent until much later.  The most disadvantaged populations will likely bear the brunt of these; organizations charged with addressing equity issues, such as schools and universities, will grapple over how to respond to these in the years ahead.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss one under-discussed implication of what’s happening in NYC as an example, and how other organizations have had to adjust as a result.  Mayor DeBlasio has discussed how NYC public schools will close if NYC’s positivity rate averages 3% over 7 days.   At the same time, indoor dining, bars, and gyms have remained open, albeit in reduced capacity.  People, especially parents and experts, including medical professionals, are questioning this prioritization of business establishments over schools across the US.

Since the start of the 2020 school year, NYC public schools has offered limited in-person instruction.  A few informal conversations I’ve had with parents at NYC public schools revealed that they found the blended option an unviable one.  Due to capacity and staffing issues, a public school’s blended learning schedules could vary over the weeks.  For example, with a 1:2:2 schedule, a student has 1 day of in person school the first week, followed by 2 days in person the following week, then another 2 days in person the third week.  Moreover, which days a student can attend in-person school may not be the same across the weeks. This might partially explain why only a quarter of families have elected these.  Overall, both “options” of blended learning and online learning assume that families have flexibility and/or financial resources to pay for help.

What’s the cost of such arrangements?  People have already acknowledged that parents, and in particular, mothers, bear the brunt of managing at-home schooling while working from home.  But there is another hidden externality that several of my CUNY freshmen students who live with their families have shared with me.  While their parents work to pay rent and other expenses, some undergraduates must support their younger siblings’ online learning.  Other students are caregiving for relatives, such as a disabled parent, sometimes while recovering from illnesses themselves.  Undergraduates must coordinate other household responsibilities in between managing their own online college classes and additional paid work.  Without a physical university campus that they can go to for in-person classes (excluding labs and studio classes that are socially distanced) or as study spaces, students don’t have physical buffers that can insulate them against these unanticipated responsibilities and allow them to focus on their learning, interests, and connections. 

Drawing on the financial resources available to them and shaping plans around “stabilizing gambits,” several elite universities and small liberal arts colleges have sustained quality education for their students with their in-person classes, frequent testing, and sharing of information among dorm-dwellers.  But in the absence of any effective, coordinated federal response to the pandemic in the US, what can public university instructors do to ensure that their undergraduate students have a shot at quality learning experiences?  So far, I’ve assigned newly published texts that guide readers through how to more critically analyze systems. I’ve turned to having students documenting their experiences, in the hopes of applying what they have learned to re-design systems that work for more diverse populations.  I’ve tried to use synchronous classes as community-building sessions, coupled with feedback opportunities on how to channel our courses to meet their needs and interests.  I’ve devoted parts of class sessions to explaining how to navigate the university, including how to select majors and classes and connect with instructors.  I’ve connected research skills to interpreting the firehose of statistics and studies about pandemic, to help people ascertain risks so that they can make more informed decisions that protect themselves and their communities and educate others.  I’ve attempted to shift expectations for what learning can look like in the absence of face-to-face contact.  Since many of the relational dimensions that we took for granted in conventional face-to-face classes are now missing (i.e., visual cues, physical co-presence), I’ve encouraged people to be mutually supportive in other ways, like using the chat / comments function. In between grading and class prep, I’ve written letters of recommendation, usually on very short notice, so that CUNY students can tap needed emergency scholarships or pursue tenure-track jobs.  In the meantime, our CUNY programs have tried to enhance outreach as households experience illness and job loss, with emergency funds and campus food pantries mapping where students reside and sending mobile vans to deliver groceries, in an effort to mitigate food insecurity.  

Like other scholars, I’ve also revealed, in the virtual classroom, meetings, and conferences, how the gulf between work/family policies is an everyday, shared reality – something that should be acknowledged, rather than hidden away for performative reasons.  Eagle-eyed viewers are likely to periodically spot my child sitting by my side in a zoom meeting, assisting me by taking class attendance, or even typing on documents in the background.  My capacities to support undergraduate and graduate learning, as well as contribute to the academic commons by reviewing manuscripts and co-organizing academic conferences, have depended on my daughter attending her school in-person.  Faculty and staff at her school have implemented herculean practices to make face-to-face learning happen, and families have followed agreements about reducing risks outside of school to maintain in-person learning. That said, given current policy decisions, it’s just a matter of time when I will join other working parents and my CUNY undergraduates making a daily, hour-by-hour complex calculus of what can be done when all-age learners are at home.

All of these adjustments and experimental practices are just baby steps circumnavigating collective issues.  These liminal times can offer opportunities to rethink how we enact our supposed values in systems and institutions.  For instance, do we allow certain organizations and unresponsive elected leaders to continue to transfer externalities to those who are least prepared to bear them?  Do we charge individual organizations and dedicated members, with their disparate access to resources, to struggle with how to serve their populations’ needs?  Or, do we more closely examine how can we redesign systems to recognize and support more persons?

Written by katherinechen

November 18, 2020 at 5:42 pm

interstitial bureaucracy: high performing governmental agencies operating in ineffective governments

Back in February (which now seems like an eternity from a fast-disappearing alternate reality), sociologist and organizational researcher Erin Metz McDonnell virtually visited my graduate Organizations, Markets, and the State course to talk about her research on high performing governmental agencies in Ghana.   McDonnell initiated an electrifying and dynamic discussion about the applicability of her research findings.  She also shared her experience with the opaque process of how researchers form projects that contribute to public knowledge.

Many of her observations about organizing practices are particularly timely now that the US and other nation-states face extreme challenges that demand more proactive, rather than retroactive, preparations for pandemic conditions.

Here’s a digest of what we learned:

  • Why Ghana? Prior to graduate school, McDonnell went to Ghana on a Fulbright award.  These experiences helped her question conventional organizational orthodoxy, including generalized statements about “states do this” built on research conducted in North America.  Using such observed disjunctures between the organizational canon and her lived experience, McDonnell refined research questions.  When she returned to Ghana, she identified high performing governmental units and undertook interviews.

 

  • Why did McDonnell include other cases, including 19th century US, early 21st century China, mid-20th century Kenya, and early 21st century Nigeria? McDonnell discussed the importance of using research in other countries and time periods to further flesh out dimensions of interstitial bureaucracy.

 

  • How did McDonnell coin the term interstitial bureaucracy? Reviewers didn’t like McDonnell’s originally proposed term to describe the habits and practices of effective bureaucrats.  “Subcultural bureaucracy” was perceived as too swinging 1960s, according to reviewers.

 

  • What can Ghana reveal about N. American’s abhorrence of organizational slack? McDonnell explained that high performing bureaucracies in Ghana reveal the importance of slack, which has been characterized as wasteful in N. American’s “lean” organizations.  Cross training and “redundancies” help organizations to continue functioning when workers are sick or have difficulties with getting to work.

 

  • Isn’t staff turn-over, where people leave after a few years for better paying jobs in the private sector or elsewhere, a problem? Interestingly, McDonnell considered staff turn-over a small cost to pay – she opined that securing qualified, diligent workers, even for a few years, is better than none.  (Grad students added that some career bureaucrats become less effective over time)

 

  • What can governmental agencies do to protect against having to hire (ineffective) political appointees? McDonnell explained how specifying relevant credentials in field (i.e., a degree in chemistry) can ensure the likelihood of hiring qualified persons to staff agencies.

 

For more, please check out McDonnell’s new book Patchwork Leviathan: Pockets of Bureaucratic Effectiveness in Developing States from Princeton University Press.  Also, congrats to McDonnell on her NSF Career award!

is 2020 the “drop your tools” and “do-ocracy” epoch?

In Karl Weick’s (1996) analysis of the Mann Gulch disaster and a similar fire at South Canyon, he differentiates the organizational conditions under which some smoke jumpers survived, while others died when wildfires suddenly turned.  According to Weick, the key turning point between survival and death was the moment when one firefighter ordered others in his team to “drop your tools.”  Among other organizing challenges, this order to leave expensive equipment violated smoke jumpers’ routines, even their central identities as smoke jumpers.  Indeed, some did not comply with this unusual order to abandon their tools, until others took their shovels and saws away.  Post-mortem reports revealed how smoke jumpers who perished were still wearing their heavy packs, with their equipment still at their sides.  Those who shed their tools, often at the urging of others, were able to outrun or take shelter from the wildfires in time.  Weick’s introduction states,

“Dropping one’s tools is a proxy for unlearning, for adaptation, for flexibility…It is the very unwillingness of people to drop their tools that turns some of these dramas into tragedies” (301-302).

 

Around the world, some organizations, particularly those in the tech and finance industries, were among the first to enact contingency plans such as telecommuting and spreading workers out among sites.  Such steps prompted consternation among some about the possible meaning and aims of such actions – is the situation that serious?  Is this just an opportune moment for surveilling more content and testing outsourcing and worker replaceability?  What does all this mean?

 

Meanwhile, other organizations are investing great efforts to continue regular topdown, operations, sprinkled in with the occasional fantasy planning directives.  (Anyone who has watched a class of undergraduates and then a class of kindergarteners try not to touch their faces will quickly realize the limits of such measures.)  Without the cooperation of organizations and individual persons, critics and health professionals fear that certain organizations – namely hospitals and the medical care system – can collapse, as their operations and practices are designed for conditions of stability rather than large, sustained crises.

FlattenthecurveScreen Shot 2020-03-09 at 11.27.45 AM

 

For organizational researchers like myself, these weeks have been a moment of ascertaining whether organizations and people can adapt, or whether they need some nudging to acknowledge that all is not normal and to adjust.  At an individual level, we’re all facing situations with our employers, voluntary organizations, schools and universities, and health care for the most vulnerable.

 

For the everyday person, the realization that organizations such as the state can be slow to react, and perhaps has various interests and constraints that inhibit proactive instead of reactive actions, may be imminent.  So, what can compensate for these organizational inabilities to act?  In my classes, I’ve turned towards amplifying more nimble and adaptive organizational forms and practices.  Earlier in the semester, I’ve had students discuss readings such as the Combahee River Collective in How We Get Free (2017, AK Press), to teach about non- and less- bureaucratic options for organizing that incorporate a wider range stakeholders’ interests, including ones that challenge conventional capitalist exchanges.

