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“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 »

“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 »

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

socarxiv highlights, asa edition

In honor of ASA, which starts on Saturday, I’m highlighting a handful of SocArXiv papers that will be presented at the conference. Their time/location is noted below as well. If you’ve just shared an ASA paper of your own with your discussant (and if you haven’t, time to get moving), consider uploading it to SocArXiv as well. You can always update it with a revised version later.

A related note—as I’ve been collating these the past few months, I’ve been noticing a pretty heavy gender imbalance in my selections, even though I’ve been paying attention. At first I thought it was my subfield tastes or implicit bias, but looking more closely, the pool itself is quite male-dominated—certainly more so than the discipline as a whole. So women in particular, please consider sharing your papers!

And last point—a few days ago I noticed that a version of a SocArXiv paper by Penn State demographer Alexis Santos-Lozada and colleague Jeffrey T. Howard on excess deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, was just published in JAMA. Santos-Lozada’s research was highlighted here last month pre-publication. Congratulations—it’s important work.

Standard disclaimer: I make no claim to peer review or formal evaluation of the papers here. Read it yourself before you cite.

Market crises as disasters: the social meaning of financial risk in 401(k) retirement accounts

Adam Hayes

Section on Economic Sociology Refereed Roundtable Session

Mon, August 13, 4:30 to 5:30pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 113A

This very interesting paper links econ soc with the sociological literature on disasters to understand how experience of a stock market crash causes households to shift their 401(k) investments toward long-term conservatism. This is consistent with neither neoclassical or behavioral economic predictions, but fits predictions regarding the social amplification of risk. Unfortunately, this social reaction may not bode well for retirement savers in the long run—not a good sign as bankruptcy rises among older Americans.

God’s Country in Black and Blue: How Christian Nationalism Shapes Americans’ Views about Police (Mis)treatment of Blacks

Samuel Perry, Andrew Whitehead, and Joshua Davis

Religion, Politics, and Donald J. Trump

Sat, August 11, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 7

ASA’s theme this year is “Feeling Race”, and this paper on Christian nationalism and attitudes about police mistreatment of blacks is certainly relevant. Drawing on a national probability sample, it shows a relationship between Christian nationalism, measured by agreement with statements like “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation,” and beliefs about differences in how U.S. police officers treat blacks and whites. There is a strong relationship between Christian nationalism and believing the police treat people of all races similarly, unsurprisingly, but with some unexpected twists: the relationship declines with increasing religious activity, and it holds for nonwhite Christian nationalists as well as white ones.

Duality in Diversity: Cultural Heterogeneity, Language, and Firm Performance

Matthew Corritore, Amir Goldberg, and Sameer Srivastava

Culture and Organizations

Sat, August 11, 4:30 to 6:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 4

Much of the conversation around diversity—certainly the legal conversation around affirmative action—is grounded in the idea that diversity is beneficial for everyone in an organization. In terms of organizational capacity, the working assumption is usually that of a tradeoff between better coordination (with homogeneity) or more creative problem-solving (with diversity). This paper shifts that conversation by examining intrapersonal diversity—having individuals with more internally heterogenous beliefs. Drawing on data from Glassdoor, the paper argues that interpersonal heterogeneity worsens organizational coordination, while intrapersonal heterogeneity facilitates creativity. An interesting angle with implications for debates over the effects of diversity from Google to higher ed.

Gender trouble beyond the LGB and T: Gender Image and Experiences of Marginalization on Campus

Kari J. Dockendorff and Claudia Geist

Section on Sociology of Education Refereed Roundtable Session

Sun, August 12, 2:30 to 3:30pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon H

Finally, Dockendorff and Geist survey a pool of American undergraduates to better understand the experiences of trans and nonbinary students, particularly focusing on students who report others perceiving them as androgynous or of a different gender than they perceive themselves, finding higher levels of self-reported marginalization among those who identify “beyond the binary”. The paper makes innovations in gender measurement as well as exploring student experiences around gender marginalization in new ways.

Enjoy the remaining days of summer, whether you’re heading to ASA in Philly, the Academy meetings in Chicago, or just lounging by the beach.

 

Written by epopp

August 6, 2018 at 3:11 pm

socarxiv highlights for july

Once again it’s time for monthly highlights from SocArXiv, aka Stuff Beth Thought Was Interesting. This month we’ve got an eclectic set of papers with no unifying theme, other than being uploaded to SocArXiv in the last month. As usual, I remind you that SocArXiv papers are not necessarily peer-reviewed, so use judgment when you read.

In Puerto Rico, Excess Deaths Following Hurricane Georges Persisted for Three Months

Alexis R. Santos-Lozada

In the craziness of political life these days, disasters fall off the radar way too quickly. But we still don’t know how many people died in Puerto Rico as a result of the hurricane last fall. The official death toll is still 64. But a number of scholars have been working to provide better estimates of the real impact of the tragedy. Another widely reported estimate, based on house-to-house survey data, produced a figure of 4600. Now this paper by Santos-Lozada, comparing death records from last year to historical averages for the three-month period following the hurricane, suggests a number around 900. Debate over the true number will continue, but this is a great example of the kind of paper that needs to get out there quickly, rather than lingering hidden in peer review.

The Sources and Political Uses of Ambiguity in Statecraft

Katrina Quisumbing King

Well, this is right up my alley. A large and growing literature examines how states make populations “legible” through censuses, mapmaking, data collection and so on. But it’s also clear that states use ambiguity—in laws, definitions, policies—in productive ways. This paper uses the historical case of the U.S. colonization of the Philippines to show how the institutionalization of ambiguity can resolve imperial conflicts. After the U.S. took the Philippines in the Spanish-American War, debates about what their status should be—a colony? an eventual U.S. state?—were resolved by creating ambiguous categories: the territory would be “foreign in a domestic sense” (according to the Supreme Court), and their residents neither citizens nor aliens. The paper goes on to explore how this institutionalized ambiguity helped the U.S. resolve competing, and contradictory, demands that it remain true to the Constitution while presenting Filipinos, perceived as racially inferior, from accessing the rights of citizens.

