Archive for the ‘Institutions’ Category

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.

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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, 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

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.


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.”

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

Written by fabiorojas

November 30, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, Institutions