 

To help my undergraduates think through immediately applicable possibilities, I recently assigned a chapter from my Enabling Creative Chaos book on “do-ocracy” at Burning Man to show how people can initiate and carry out both simple and complex projects to meet civic needs.  Then, I tasked them with thinking through possible activities that exemplify do-ocracy.  So far, students have responded with suggestions about pooling together information, supplies, and support for the more vulnerable.  One even recommended undertaking complex projects like developing screening tests and vaccines – something, that if I’ve read between the lines correctly, well-resourced organizations have been able to do as part of their research, bypassing what appears to be a badly-hampered response CDC in the US.

 

(For those looking for mutual aid-type readings that are in a similar vein, Daniel Aldrich’s Black Wave (2019, University of Chicago Press) examines how decentralized efforts enabled towns in Japan to recover more quickly from disasters.)

 

Taking a step back, this period could be one of where many challenges, including climate change and growing inequality, can awaken some of us to our individual and collective potential.  Will be this be the epoch where we engage in emergent, interdependent activities that promote collective survival?  Or will we instead suffer and die as individuals, with packs on our backs, laden down with expensive but ultimately useless tools?

Written by katherinechen

March 9, 2020 at 3:29 pm

state-of-the-field article “School choice’s idealized premises and unfulfilled promises” now available

Just before 2019 ends and we enter 2020, I’ve finally broken the superstition that whatever you do on New Years will be what you will do for the following New Years.  This year, a R&R converted into an accept and page proofs before New Years hit!

My co-authored paper with Megan Moskop is now available under the Organizations & Work section of Sociology Compass!  In this paper, using critical sociology and education research, we overview the variants of school choice systems in the US and their impacts on students, schools, and society.

Here’s the abstract:

School choice’s idealized premises and unfulfilled promises: How school markets simulate options, encourage decoupling and deception, and deepen disadvantages

Abstract

In school choice systems, families choose among publicly funded schools, and schools compete for students and resources. Using neoinstitutionalist and relational inequality theories, our article reinterprets recent critical sociological and education research to show how such markets involve actors’ enacting myths; these beliefs and their associated practices normalized white, privileged consumption as a basis for revamping public education as market exchanges between schools and families. Proponents argue that choice empowers individuals, focuses organizations on improving quality, and benefits society more broadly by reducing inequality and segregation. We argue that such school choice myths’ excessive emphases on individual decision‐making and provider performance obscure the actual impacts of school choice systems upon people, organizations, and society. First, rather than enlarging alternatives that families can easily research, select, and (if needed) exit, school choice systems often simulate options, especially for disadvantaged populations. Second, rather than focusing schools’ efforts on performance, innovation, and accountability, they can encourage organizational decoupling, homogeneity, and deception. Third, rather than reducing societal harms, they can deepen inequalities and alienation. Future research should examine both how markets are animated by bounded relationality—routines that enable them to form, maintain, and complete exchanges with organizations—and how activism can challenge marketization.

Please consider assigning this state-of-the-field article in your sociology of education, inequality, economic sociology, and/or organizations courses!  (If your institution doesn’t have access to Sociology Compass, please contact me directly for a copy.)

This paper began when Megan approached me during a March 2018  Future Initiatives “Publics, Politics, and Pedagogy: Remaking Higher Education for Turbulent Times” event at the Graduate Center.  After hearing me talk on a faculty panel about my research interests, Megan asked whether we could do an informal reading group on school choice readings.  We exchanged emails and agreed to meet in person to discuss readings.

At the time, Megan was working on her masters classes and thesis in urban education at the CUNY MALS program.  She was looking for a way to manage her growing collection of citations as she analyzed her past experiences with teaching 8th graders and their families about how to participate in the mandatory school choice market in NYC .

As a new entrant to research on learning and schools through my on-going ethnography of a democratic school, I had the sense that whatever was happening in the insurance market for older adults seemed to exist in other emerging markets for other age groups.  To understand the education options in NYC, I had attended a few NYC Dept. of Education and other orientations for families on how to select pre-K and higher program.  I found these experiences comparable to my observations of orientations for professionals and older adults about enrolling in Medicare: palpable waves of anxiety and disorientation were evident in the reactions and questions from these two differently aged audiences to workshops about how they were supposed to act as consumers felt similar.  I thus became interested in learning about research on the comparable school choice market for my ethnographic research on how intermediary organizations try to orient consumers to the health insurance market.  (Indeed, a side benefit of this collaboration was that the school choice readings helped amplify my development of the bounded relationality concept that ultimately appeared in Socio-Economic Review.)

Megan and I met regularly discuss readings that Megan had suggested and I had found through literature searches in sociology.  After several of these meetings, I raised the possibility of writing a state-of-the-field overview article.  Working on this draft helped us keep track of what we had learned.  It also helped us understand how to map existing research and to identify a void that our respective expertises and writing could address: synthesizing critical studies emerging from organizations and education.   For Megan, I hoped that this experience would give her a behind-the-scenes look at the academic production of research, so that she could decide whether to head this direction.

As we read more about school choice, I realized that we hadn’t come across a chart mapping the types of school choice systems currently in operation.  Megan thus worked hard at developing a table that describes and compares different types of school choice systems.  (In my opinion, this paper’s table is a handy first step for those trying to understand the school choice landscape.)

Meanwhile, I focused on applying an organizational framework to categorize research from the sociology of education and education fields.  As we worked on the drafts in response to writing group and reviewers’ and Sociology Compass section editor Eric Dahlin’s comments, we also realized that no one had systemically broken down the impacts of using market practices to distribute public goods across levels of individual persons, organizations, and society at large.

Along the way, thanks to Megan’s connections to education and activism, we got to learn directly from people about on-going activism and research.  For instance, youth organization IntegrateNYC sent representative Iman Abdul to talk to my “Future of NYC” honors college students about efforts to racially integrate NYC public schools.  Megan and I also attended Kate Phillippo’s talk about her research on school choice in Chicago from her latest book, A Contest Without Winners: How Students Experience Competitive School Choice (2019, University of Minnesota Press).

In all, writing this paper has been a great journey with a fun and insightful collaborator.  Had you asked me back in spring 2018 what the outcome of presenting at a CUNY event would have been, I could not have predicted this.  I am forever grateful that Megan came to talk with me!

Happy New Years, readers!  May the new year bring you joy, happiness, and health.

 

“Talk with your family about [Medicare] Part D over Thanksgiving dinner”: How markets require bounded relationality

 

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Question: What do the following three scenarios have in common?

Scenario A.  Congrats, you’re turning 65 years old!

You’re turning 65 years old.  In the US, if you have worked enough units, you are eligible for Medicare; you must select health insurance by choosing among traditional Medicare and HMO plans.  You also need to choose insurance that will cover  your current or anticipated prescription medications.  Depending on where you live, this could involve comparing around 50 different plans.

You start by consulting the Medicare booklet and wading through the flood of mail from insurance providers.  Despite this information, you’re having difficulties understanding the differences among plans and determining how much plans will charge for your medications.  Moreover, you’re not quite sure which medications that you’ll need in the upcoming year.  Each year after this, you’ll have an almost two-month-long window for making these decisions – a period that is happening now, ending Dec. 7.

If you have a long life, you’ll have plenty of practice working with this market.  How do you select a plan appropriate to your needs right now and then in the future?

Scenario B.  Congrats, you’re getting ready to enter high school!

You are a student at a NYC public middle school.  Since students are not automatically assigned to public high schools, you and your family must choose from among 750 programs and rank order your choices.  (If you are two years old or older, your parents must do the same for public pre-K and kindergarten school programs.)  To learn about your options, you can look at a directory of descriptions of these programs and then research each school online.  If possible, you and your family will also attend information fairs and schools’ open houses and tours, where you might be asked to fill out additional forms or leave your information.

Some schools have different criteria for what kinds of prospective students they prioritize, and most selective programs don’t provide rubrics for how they rank prospective students – information crucial for ascertaining your chances of acceptance.  After you submit up to 12 rank-ordered choices, an algorithm, modelled after a medical residency matching program designed by a economist, will generate a match based on schools’ priorities and your listed options.  And, btw, charter schools and private schools have their own admissions processes and admissions deadlines.

How do you choose and rank public high school programs?  Should you try to maximize your choices by also applying to charter schools and, if you have the financial resources, private schools?

Scenario C.  Congrats, you’re rich!

You have amassed enviable, immense wealth.   But, your mattress is bursting, and you distrust regular banking.  And, for whatever reason, you’re not fond of having the state taking a portion to support the common good, social insurance, military spending, etc.  Thinking ahead, you worry about your family having unfettered access to your financial legacy; relatives might fritter away that wealth!  Also, you have a few relationships that other family members don’t (yet) know about, and you want to make sure that those loved ones are also taken care of after your inevitable passing.  So, what to do?

Answer: Most likely, you’ll need what I call “bounded relationality” to assist you with entering complex markets and making exchanges.   To explain what bounded relationality is, I’ll preview excepts from my advance, online first article “Bounded relationality: how intermediary organizations encourage consumer exchanges with routinized relational work in a social insurance market.”

The bounded relationality concept combines two of my favorite theories: (1) economic sociology’s relational work by Viviana Zelizer, Fred Wherry, and Nina Bandjel* and (2) Herbert Simon’s theory about how organizations compensate for people’s bounded rationality, or difficulties with making decisions.

During several years of my research on organizations that support older adults, I observed workshops and meetings for organizational representatives and professionals, including social workers, on topics such as how to select Medicare insurance plans.

At one of these workshops, a representative from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, described officials’ hopes that families would discuss prescription plans at family get-togethers: ‘We tried to say, “Talk with your family about [Medicare] Part D over Thanksgiving dinner,” but we don’t know if people did.’   His comment revealed how much the market relies upon relational work, or connections formed and sustained with other persons (Zelizer 2012) and organizations.