Addendum: I just noticed this paper just won the grad student paper award in political sociology, and an honorable mention for the comparative-historical grad award. See, I have good taste!

Inequality Is a Problem of Inference: How People Solve the Social Puzzle of Unequal Outcomes

Jonathan J.B. Mijs

How do we understand inequality? This interesting theoretical paper argues that if people’s informal theories of inequality shape their political views, we need to take more seriously the task of understanding where those theories come from. The paper suggests we do that by conceptualizing inequality beliefs as inference problems – that ordinary people look for theories that explain their everyday experiences and observations of inequality. Personally, I wouldn’t discount the extent to which we learn our theories explicitly from those around us, as well as inferring them from experience, but this is still an intriguing way to conceptualize a challenging problem.

Career Paths and Prospects in Academic Data Science: Report of the Moore-Sloan Data Science Environments Survey

Stuart Geiger, Charlotte Mazel-Cabasse, Chihoko Cullens, Laura Norén, Brittany Fiore-Gartland, Diya Das, and Henry Brady

Ready to ditch sociology entirely? How about a career in the growing field of data science? This report on three major data science institutes—at Berkeley, NYU, and the University of Washington—explains what data science is, what academic data scientists do, and presents interesting interview data on the career paths of early-career data scientists. If you think you might be a data scientist, or would like to be, this report is definitely worth a read.

Okay, that’s it for this month’s SocArXiv update. If you’re in the northeastern U.S., hope you’re staying cool.

Written by epopp

July 2, 2018 at 9:17 pm

Posted in research

SocArXiv highlights for May, education organizations editions

Among the many interesting papers posted to SocArXiv this month, this I’m highlighting four that circle around a loose theme: education organizations. All four this month are not-yet-published drafts, including three working papers and a very interesting dissertation chapter. As always, these are papers that caught my eye but they are not peer-reviewed; read them yourself before citing.

The Performativity of Organizational Culture in a No Excuses Charter School

Jason Radford

Okay, I’ll admit I was grabbed by the title. Love the concept or hate it, we usually associate “performativity” with economics or finance, at least since Donald MacKenzie’s work. But of course the old Thomas theorem—“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”—applies to our understanding of the world more generally. So why not the performativity of org theory? Many innovative or experimental organizations are grounded in theories, academic or otherwise, about what accounts for organizational success. In the case at hand, No Excuses charter schools were founded based on a theory that strong leaders could create organizational cultures that would produce educational success for disadvantaged students. This ethnographic case study of one No Excuses school explores how leadership attempted to implement their theory and reacted when the theory did not quite perform in the way it expected.

Engineering a Platform: Constructing Interfaces, Users, Organizational Roles, and the Division of Labor

Shreeharsh Kelkar

This intriguing paper, also ethnographic, reports on the development of edX, a MOOC platform started in 2012 as a nonprofit collaboration between Harvard and MIT. edX began as an educational organization—it saw itself as linking faculty and TAs with software developers and students—but eventually became a platform for other organizations to use, adopting the slogan “We do software so that you can do education.” In the process, edX had to create a new division of labor in which it did software development (internally framed as “boring”), while instructors at partner institutions would do the “interesting” work of content creation. Yet the supposedly neutral role of platform design still had huge pedagogical implications, even as edX came to distinguish what it did as an organization from “education”. The paper concludes by arguing that understanding platforms requires attending not just to “licenses, legal arrangements, and calculative agencies, but also to the shaping of organizational roles within the eco-system.”

The Ties that Corporatize: A Social Network Analysis of University Presidents as Vectors of Higher Education Corporatization

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Sally Hunnicutt, and Jennifer A. Johnson

This new working paper from Cottom and colleagues reports on a social network analysis of a dataset involving the career histories and education of presidents of Association of Public & Land-grant Universities (APLU) members, including a number of HBCUs, and a smaller sample of for-profit institutions. Presidents of predominantly white APLU institutions are tightly networked, while for-profit institutions and HBCUs are marginal to the network; the institutions with the highest degree centrality are Purdue, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas A&M—an observation that makes Purdue’s recent experiments with purchase of the for-profit Kaplan to run its online classes all the more interesting.

Engineering Credentials: Educational Entrepreneurship as Statecraft in the Cold-War United States

Alexander Kindel and Mitchell Stevens

Last but not least, this historical case study of Stanford’s postwar expansion of graduate science and engineering education engages the longstanding “credential society” literature by advocating for greater attention to the role of the state. While credentialing theory gives credit to educational entrepreneurs and the status projects of occupational groups in driving the expansion of credential-producing programs, this paper points to the fundamental role of the state in this process—through massive government patronage that schools like Stanford entrepreneurially tapped into to drive their own credentialing contributions.

This is self-evidently true for the fields that benefited from the federal government’s massive Cold War expansion of science funding, but struck another chord with me as well, as I recently revised a draft chapter on the origins of public policy schools. Policy schools, which only got started in the late 1960s, were themselves an entrepreneurial response on the part of universities to the massive demand for RAND-style analysis produced by federal rollout of the Planning-Programming-Budgeting System in 1965—making them another, very distinct case in which educational entrepreneurship could be better described as academic statecraft.

Okay, that’s it for this round. Maybe now that the semester’s done I’ll find a way to start blogging again, but in the meanwhile, keep those papers coming!

Written by epopp

June 1, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Posted in research