Using observations of US governmental, advocacy, and human service organizations’ (GAHSOs) talks, I show how these intermediary organizations endorsed “bounded relationality” when teaching conventions for participating in the market of social insurance.  Unlike conventional consumer goods and services markets, insurance options are difficult to evaluate and exchanges are challenging to switch.  Decisions are also consequential, with suboptimal decisions impacting personal well-being and requiring support or intervention by family members, if they are available.

Read more about bounded relationality after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

relational inequality theory (rit) and racialized organizations

Want some orgtheory about inequality?  Check out the following podcasts and short articles, just in time for your upcoming holiday commutes:

Orgtheory guests Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey have a socannex podcast on “Relational Inequality Theory” (RIT) (38 minutes) with Queens College, CUNY sociologist Joseph N. Cohen.  The trio discuss more about RIT as a “theoretical toolkit” that allows researchers to translate concepts into empirical research. See the orgtheory blog entries that led to their socannex podcast here and here.

Victor Ray has a HBR article “Why So Many Organizations Stay White” where he advises that organizations move beyond symbolic gestures to really tackle entrenched discrimination and inequality:

At a minimum, leaders should stop thinking about discrimination and inequality as rare events and understand that racial processes often shape behavior in the absence of ill-intent. Conversations about organizational inequality need to refocus from a narrow concern with feelings and racial animus to the massive inequalities in material and psychological resources that organizations distribute between racial groups.

Ray also discusses racialized organizations in a B-side podcast (48:36).  Learn how reading Joan Acker’s article about gendered organizations helped him think through about how to connect critical race theory and organizations.

Written by katherinechen

November 24, 2019 at 11:07 pm

“Organizations, Markets, & the State” course at the Graduate Center, CUNY, offered for this spring 2020

Are you a graduate student in the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium?*  If so, please consider taking my “Organizations, Markets, & the State” class at the Graduate Center, CUNY.   At student request, I am teaching this class on the sociology of organizations this spring 2020 on Wednesdays @11:45am-2:45pm. Our first class meets on Wed., Jan. 29, 2020.

 

In addition to covering the classics of organizational research, the course includes cutting edge organizational research.  The course also incorporates topics and assigned readings based on enrolled students’ interests.  When I’ve taught this class in past semesters, guest speakers, including Nicole P. Marwell, Jeff Sallaz, Michel Anteby, Caroline W. Lee, Frederick Wherry, Pilar Opazo, and Elizabeth Popp Berman, have discussed their research projects.  (And, Fabio Rojas joined us for a special get-together during a visit to NYC!)

One of the aims of the class, besides learning substantive content, is to develop a local community of emerging scholars whose relationships spanning local, US, and international boundaries.  So, if you are an organizations researcher who is located or will happen to be in the NYC area during spring 2020, please email me about presenting your research!  We’ve also learned about professional development with guests, as participants are eager to learn about different kinds of institutions and career paths.

 

Here is the spring 2020 course description:

Organizations, Markets, & the State, Spring 2020

Graduate Center

Prof. Katherine K. Chen

Course Description

How can people coordinate action across growing groups in creative versus conventional ways?

How can people organize in ways that widen versus reduce power differentials among members?

How do people and organizations hoard advantages for a select few versus ensuring more equal access to all?

How do organizations fend off versus embrace market ideology, and how do organizations encourage members to adopt these perspectives?

Organizations are crucial actors in contemporary society, and they are also sites where many of us expend significant efforts connecting with or coordinating collective action.  Despite their central role in shaping our experiences from education to the workplace to governance, organizations are often overlooked or taken-for-granted among researchers and laypersons.  When researchers do study organizations, they typically pay little critical attention to power dynamics and organizing possibilities.

Building upon more critical perspectives, participants will learn why organizations form, how they develop, and how they can exacerbate or alleviate inequalities.  We will also discuss organizations’ relations with the state and markets, and how these relations affect action.  We will cover a variety of organizational forms, from conventional bureaucracies to networked firms to democratic organizations, with a focus on participants’ organizational fields of interest.  Theories studied incorporate the classics, as well as cutting edge synthetic work like Strategic Action Fields (SAFs), racialized organizations, and relational inequality theory (RIT)’s inequality-generating mechanisms.   Methodological approaches covered include ethnography, interviews, and other qualitative methods, and quantitative analyses.

This course supports deepening participants’ substantive knowledge, including preparing for comprehensives, extending cross-over expertise in a substantive area (i.e. social movements, urban sociology, stratification, education, cultural sociology, etc.), and designing and carrying out research.  In addition, this course aims to both promote professional development and forming a community of supportive scholars for emerging research.

*If you are a student at one of the below schools, you may be eligible, after filing  paperwork by the GC and your institution’s deadlines, to take classes within the Consortium:

Columbia University, GSAS
Princeton University – The Graduate School
CUNY Graduate Center
Rutgers University
Fordham University, GSAS
Stony Brook University
Graduate Faculty, New School University
Teachers College, Columbia University
New York University, GSAS, Steinhardt

Written by katherinechen

November 14, 2019 at 11:21 am

“don’t be afraid to push big, bold projects” and “be brave and patient”: Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey on producing Relational Inequality Theory (RIT)

 

Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, who collaboratively published their book Relational Inequalities: An Organizational Approach (Oxford University Press), graciously agreed to do a joint email interview with orgtheory!  Here, we discuss their book and the process leading up to the production of the book.  Readers who are thinking of how to apply relational inequality theory (RIT), join and bridge scholarly conversations, and/or handle collaborative projects, please take note.

First, I asked Dustin and Don substantive questions about RIT.  Here, both authors describe how they used their workplaces in higher education as laboratories for refining their theory.  Also, Don channeled his disappointment with the limits of Chuck Tilly’s Durable Inequalities into fueling this endeavor.

1. Katherine.  How did you apply the insight of relational inequality in your own lives?  For example, both of you are at public universities – how does knowing relational inequality affect your ways of interacting with other people and institutions?

Dustin. I think for me one of the ways I see this is becoming faculty during the process of writing the book and being in a transitioning institution. I was hired out of grad school to Augusta University when it had just merged with the Medical College of Georgia. With this merger, Augusta University moved from being a teaching-focused college to a comprehensive research university that includes both graduate and undergraduate programs and a mission focused on research. Experiencing this transition  made me think through the daily lives of organizations in a much less structural way as I saw people negotiating and renegotiating the meaning of the institution, the practices and policies, creating new ways of fulfilling institutional roles, etc. I guess in that way it highlighted the work of Tim Hallet on inhabited institutionalism. As university faculty and staff, we didn’t just copy a bunch of templates from the environment, people were translating them and challenging them in the organization. And we still are, 7 years later, and I suspect we will be for a very long time. Organizations at that moment became enactments rather than structures for me, something to be relationally negotiated not simply imported. Don and my endeavor then to understand inequality in this context actually began to make more sense. And in fact during our weekly conversations about the book, I do remember often relating stories to Don of what was going on, and this certainly shaped how I thought about the processes we were thinking through.

I don’t know if that is what you were after in your question, but it is for me this experience shaped how I have come to think about organizations, and became central to how we think about organizations in the book. 

Don. No fair, actually apply a theory in our own lives? Seriously though, I became pretty frustrated with the black hole explanations of local inequalities as reflecting “structure” or “history”. These can be analytically useful, but simultaneously disempowering. Yes, some students come to the University with cultural capital that matches some professors, but this does not make them better students, just relationally advantaged in those types of student-teacher interactions. At the same time the University exploits revenue athletes for its purposes while excluding many others from full participation. The struggles of first gen students and faculty are produced by relational inequalities. 

As a department chair I was keenly aware of the university dance of claims making around status and revenue and that this had to be actively negotiated if our department was going to be able to claim and sequester resources. This sounds and to some extent is harsh, since success might mean taking resources indirectly from weaker or less strategic departments, although it can also feel insurgent if the resource appears to be granted or extracted from the Provost. But the truth is that university resources flow in a complex network of relationships among units, students, legislators and vendors (beware the new administrative software contract!). 

The Dean will pretend this is about your unit’s “productivity”, it’s never that simple.*  It’s also great to have allies, at UMass we have a great faculty union that works to level the playing field between departments and disrupt the administrative inequality dance.

* Katherine’s addition: Check out this satirical twitter feed about higher ed administration for laugh/cries.

Read the rest of this entry »

the relational turn in the study of inequalities and organizations – guest post by Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

On behalf of Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, I am posting their guest post, a must-read for researchers looking for intersections between organizations and stratification.  In their post, they describe the shortcomings of stratification research’s in focusing on “individual” characteristics and how they build upon organizational theory to examine organizations as inequality-generating mechanisms.  Their post ends with possible research AND policy agendas for a more sustainable and equitable future.

By the end of the 1990s we began to see a relational turn in sociology, perhaps expressed most clearly in Mustafa Emirbayer’s Relational Manifesto. The core claim is that the basic unit of analysis for sociology (or perhaps the social sciences writ large) should be, neither the individual nor macro-level institutions, but the social relations between actors.

This relational claim is, of course, not new. Classical sociologists –Simmel, Marx, Mead, Blumer, Goffman– treated relationality as fundamental. All of symbolic interactionism, the economic sociologies of Granovetter’s embeddedness paradigm and Zelizerian relational work, organizational field theory, and the strong growth in network science are all contemporary exemplars.

But relationality was blurred in the mid-20thcentury though by the growth in statistical techniques and computer software packages that enabled the analysis of surveys of individuals. Blau and Duncan’s pathbreaking American Occupational Structure became the state of the art for stratification research, but it had the side effect of obscuring – both theoretically and methodologically – the relationality that undergirds the generation of inequalities.

Simultaneously, organizational sociology had its own theoretical blinders. The move towards New Institutionalism obscured the older focus on stakeholders and dominant coalitions, refocusing on legitimating processes in the environment through which organizations isomorphically converged. Charles Tilly’s book Durable Inequalities critiqued the status attainment model partly by adopting this view of organizations, treating organizations as inequality machines mechanically matching internal and external categories.

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Written by katherinechen

September 5, 2019 at 6:09 pm

book spotlight: beyond technonationalism by kathryn ibata-arens

At SASE 2019 in the New School, NYC, I served as a critic on an author-meets-critic session for Vincent de Paul Professor of Political Science Kathryn Ibata-Arens‘s latest book, Beyond Technonationalism: Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Asia.  

Beyondtechnonationalismcover

Here, I’ll share my critic’s comments in the hopes that you will consider reading or assigning this book and perhaps bringing the author, an organizations researcher and Asia studies specialist at DePaul, in for an invigorating talk!

“Ibata-Arens’s book demonstrates impressive mastery in its coverage of how 4 countries address a pressing policy question that concerns all nation-states, especially those with shifting markets and labor pools.  With its 4 cases (Japan, China, India, and Singapore),  Beyond Technonationalism: Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Asia covers impressive scope in explicating the organizational dimensions and national governmental policies that promote – or inhibit – innovations and entrepreneurship in markets.

The book deftly compares cases with rich contextual details about nation-states’ polices and examples of ventures that have thrived under these policies.  Throughout, the book offers cautionary stories details how innovation policies may be undercut by concurrent forces.  Corruption, in particular, can suppress innovation. Espionage also makes an appearance, with China copying’s Japan’s JR rail-line specs, but according to an anonymous Japanese official source, is considered in ill taste to openly mention in polite company. Openness to immigration and migration policies also impact national capacity to build tacit knowledge needed for entrepreneurial ventures.  Finally, as many of us in the academy are intimately familiar, demonstrating bureaucratic accountability can consume time and resources otherwise spent on productive research activities.

As always, with projects of this breadth, choices must made in what to amplify and highlight in the analysis.  Perhaps because I am a sociologist, what could be developed more – perhaps for another related project – are highlighting the consequences of what happens when nation-states and organizations permit or feed relational inequality mechanisms at the interpersonal, intra-organizational, interorganizational, and transnational levels.  When we allow companies and other organizations to, for example, amplify gender inequalities through practices that favor advantaged groups over other groups, what’s diminished, even for the advantaged groups?

Such points appear throughout the book, as sort of bon mots of surprise, described inequality most explicitly with India’s efforts to rectify its stratifying caste system with quotas and Singapore’s efforts to promote meritocracy based on talent.  The book also alludes to inequality more subtly with references to Japan’s insularity, particularly regarding immigration and migration. To a less obvious degree, inequality mechanisms are apparent in China’s reliance upon guanxi networks, which favors those who are well-connected. Here, we can see the impact of not channeling talent, whether talent is lost to outright exploitation of labor or social closure efforts that advantage some at the expense of others.

But ultimately individuals, organizations, and nations may not particularly care about how they waste individual and collective human potential.  At best, they may signal muted attention to these issues via symbolic statements; at worst, in the pursuit of multiple, competing interests such as consolidating power and resources for a few, they may enshrine and even celebrate practices that deny basic dignities to whole swathes of our communities.

Another area that warrants more highlighting are various nations’ interdependence, transnationally, with various organizations.  These include higher education organizations in the US and Europe that train students and encourage research/entrepreneurial start-ups/partnerships.  Also, nations are also dependent upon receiving countries’ policies on immigration.  This is especially apparent now with the election of publicly elected officials who promote divisions based on national origin and other categorical distinctions, dampening the types and numbers of migrants who can train in the US and elsewhere.

Finally, I wonder what else could be discerned by looking into the state, at a more granular level, as a field of departments and policies that are mostly decoupled and at odds. Particularly in China, we can see regional vs. centralized government struggles.”

During the author-meets-critics session, Ibata-Arens described how nation-states are increasingly concerned about the implications of elected officials upon immigration policy and by extension, transnational relationships necessary to innovation that could be severed if immigration policies become more restrictive.

Several other experts have weighed in on the book’s merits:

Kathryn Ibata-Arens, who has excelled in her work on the development of technology in Japan, has here extended her research to consider the development of techno-nationalism in other Asian countries as well: China, Singapore, Japan, and India. She finds that these countries now pursue techno-nationalism by linking up with international developments to keep up with the latest technology in the United States and elsewhere. The book is a creative and original analysis of the changing nature of techno-nationalism.”
—Ezra F. Vogel, Harvard University
“Ibata-Arens examines how tacit knowledge enables technology development and how business, academic, and kinship networks foster knowledge creation and transfer. The empirically rich cases treat “networked technonationalist” biotech strategies with Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Singaporean characteristics. Essential reading for industry analysts of global bio-pharma and political economists seeking an alternative to tropes of economic liberalism and statist mercantilism.”
—Kenneth A. Oye, Professor of Political Science and Data, Systems, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“In Beyond Technonationalism, Ibata-Arens encourages us to look beyond the Asian developmental state model, noting how the model is increasingly unsuited for first-order innovation in the biomedical sector. She situates state policies and strategies in the technonationalist framework and argues that while all economies are technonationalist to some degree, in China, India, Singapore and Japan, the processes by which the innovation-driven state has emerged differ in important ways. Beyond Technonationalism is comparative analysis at its best. That it examines some of the world’s most important economies makes it a timely and important read.”
—Joseph Wong, Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Kathryn Ibata-Arens masterfully weaves a comparative story of how ambitious states in Asia are promoting their bio-tech industry by cleverly linking domestic efforts with global forces. Empirically rich and analytically insightful, she reveals by creatively eschewing liberalism and selectively using nationalism, states are both promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in their bio-medical industry and meeting social, health, and economic challenges as well.”
—Anthony P. D’Costa, Eminent Scholar in Global Studies and Professor of Economics, University of Alabama, Huntsville
For book excerpts, download a PDF here.  Follow the author’s twitter feed here.

understanding gender inequality through organizations

Looking for a handy overview about gender and inequality, using an organizational lens?  Continuing an earlier conversation about the state of organizational studies, Elizabeth L. Gorman and Sarah Mosseri examine “Why should students and scholars who are interested in gender difference and inequality study organizations?”

“How organizational characteristics shape gender difference and inequality at work”

Abstract

Why should students and scholars who are interested in gender difference and inequality study organizations? In recent years, as research on organizations has migrated to business schools and become less connected to other subfields of the discipline, the value of organizational sociology has become less evident to many. Yet characteristics of organizations contribute in important ways to producing different experiences and outcomes for women and men, by constraining certain individual actions and enabling or bringing about others. In this essay, we trace the consequences of four categories of organizational characteristics—the formal structure of work, employment practices, informal structure and culture, and organizational networks and fields—for gender inequality in three areas: workplace experiences, work–family conflict, and career outcomes. We close with some brief reflections on future directions for research linking organizations and gender.

Download this article for free now from Sociology Compass’s Organizations and Work section, as the article is ungated until the end of this month, only!

Written by katherinechen

March 28, 2019 at 4:19 pm

hot off the press: NVSQ special issue on “nonprofits and policy”

As Aug. ends, now’s the time to squeeze in that last bit of reading and consider new additions to course syllabi before the new semester’s start.

The Association of Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Associations (ARNOVA)‘s flagship journal Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly has just published a special issue on “Nonprofits and Policy.” This issue was sponsored by the Kresge Foundation and guest edited by political scientist Steven Rathgeb Smith and sociologist/nonprofit organizations researcher Kirsten A. Grønbjerg.

This special issue’s articles include:

Written by katherinechen

August 20, 2018 at 6:38 pm

remaking higher education for turbulent times, wed., march 28, 9am-6pm EDT, Graduate Center

For those of you in NYC (or those who want to watch a promised live webcast at bit.ly/FuturesEd-live  http://videostreaming.gc.cuny.edu/videos/livestreams/page1/ with a livestream transcript here: http://www.streamtext.net/player?event=CUNY), the Graduate Center Futures Initiative is hosting a conference of CUNY faculty and students on Wed., March 28, 9am-6pm EDT at the Graduate Center.  Our topic is: “Remaking higher education for turbulent times.” In the first session “Higher Education at a Crossroads” at 9:45am EDT,  Ruth Milkman and I, along with other panelists who have taught via the Futures Initiative, will be presenting our perspectives on the following questions:

  1. What is the university? What is the role of the university, and whom does it serve?
  2. How do political, economic, and global forces impact student learning, especially institutions like CUNY?
  3. What would an equitable system of higher education look like? What could be done differently?

Ruth and I will base our comments on our experiences thus far with teaching a spring 2018 graduate course about changes in the university system, drawing on research conducted by numerous sociologists, including organizational ethnographers.  So far, our class has included readings from:

We will discuss the tensions of reshaping long-standing institutions that have reproduced privilege and advantages for elites and a select few, as well as efforts to sustain universities (mostly public institutions) that have served as a transformational engine of socio-economic mobility and social change.  More info, including our course syllabus, is available via the Futures Initiatives blog here.

Following our session, two CUNY faculty and staff who are taking our class, Larry Tung and Samini Shahidi will be presenting about their and their classmates’ course projects.

A PDF of the full day’s activities can be downloaded here: FI-Publics-Politics-Pedagogy-8.5×11-web

If you plan to join us (especially for lunch), please RSVP ASAP at bit.ly/FI-Spring18

Written by katherinechen

March 21, 2018 at 4:53 pm

in NYC spring 2018 semester? looking for a PhD-level course on “Change and Crisis in Universities?”

Are you a graduate student in the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium or a CUNY graduate student?*  If so, please consider taking “Change & Crisis in Universities: Research, Education, and Equity in Uncertain Times” class at the Graduate Center, CUNY.  This course is cross-listed in the Sociology, Urban Education and Interdisciplinary Studies programs.

Ruth Milkman and I are co-teaching this class together this spring on Tuesdays 4:15-6:15pm.  Our course topics draw on research in organizations, labor, and inequality.  This course starts on Tues., Jan. 30, 2018.

Here’s our course description:

 

This course examines recent trends affecting higher education, with special attention to how those trends exacerbate class, race/ethnicity, and gender inequalities. With the rising hegemony of a market logic, colleges and universities have been transformed into entrepreneurial institutions. Inequality has widened between elite private universities with vast resources and public institutions where students and faculty must “do more with less,” and austerity has fostered skyrocketing tuition and student debt. Tenure-track faculty lines have eroded as contingent academic employment balloons.  The rise of on-line “learning” and expanding class sizes have raised concerns about the quality of higher education, student retention rates, and faculty workloads.  Despite higher education’s professed commitment to diversity, disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups remain underrepresented, especially among faculty. Amid growing concerns about the impact of micro-aggressions, harassment, and even violence on college campuses, liberal academic traditions are under attack from the right. Drawing on social science research on inequality, organizations, occupations, and labor, this course will explore such developments, as well as recent efforts by students and faculty to reclaim higher education institutions.

We plan to read articles and books on the above topics, some of which have been covered by orgtheory posts and discussions such as epopp’s edited RSO volume, Armstrong and Hamilton’s Paying for the Party, and McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy.  We’ll also be discussing readings by two of our guestbloggers as well, Ellen Berrey and Caroline W. Lee.

*If you are a student at one of the below schools, you may be eligible, after filing  paperwork by the GC and your institution’s deadlines, to take classes within the Consortium:

Columbia University, GSAS
Princeton University – The Graduate School
CUNY Graduate Center
Rutgers University
Fordham University, GSAS
Stony Brook University
Graduate Faculty, New School University
Teachers College, Columbia University
New York University, GSAS, Steinhardt

Written by katherinechen

January 8, 2018 at 8:12 pm

global resistance in the neoliberal university

intlconf
Those of you who are interested in fending off growing neoliberalism in the university might be interested in the following international  line-up at CUNY’s union, PSC.
You can watch a livestream of the conference via fb starting tonight, Fri., March 3, 6-9pm and Sat., March 4, 9:30am-6pm EST:
…an international conference on Global Resistance in the Neoliberal University organized by the union will be held today and tomorrow, 3/3rd-4th at the PSC, 61 Broadway.  
 
Scholars, activists and students from Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, Greece, India and the US will lead discussions on perspectives, strategies and tactics of resisting the neoliberal offensive in general, and in the context of the university in particular.
 
You can visit this site for a link to the conference program:
 
Due to space constraints, conference registration is now closed. But we’re thrilled by the tremendous interest in the event! You can watch a livestream of the conference here: https://www.facebook.com/PSC.CUNY.  If you follow us on our Facebook page, you will receive a notification reminding you to watch.  
 
We look forward to seeing some of you tonight and to discussing the conference with many of you in the near future. 
 

 

 

Written by katherinechen

March 3, 2017 at 11:29 pm

where are the institutionalists? answer: not sociology

Neo-institutionalism was and remains a major strand of organizational theory. However, it seems as if it has receded from sociology programs. Some of the esteemed senior scholars in this tradition, such as Art Stinchcombe and Lynn Zucker, are emeritus faculty. A number of key figures such as Woody Powell, Brian Rowan, and John Meyer work in professional schools (education). And the bulk of early and mid career institutional scholars work in the b-schools, with Oxford and Alberta being the center of much work.

So where in sociology do we still see institutionalism? If you look at, say, the top 20-30 PhD programs, you get the following count: Neil Fligstein (Berkeley), Paul DiMaggio (NYU), Tim Hallett (IU), me (IU), Melissa Wooten (U Mass – Amherst), Tim Bartley (Ohio State). And it would be easy to whittle this list down. Paul DiMaggio’s recent work is more culture and cognition rather than institutionalism. Tim Bartley is less of an institutionalist per se and more of a scholar of industrial regulation. Perhaps, you might add Berkeley’s Cristina Mora, whose book on pan-ethnicity employs some aspects of institutionalism. But once again, you could argue her work is mainly immigration and ethnicity, not an attempt to develop institutionalism. Still, out of the 300-400 faculty who teach in the biggest PhD programs, it says something when only about 5 of them actually work on one of sociology’s most important contributions to the social sciences.

Is this a bad thing? Probably not. There is no reason to believe a theory of organizations has to live in sociology programs. One might also argue that institutionalism in sociology has simply transformed into a different thing – a theory of fields/dynamics of contention school that focuses more on conflict and mobilization than isomorphism.  So perhaps the number of people I could have identified would be larger. But I suspect it would not be larger.

What are your thoughts? Is this another example of org theory migrating to b-schools?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

February 28, 2017 at 12:46 am

commentary on “an austrian approach to class structure” by jayme s. lemke

I saw a link to an article called “An Austrian Approach to Class Structure.” It attracted my interest since it is rare for economists to delve into theories of social class. In this article, Lemke offers a theory of social class based on Austrian economics. It is an interesting choice given that Austrians are committed methodological individualists, and class analysis (usually) relies on holism.

So what does the paper offer? The core of the paper is an attempt to rebuild social in terms of methodological individualism. Class (page 179) emerges when:

  • Rules and norms apply to some people and not others.
  • Group membership is sticky.
  • Some people hold authority over people in other groups.

There are a few things happening in this definition. First, it doesn’t match up terribly well with traditional notions of social class, which are usually economic. For example, an ethnic group is a “class” in this definition. However, an ethnic group is usually not considered a class in the Marxian or Weberian sense of the word (“position in the mode of production” or “market position”). I think in Lemke’s definition is closer to Weber’s notion of status group, but adds the idea that that rules are not uniformly applied in society. It’s a bit closer to Shils’ notion of deference or DuBois’ analysis of Black/White inequality, which focused on the forms of privilege that White people enjoy.

Second, the definition is especially suited to the issues that Austrian might care about, such as how states grant benefits to specific people and not others. Sadly, the traditional sociological literature on class and status more generally treats this as an after thought. Lemke’s definition works well, for example, if you want to talk about people in the state, or those who enjoy favors (special interest groups, lobbyists). This does come up in neo-Marxist political economy, but I don’t think it has much of an impact in the broader world of sociology.

Interesting read for anyone interested in the contact point between sociology and heterodox economics.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

February 17, 2017 at 12:48 am

surviving academic affluenza/midlife-crisis

Academia is an iron person sport – the marathon to the dissertation,  the quest for a tenure-track position, and the trek to tenure.  What happens after tenure and promotion?

In this podcast, Elizabeth Matsui (a professor and practicing doctor), Roger Peng (professor of biostats), and Brian Caffo, a recently promoted full professor in biostats, discuss the timeline of an academic career, including those on soft money.  Using a disease analogy (i.e., do you suffer from full professoritis?), they discuss various outlets where the tenured can channel efforts following the post-tenure malaise.  They outline possible routes: “staying the course,” mastering a new field, or taking on additional, different roles as an administrator, empire-builder, public scholar, editor, teacher/mentor, and consultant.  Around the 40: minute mark, Matsui raises the issue of familial responsibilities.

Elsewhere, in an article titled “Midcareer Melancholy,” sociologists Joya Misra and Jennifer Lundquist point out the structural conditions that make associate professorship feel especially soul-crushing to those who had imagined a euphoric, happily ever after post-tenure and promotion.  As they describe the academic profession, assistant professors are protected from service work while some full professors shirk it.  These generate overwork among associate professors, whose ranks have been decimated by the adjunctification of the academy and the depletion of tenure-track lines.  Associate professors are acutely aware of how much of their daily work is neither valued nor counted towards their bid to advance to the next step of full:

Associate professors may be frustrated by the immediate demands of service work that materialize upon earning tenure when it is almost exclusively their scholarship that earns them promotion in the long run.

On our campus, we heard these sentiments repeatedly: “There’s a contradiction between the pressure for service at the associate level and the devaluing of service for promotion to full”; “In reality, only research matters when it comes to… promotion, but service and teaching require lots of time”; “The criteria for promotion is research. Associate professors have time for everything but research.” Another referred to associate professorship as “the midcareer service gully that we find ourselves taking an extended stay in.”

Misra and Lundquist offer the following adjustments to address the midcareer malaise:

  1. Clear guidelines for promotion that align with the institution’s mission. Tenure criteria are often less ambiguous than those for promotion to full professor. A few research institutions have identified alternative pathways to promotion in the form of exceptional service leadership or scholarly teaching.
  2. Mutual mentoring programs and supports such as those developed by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity that help faculty members focus their work time on the factors that will be evaluated, such as research productivity.
  3. Strategies aimed at lessening service burdens on faculty, such as: more tenure-line faculty hiring, recognizing that relying on adjuncts damages the university broadly, as well as adjunct faculty; course releases for intensive service positions to ensure that they do not derail research agendas; more staff hiring that supports faculty leadership.
  4. Greater departmental transparency in service assignments and teaching loads to reduce inequalities in how less-valued activities are distributed.
  5. Professional development for midcareer faculty on how to run meetings and complete committee work without reinventing the wheel.
  6. Standardized policies that regularly assess promotion timing rather than forcing candidates to self-nominate or wait to be nominated by a superior.

 

 

Written by katherinechen

January 18, 2017 at 5:13 pm

a bunch of institutionalism

Written by fabiorojas

January 6, 2017 at 12:10 am

the not-so-new institutionalism

The “new” institutional theory isn’t so new anymore. Anyone trained in organizational theory post-1990s will recognize the brand of institutionalism popularized by people like Woody Powell, Paul DiMaggio, John Meyer, and Dick Scott as a healthy part of the status quo. In fact, it has become such a dominant perspective in org. theory circles that new students might mistake the entire field as being about institutional theory. Concepts like institutional logics, institutional work, institutional entrepreneurship, or institutional [insert term here] are common tools of the trade. All of this is to say that institutional theory isn’t so revolutionary anymore.

A few years ago Fabio wrote a post in which he wondered if we’ve reached the end of institutionalism.

Around 2004 or so, I felt that we were “done” with institutionalism as it was developed from Stinchcombe (1965) to Fligstein (2000). My view was that once you focused on the organizational environment and produced a zillion diffusion studies, there were only so many extra topics to deal with.

In one sense Fabio was clearly wrong about institutional theory being finished. If you pick up any management journal, you’ll find lots of references to the classics of institutional theory. The average issue of AMJ or Org. Studies or Org. Science might have one or two papers with”institutional” in the title or abstract. Even if Fabio was right that we’ve reached a theoretical cul-de-sac with few escape routes, it seems to be a wide lane in which many empirical cars can do circles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

January 2, 2017 at 6:20 pm

just in time for Nov. 8, election day in the US

Hot off the press, a study about how interactions with law enforcement and prison impact political participation in the US:

“RACE, JUSTICE, POLICING, AND THE 2016 AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION”

by Kevin Drakulich, John Hagan, Devon Johnson, and Kevin H. Wozniak

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742058X1600031X
  • Abstract

    Scholars have long been interested in the intersection of race, crime, justice, and presidential politics, focusing particularly on the “southern strategy” and the “war on crime.” A recent string of highly-publicized citizen deaths at the hands of police and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement have brought renewed visibility to this racially-driven intersection, and in particular to issues involving contact with and attitudes toward the police. Using data from the 2016 Pilot Study of the American National Election Studies, this study explores how contact with the criminal justice system and perceptions of police injustice shape political behavior in the modern era, with a specific emphasis on prospective participation and candidate choice in the 2016 presidential election. The results indicate that being stopped by the police—an experience that can feel invasive and unjust—may motivate political participation, while spending time in jail or prison—an experience associated with a marginalization from mainstream civic life—appears to discourage political participation. Perceiving the police as discriminatory also seems to motivate political engagement and participation, though in opposite directions for conservative versus liberal voters. In addition, perceptions of police injustice were related to candidate choice, driving voters away from Donald Trump. Affective feelings about the police were not associated with candidate choice. Perceptions of the police appear to act in part as a proxy for racial resentments, at least among potential voters in the Republican primary. In sum, the intersection of race, justice, and policing remains highly relevant in U.S. politics.

Written by katherinechen

November 7, 2016 at 5:44 pm

putting limits on the academic workday

Today, among the various administrative tasks of scheduling meetings with students and other responsibilities, I decided to RSVP yes for an upcoming evening talk.  I didn’t make this decision lightly, as it involved coordinating schedules with another party (i.e., fellow dual career parent).

With the use of technology such as email, increasing job precarity, and belief in facetime as signalling productivity and commitment, the workday in the US has elongated, blurring boundaries to the point that work can crowd out other responsibilities to family, community, hobbies, and self-care.  However, one Ivy  institution is exhorting its members to rethink making evening events and meetings the norm.

In this nuanced statement issued to department chairs, Brown University’s provost outlines the stakes and consequences of an elongated workday:

This burden [of juggling work and family commitments] may disproportionately affect female faculty members. Although data on Brown’s faculty is not available, national statistics indicate that male faculty members (of every rank) are more likely than female faculty members (of every rank) to have a spouse or partner whose comparably flexible work schedule allows that spouse or partner to handle the bulk of evening-time household responsibilities. Put differently, male faculty members are more likely than female faculty members to have the household support to attend campus events after 5:30. We must be attuned to issues of gender equity when we think about program scheduling. We must also take into consideration the particular challenges faced by single parents on the faculty when required to attend events outside the regular hours of childcare.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

September 28, 2016 at 7:16 pm

the donald and the mule

In the 1950s, Isaac Asimov wrote a series of books called The Foundation Series. The plot is simple and fascinating. Far in the future, civilization is collapsing, Roman Empire style. A small group of mathematical social scientists (“pyschohistorians”) use all kinds of models to predict what might happen to humanity. They decide to let the Empire fall and replace it with an alternative social order originating on a marginal planet called Foundation. And of course, the pyschohistorians pull the strings to make this happen.

The sequel introduces a fascinating twist. For the first hundred or so years, everything is going to plan. Foundation becomes a strong city state and starts to restore political order. Then, all of a sudden, a Napoleon like leader, called “The Mule,” shows up and effortlessly conquers vast expanses of space. What happened? None of the social science models predicted that this would happen.

It turns out that the Mule is a mutant who has mind control. He simply conquers populations by adjusting their emotions and memories, so they just immediately fall into his lap. Eventually, a hidden group of psychohistorians, “the Second Foundation,” defeat the Mule, he becomes normal, and social progress is back on track.

This is the best way to explain my model of the Trump candidacy. He is a type of figure that does not normally get consideration in social theory. He isn’t quite as all powerful as The Mule, but he does share one key trait. He has a unique ability to directly appeal to a large group of people and by pass the normal channels of influence. The Mule had psychic powers, the Donald has the skill to manipulate the media. Weber, of course, spoke about charisma, but few have really gone into depth and integrated an account of charisma into social theory more systematically. That is why so many social scientists have difficulty talking about Trump, even after the fact. It’s about time we thought more carefully about these rare, but important, figures.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

September 27, 2016 at 12:37 am

tenure and promotion experiences among women of color

After completing a Ph.D., how to get a tenure-track position, secure tenure, and advance to full and beyond are not clear, particularly since multiple layers of bureaucracy (committees, department, division, school, and university board) have a say over candidates’ cases.  Despite written policies specifying criteria and process for tenure and promotion, universities can interpret these policies in ways that advance or push out qualified candidates.  Over at feministwire, Vilna Bashi Treitler shares her experiences with the tenure process at one university, where unofficial teaching evaluations were apparently used to justify a tenure vote:

In my case, I was unable to defend myself when someone at my tenure hearing read verbatim from RateMyProfessor.com, a popular website where anyone can write anything about any professor in the country. The review reported me for “abandoning” my class. My colleagues discussed my case without reference to the medical emergency that pulled me from class: I lay, pregnant and bleeding, on doctor’s ordered bed rest, trying to save my baby. My colleagues failed to consider the testimonies of graduate students who taught the four class sessions that remained in the semester – at my own expense – or the fact that my website showed evidence that classes continued (with the aid of graduate students) and I distributed handouts online, despite my forced absence.

Perhaps most frustrating, it did not appear to matter to my colleagues that I had several peer-reviewed articles published in top journals, a book already published with a top-tier university press, a grant from the National Science Foundation for a new project, and mostly good reviews from students up until that time. This happened 10 years ago, and despite the opposition, I survived and succeeded in the academy. However, I never stopped facing challenges from white students who – despite signing up for my course, which at no time was ever a requirement – resist what I have to teach them, and in some cases, treat me with open disrespect.

Having served with Vilna on a committee overseeing dissertation proposals at the Graduate Center, CUNY and spending time with her discussing pedagogy, I can attest that she is very invested in students’ learning, no matter how difficult the topic.  In sociology and related disciplines, we teach and discuss complex topics – inequality, discrimination, and the various –isms – that can challenge or even threaten people’s worldviews.  The individualistic emphasis in the US makes it especially difficult to convey alternative ways of thinking.

Vilna’s post includes several recommendations for the academy.  In particular, she urges colleagues who have power to act on behalf of those who do not:

We must stand behind the promises we made to young faculty when we hired them: if you produce high quality scholarship, we will award you the tenure you need to continue conducting cutting edge research. Any scholar who makes the grade with notable and widely accepted peer-reviewed scholarship should not have their fates sealed in closed-door processes with little transparency or overt accountability where the complaints of a relatively tiny number of students – of course, students have never published research or taught courses themselves – are given undue weight. (Of course, bad teaching should not be rewarded, but we have other ways to assess teaching, including examining syllabi, having faculty regularly observed by peer scholars, and creating and encouraging the use of teaching centers where new scholar-teachers can seek aid in improving their classroom skills.)

Faculty who serve on committees that make these decisions know when injustice is being committed, and the time is now to take a stand. Standing up to proceedings that negate principles of both academic freedom and honor among colleagues and that allow racism and sexism to decide who is a quality scholar is risky and requires courage, but is nevertheless necessary. It is difficult to ask questions aloud about what’s not happening when a colleague looks like they’re being railroaded. If you stand up, you effectively become a whistleblower, for which there might be retaliation – but if you’re tenured, that’s exactly what tenure is for: protection from punishment for following through on ideas that may be unpopular. So when the tide turns against a junior colleague in your department or university, the difficult but morally right thing to do would be to take a bold step to stand up and at minimum question why.

And standing up takes many forms. When the conversation turns towards student complaints about a professor, inform your colleagues that student evaluations have gender and race biases (see here, and here, too). Find out if the professor has good evaluations that are being ignored or downplayed. Ask whether colleagues are overlooking other evidence of good teaching, like positive peer observations, or syllabi chock full of information about assignments, how grades are determined, and classroom policies. Professors who stand up must ask about the rest of the scholarly record: are we talking about the teaching of a highly productive scholar who has a publishing record and is a good departmental and college/university citizen? Maybe you should ask whether those things should matter more than evaluations – especially if you know this is what junior faculty are told when informed of the requirements for tenure.

Standing up also looks like administrators who overturn or challenge insufficiently explained tenure denials for stellar candidate records, being mindful of institutional commitments to inclusion and diversity. In addition, professors who become aware that injustice is occurring should reach out to administrators and encourage them to do the right thing.

Vilna’s insightful post includes links to several other scholars’ tenure denial experiences in the academy, as well as additional recommendations on working with students.

 

Written by katherinechen

July 27, 2016 at 5:25 pm

welcome, guest blogger M. Pilar Opazo!

Orgheads, take note, I am thrilled to introduce a guest post by M. Pilar Opazo, who has just published an exciting new book, Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli (2016, Columbia University Press), on the much lauded, three-star Michelin restaurant elBulli.

Here’s a description of the book from the Columbia Press website:

The name elBulli is synonymous with creativity and innovation. Located in Catalonia, Spain, the three-star Michelin restaurant led the world to “molecular” or “techno-emotional” cooking and made creations, such as pine-nut marshmallows, rose-scented mozzarella, liquid olives, and melon caviar, into sensational reality. People traveled from all over the world—if they could secure a reservation during its six months of operation—to experience the wonder that chef Ferran Adrià and his team concocted in their test kitchen, never offering the same dish twice. Yet elBulli’s business model proved unsustainable. The restaurant converted to a foundation in 2011, and is working hard on its next revolution. Will elBulli continue to innovate? What must an organization do to create something new?

Appetite for Innovation is an organizational analysis of elBulli and the nature of innovation. Pilar Opazo joined elBulli’s inner circle as the restaurant transitioned from a for-profit business to its new organizational model. In this book, she compares this moment to the culture of change that first made elBulli famous, and then describes the novel forms of communication, idea mobilization, and embeddedness that continue to encourage the staff to focus and invent as a whole. She finds that the successful strategies employed by elBulli are similar to those required for innovation in art, music, business, and technology, proving the value of the elBulli model across organizations and industries.

Glowing reviews of the book and its contributions to organizational studies and our understanding of creativity, penned by organizational sociologists Walter Powell and Diane Vaughan, urban sociologist Sharon Zukin, food scholars Priscilla Ferguson and Krishnendu Ray, and others are available here.

Forbes also listed Appetite for Innovation as one of 17 books recommended for “creative leaders” to read this summer.

M. Pilar Opazo is a postdoctoral research scholar at the Columbia Business School. She is the coauthor of two Spanish-language volumes, Communications of Organizations and Negotiation: Competing or Collaborating, and her journal publications include Sociological Theory and the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. For more information about Pilar, see www.mpilaropazo.com

Written by katherinechen

June 8, 2016 at 4:37 pm

inequality perpetuated via organizations – a view from cultural sociology

Sociologists are increasingly recognizing how  organizations facilitate and perpetuate inequality.  Check out the recently published Socio-Economic Review paper, “What is Missing? Cultural Processes and Causal Pathways to Inequality” by Michèle Lamont, Stefan Beljean, and Matthew Clair.

Building on Weber’s concept of rationalization, the authors argue that organizations’ propensity for standardization and evaluation (along with other processes) contribute to inequalities.  Standardization flattens inputs and outputs, subjecting these to comparisons along narrow dimensions.  In addition, those that conform to standards can receive needed resources, leaving outliers to scrap for the remainders:

Standardization is the process by which individuals, groups and institutions construct ‘uniformities across time and space’ through ‘the generation of agreed-upon rules’ (Timmermans and Epstein, 2010, p. 71). While the process implies intention (‘agreed-upon rules’) on the part of social actors, standardization as a process in everyday life frequently has unintended consequences.  The construction of uniformities becomes habitual and taken for granted once the agreed-upon rules are set in place and codified into institutional and inter-subjective scripts (often formal, albeit sometimes also informal). In its industrial and post-industrial manifestations, the process of standardization is part and parcel of the rationalization and bureaucratization of society (Carruthers and Espeland, 1991; Olshan, 1993; Brunsson and Jacobsson, 2000; Timmermans and Epstein, 2010).

….Moreover, the effects of standardization on inequality are often unintended or indeterminate. Indeed, standards are often implemented with the intent of developing a common benchmark of success or competence and are frequently motivated by positive purposes (e.g. in the case of the adoption of pollution standards or teaching standards). Yet, once institutionalized, standards are often mobilized in the distribution of resources. In this process, in some cases, those who started out with standard relevant resources may be advantaged (Buchmann et al., 2010). In this sense, the consequences of standardization for inequality can be unintentional, indirect and open-ended, as it can exacerbate or abate inequality.Whether they are is an empirical issue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

One example of this interaction between standardization and social inequality is the use of standards in education as documented by Neckerman (2007). Among other things, her work analyses the rise of standardized and IQ testing in the 1920s in American education and local Chicago education policy. It shows how standardized test scores came to be used to determine admission to Chicago’s best vocational schools, with the goal of imposing more universalist practices. Yet, in reality, the reform resulted in diminished access to the best schooling for the city’s low-income African-American population…. (591-592).

Similarly, evaluation facilitates and legitimates differential treatment of individual persons:

Evaluation is a cultural process that—broadly defined—concerns the negotiation, definition and stabilization of value in social life (Beckert and Musselin, 2013). According to Lamont (2012, p. 206), this process involves several important sub-processes, most importantly categorization (‘determining in which group the entity [. . .] under consideration belongs’) and legitimation (‘recognition by oneself and others of the value of an entity’).

In the empirical literature, we find several examples of how evaluation as a cultural process can contribute to inequality, many of which are drawn from sociological research on hiring, recruiting and promotion in labour markets. The bulk of these studies concern how evaluation practices of organizations favour or discriminate against certain groups of employees (see, e.g. Castilla and Benard, 2010) or applicants (see, e.g. Rivera, 2012). Yet, some scholars also examine evaluation processes in labour markets from a broader perspective, locating evaluation not only in hiring or promotion but also in entire occupational fields.

For instance, Beljean (2013b) studied standards of evaluation in the cultural industry
of stand-up comedy. Drawing on interviews with comedians and their employers as well as ethnographic fieldwork, he finds that even though the work of stand-up comedians is highly uniform in that they all try to make people laugh, there is considerable variation in how comedians are evaluated across different levels of stratification of the comedy industry. Thus, for example, newcomer comedians and star performers are judged against different standards: while the former must be highly adaptable to the taste of different audiences and owners of comedy clubs, the latter are primarily judged by their ability to nurture their fan-base and to sell out shows. Even though this difference does not necessarily translate into more inequality among comedians, it tends to have negative effects on the career prospects of newcomer comedians. Due to mechanisms of cumulative advantage, and because both audiences and bookers tend to be conservative in their judgement, it is easier for more established comedians to maintain their status than for newcomers to build up a reputation. As a result, a few star comedians get to enjoy a disproportionally large share of fame and monetary rewards, while a large majority of comedians remain anonymous and marginalized. (593)

Those looking for ways to curb inequality will not find immediate answers in this article.  The authors do not offer remedies for how organizations can combat such unintended consequences, or even, have its members become more self-aware of these tendencies.   Yet, we know from other research that organizations have attempted different measures to minimize bias.  For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, orchestras turned to “blind” auditions to reduce gender bias when considering musicians for hire.  Some have even muffled the floor to prevent judges from hearing the click of heels that might give away the gender of those auditioning.

ORCHESTRAL REPERTOIRE WORKSHOP: MOCK AUDITION

An example of a blind audition, courtesy of Colorado Springs Philharmonic.

In any case, have a look at the article’s accompanying discussion forum, where fellow scholars Douglas S. Massey, Leslie McCall, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, Dustin Avent-Holt, Philippe Monin, Bernard Forgues, and Tao Wang weigh in with their own essays.

 

 

institutionalism and its friends

In this post, I want to offer a few thoughts about what institutionalism can gain, or has gained, through its interactions with other areas. Let’s start with what it might gain by looking at our neighbors, the economists. One thing that immediately jumps to mind is that institutionalism gets immediately recast as applied game theory, such as the work of Avner Grief. The idea is that “institution” becomes “norm,” which means that you can ask about the types of incentives that lead to norms being followed or violated. So far, this sort of work is well cited in sociology, but most sociologists are simply not interested in this type of economic modelling. Still, there is probably much to be gained by considering how “taken for grantedness” might be affected by incentives and the structure of interaction.

We might also consider how institutionalism might be impacted by a deeper engagement with other subfields of sociology. One thing that you notice is that institutional scholars routinely cite work in other fields, but don’t apply the ideas. For example, I noticed in grad school that a lot of institutional articles would cite cultural theory, but you don’t see a full blown toolkit style analysis in institutionalism. Rather than ritual citation, it might be good to seriously make institutionalist theories of action meet cultural theories of action (a la Hans Joas or Swidler).

By anchoring itself empirically to organizational studies, economic sociology, and politics, institutionalism has pretty much cut itself off from a whole range of empirical phenomena. Already, by looking at movements (see Brayden’s work or Huggy Rao’s or Sarah Soule’s), org studies has grown tremendously. My own work on universities also focuses on the institutionalism/movements interactions. But why don’t we have “gendered institutionalism” or a theory going after inequality-institution interactions?

So for ambitious students, we have two very interesting possibilities. One is to enrich institutional theory by linking to another area with different methods/behavioral assumptions like economics or anthropology. Another road to take is to look at areas of sociology that have had little contact with institutionalism like gender, race, or demography.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

 

Written by fabiorojas

December 2, 2015 at 12:01 am

institutionalism 2015

Institutionalism is, by any measure, the major sociological theory of organizational behavior. It’s flagship article, DiMaggio and Powell 1983, is the most cited article ever published in the American Sociological Review. Citations to institutionalism dwarf other approaches like ecology and network analysis. Virtually all graduate students who specialize in organizational theory must learn institutionalism and there is a steady stream of handbooks and edited volume chapters that expound the theory.

So this week, I want to get a few issues on the table about institutionalism. Today is simply an assessment of “where are we now?” I’ll offer a few claims on this question and I’d be interested to see if you agree with me.

First, institutional theory has moved from a theory of organizational conformity/non-conformity (depends if you are D&P 83 or M&R 77) to a theory of action with fields. This can be seen in Fligstein and McAdam’s theory of fields, institutional work, and inhabited institutions.

Second,  we’ve pretty much dropped studies of diffusion curves (they still happen on occasion, though) and focused on strategic action or environments. This can be seen in the institutional logics/inhabited institutions split in the field.

Third, institutionalism has moved away from sociology programs and into management and education programs. For example, most of the leading institutional logic scholars are in b-schools (Thornton, Ocasio, Lounsbury), as are the big names in institutional work theory (Suddaby, Lawrence, Leca) and one half of the duo that brought you inhabited institutions (Ventresca). In sociology programs, one sees top scholars either using institutional theory to study “topics” (e.g., my own work on movements and org change) or they are creating theory that no longer presents itself as institutions (e.g., Fligstein and McAdam present their theory of fields as drawing from many sources in sociology). You don’t see new branches of institutionalism being hatched in soc programs (except Hallet’s inhabited institutions).

Use the comments to discuss the “where are we now.”

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Written by fabiorojas

November 30, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, Institutions

some thoughts on institutional logics, in three parts

Last week I was finishing up a volume introduction and it prompted me to catch up on the last couple of years of the institutional logics literature. This gave me some thoughts, and now I can’t sleep, so I’m putting them out there. This is long so it’s broken into three parts. The first two reflect my personal saga with institutional logics. They set up the rest, but you can also skip to the third and final section for the punchline.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by epopp

October 8, 2015 at 10:59 am

general tso’s chicken

Netflix is running a documentary called The Search for General Tso, which is about the origin of a dish called “General Tso’s Chicken.” As you might imagine, the documentary starts with some obvious humor. Folks back in China have never heard of it, so the viewer believes that it is a fake “American Chinese” dish.

The story turns out to be richer than that. I won’t give away the details, but the film is an excellent overview of Chinese immigration and the role that Chinese restaurants have in helping migrants:

  • Chinese restaurants were given “territories” so they wouldn’t compete with each other, which explains why you find them in some far flung places.
  • There is an interesting economics of Chinese food. For example, Tso’s Chicken is inexpensive and appeals to the American desire for sweet and fried foods.
  • Even though Tso’s chicken is not commonly consumed in China, it actually has its origins there and was brought to the US through a rather bitter competition between two feuding Taiwanese chefs.
  • Chinese food is highly unstable in that it is easy to modify for various global audiences.

So General Tso’s chicken emerges from a very, very specific circumstance in the 1970s, but it “fits” in the long standing field of Chinese restaurants and quickly diffuses throughout the US. Great story of culture, economics, and organizational fields.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 1, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, food, Institutions

book spotlight: in the face of inequality by melissa e. wooten

wootenbook

In the Face of Inequality: How Black Colleges Adapt is a new book on historically black colleges by Melissa E. Wooten. The purpose of the book is to ask how the field of HBCs has evolved over its history and to provide a sociological answer to this question. The book is built on a series of questions that most organizational theorists would find intuitive – how is the HBC field organized? How do HBCs pursue collective action? How do they build legitimacy and how have they responded to the ere of desegregation?

After providing an overview of the HBC field, Wooten answers these questions by looking at “adaptive episodes” where HBCs come together to address various financial and political problems. For example, there is a highly informative discussion of the United Negro College Fund, which remains one of the most important financial instruments for supporting Black students seeking a college education. The UNCF is also one of the most important accreditation agencies in the HBC field. The gist of the argument about the UNCF is that was both a financial project and also a legitimacy building project. It also had some important unintented consequences – by favoring standards selected by UNCF donors, HBCs were encouraged to adopt the forms that did not directly challenge the social and political practices that ensured low status for Blacks.

Aside from being an important sociological study of the HBC field, In the Face of Inequality is an important example of institutionalism 3.0 – the research project linking institutional theory with other major streams of modern sociology. This text connects institutionalism with race theory. For these reasons, it’s a good book. Recommended!

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Written by fabiorojas

July 9, 2015 at 12:01 am

when anarchism is a decent option: the case of somalia

Africanists like to toss around the words “failed state.” But what they falsely assume is that there is only one option – building a stronger state. What would happen if the state just withered and people just let it go? Are people better off by just ditching the weak state? A 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization by Benjamin Powell, Ryan Ford, and Alex Nowratseh asks exactly this question. They ask, what happened in Somalia after their state collapsed 1991?

Somalia is a nation that was hammered by war, famine, dictators, and an out of control socialist state. In the 1991, the state collapsed and people reverted to tribal forms of governance based on Islamic courts and kinship (the Xeer system). In 2005, Powell et al. collected basic data on longevity, health, roads, money, and law. Then they asked, how does Somalia compare with other African states?

The answer is surprising. On many measures, Somalia post-1991 actually does well compared to 42 other sub-Saharan states. On at least five measures (including life expectancy and mortality), Somalia is in the top half (p. 662). On a few important measures (such as water access and immunization), they are near the bottom. Even then, they often improved in absolute terms, though not in relative terms. When you compared Somalia with neighbors that had been at war, they report improvements in most measures while other warring states saw declines. Somalia has also seen an expansion of its pastoral economy, a functional currency, and the best mobile phone system in the region. The major setback for Somalia is a depressing performance with regard to infant mortality, which probably relates to poor immunization rates. Still, statelessness did not lead to chaos. Rather, Somalia continued to resemble other African societies on most measures.

This is not an argument for selling off the White House, but it does make an extremely important comparative institutional point. High quality Western systems of governance are simply not on the table. There is no way these impoverished societies can create the level of wealth needed for Western style states in the short term. It is also the case that the options are horrible – dictatorships or Marxist states. If those are your choices, it might be plausible to evolve into a decentralized legal system.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 1, 2015 at 12:01 am

institutionalism 3.0

When I was finishing grad school, I thought we were done with institutionalism. At that time, folks were publishing study after study of diffusion within organizational communities. Didn’t seem like there was much more to say. Then, there was an explosion of interest in contentious politics and organizational fields. Brayden is part of that cohort, as was Huggie Rao, Lis Clemens, Marc Schneiberg, Sarah Soule, Michael Lounsboury, and myself. Later, people like Tom Lawrence and Roy Suddaby articulated the idea that effort needed to be expended to create or attack institutions, which is now the foundation of the “institutional work” branch of institutional theory. The idea was simple. Institutions not only regulate behavior, but they can become the target of politics.

Then, again, I thought we were done with institutionalism. What else could be said? Well, I realize that I was very, very wrong. The next stage of the theory is linking the main ideas of institutionalism to other more established areas of sociology. For example, I was reading Melissa Wooten’s book, In the Face of Inequality, which looks at race and institutions through the example of HBCs. My suspicion is that institutionalism 3.0 (or 4.0 if you consider the Selznick/Merton/Parsons generation) will be about theoretical and empirical integration with core sociology like stratification, small group processes, and a re-engagement with the “Measuring Culture” generation of scholars. Overall, this makes me happy. Early on, I thought that institutional theory was too inward looking and only cited external authors in a ritualistic fashion. With this new effort, I hope that institutionalism will be more strongly enmeshed in wider sociological discussions.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

June 25, 2015 at 12:01 am

the hookup scene: good or bad?

Let’s start with a thought experiment. Assume we want to sell widgets but we haven’t developed any mechanism for coordinating buyers and sellers. Then, you read a proposal for setting up a widget exchange. It will have the following properties:

  • Low information – the buyers and sellers don’t really have a lot of accurate information about widgets. Many customers are first time buyers. Some are minors.
  • 1 shot interaction – the buyers and sellers will only interact with each other briefly and many will never see each other again.
  • Low visibility – widgets will be bought and sold in secret locations and their will be no record of the transaction.
  • Coercion is allowed/No complaints – There will be very little punishment for people who break the terms of widget trading. Many who steal widgets go unpunished. Widget sellers are consistently bigger and stronger than widget buyers.
  • Inebriation – Widget exchange frequently occurs when traders are drunk.

What would be your ex ante evaluation of the propsoed widget exchange? You would be justified in saying that the widget exchange would be inefficient. You might also be justified in saying that the widget exchange facilitates criminality. It is hard to find many reasons to support the proposed widget exchange.

Claim: Modern hookup culture is very close in practice to the dysfunctional widget exchange. In private spaces, young and often sexually inexperienced people meet, drink, and engage in short term relationships. If you think the widget exchange proposed above is bad, then it follows that hookup culture is bad as well.

Social conservatives are often critics of hookup culture because they often pick up on the inefficiencies of that institution. However, they often make a mistake – the rejection of hookup culture does not entail a return to more traditional approaches to the organization of sexuality. We can ask about the institutional design of more traditional sex and apply the same criteria. For example, in a regime of no-premarital sex and unbreakable martial contracts, we would expect suboptimal performance because you have low information customers who commit to a single unbreakable transaction.

One might counter that the a no-premarital sex/no divorce regime might be preferable to hookup culture. If the only option is the hookup scene, then that might be a strong argument. However, there is a lot of unexplored space between hookup culture and more traditional sexual institutions. The hookup scene is only one extreme point on a continuum. It is not hard to imagine other sexual institutions that try to address the problems of hook up culture as I’ve outline them. For example, it might be possible that liberalizing alcohol on campuses might decrease the demand for hookup scenes.

The bottom line in hookup culture is that it is a very bizarre institution with a lot of very bad built-in features. But that doesn’t mean one should revert to an older institution that had its own problems. In an age where people have sex for both procreation and enjoyment, and where birth-control is cheap and common, we should be able to think about the unexplored territory between highly regulated sexual interaction and the false freedom of the hookup scene.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 22, 2015 at 12:01 am

place and institutional work: creating housing for the hard-to-house by thomas lawrence and graham dover

Administrative Science Quarterly has a forthcoming article by Thomas Lawrence and Graham Dover. It connects current institutional theory to the study of place:

The places in which organizational life occurs can have profound impacts on actors, actions, and outcomes but are largely ignored in organizational research. Drawing on ideas from social geography, we explore the roles that places play in institutional work. The context for our study is the domain of housing for the hard-to-house, within which we conducted two qualitative case studies: the establishment of Canada’s first residential and day-care facility for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the creation of a municipal program to provide temporary overnight accommodation for homeless people in local churches. In examining these cases, we found that places played three key roles: places contained, mediated, and complicated institutional work. Each of these roles was associated with a distinct ontology of place: places as social enclosures, as signifiers, and as practical objects. Our findings have significant implications for how we understand the relationship between location and organizations and allow us to develop a process model of places, institutions, and institutional work.

Check it out!

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Written by fabiorojas

June 9, 2015 at 12:01 am