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book spotlight: beyond technonationalism by kathryn ibata-arens

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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.
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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

latest tech for the next meeting

I’m quite excited about this promising new technology of eating a tasty lunch and conversing with colleagues online at the same time.

Written by katherinechen

March 12, 2014 at 1:46 am

Posted in academia

Tagged with

cfp 5th Latin American and European Meeting on Organization Studies, Havana, Cuba, April 2-5, 2014

For those of you looking for a reason to head to Cuba and present your research, here’s your chance.

“Constructing Alternatives: How can we organize for alternative social, economic, and ecological balance?”
5th annual Latin American and European Meeting on Organization Studies, Havana, Cuba, April 2-5, 2014

“…the purpose of this 5th LAEMOS Colloquium is to share empirical and theoretical research on the dynamics of development, resistance, and innovation with the aim to promote alternative forms of organization in Latin American and European societies…Under the general theme of the meeting, the aim is to collect and connect a broad variety of studies, narratives and discourses on initiatives for alternative forms of development and innovation. We also welcome studies and reflections about the redefinition of boundaries, collaboration, and conflict among government, business, and civil society, in shaping social change, organizational (re-)configuration, and developmental action…

In particular, this is a Call for Papers for the following prospective sub-themes (but not limited to them):
The corporatization of politics and the politicization of corporations
The political economy of organizations
Sustainable and unsustainable tales of sustainability and social development
Alternative roles and forms of managerial action
Alternative spaces: communities, cities as models of collective agency
Transnational networks for protest and for change
Digital worlds, online forms of organization and action

Papers taking an interdisciplinary perspective on dynamics of change, innovation, power and resistance are particularly encouraged. Theoretical and empirical papers looking at alternative forms of social, economic, and ecological development from an organizational perspective are also of special interest. They may include studies that link micro level case analysis to macro level institutional and global forces, that investigate processes as well as structures, and that take a historical and contextual approach….

Deadlines:
Subtheme Proposal: July 31, 2013
Abstract submission (1,000 words): 15 November, 2013
Notification of acceptance: 15 December, 2013
Submission of full paper (6,000 words): 5 March, 2014
You are welcome to submit a subtheme proposal at laemos2014 [at] gmail.com. For more information about the conference and frequent updates please check www.laemos.com.”

Full cfp available here.

Written by katherinechen

June 24, 2013 at 7:21 pm

working through retirement

What are your plans for retirement?  Do you hope that your retirement investments will comfortably support you and your loved ones in a life of leisure?  Or, do you hope to work as long as possible – work until you drop!  As life expectancies expand and the cost of living increases, some will work as long as possible, either out of necessity or choice.  Increasingly, workplaces seek to retain such employees, as demonstrated by efforts to redesign work processes at Germany’s BMW plants for aging workers.

Speaking of post-graduate school ethnography, cultural anthropologist Caitrin Lynch has just published Retirement on the Line: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory (2012, ILR Press), which sheds insight into the experiences of an aging workforce.  This intriguing ethnography follows the workers powering the family-owned factory Vita Needle in Needham, Massachusetts.  Vita Needle manufactures a wide variety of needles, including those used for medical care and industrial applications.  Its workers range in age from teens through their late nineties; some have advanced degrees.  Some work for the sheer pleasure or to stay active per their doctors’ orders; others work because their retirement savings were insufficient to cover expenses.

Besides life-long employees, workers include a smorgasbord of past professions, including engineering, physics, architecture, education, and accounting.  The company’s owner feels that these workers are especially dependable and devoted.  They are less costly since Medicare serves as their medical insurance.  Furthermore, he opines that this invested and experienced workforce offers a competitive advantage over other companies.

Most of Vita’s employees work part-time.  Lynch’s interviews reveal that they enjoy the flexible work schedule, camaraderie, and meaning-making. Lynch’s participant-observations describes the banana-time like games that workers play to stay alert and engaged in repetitious tasks – the most sleep-inducing machine work is rotated among employees in one hour shifts.  Some workers will cover for one another; a few will gently urge laggards to resume work. Lynch also notes the benefits of violating Taylorist practices of efficiently rearranging workspace.  Having to walk to get tools or materials in the tight factory space keeps workers active and connected with co-workers.  In addition, Lynch devotes a chapter to employees’ responses to the flurry of media attention, as well as an analysis of how domestic and foreign media have depicted the firm.  In all, this book is an informative addition to courses on the workplace, organizations, and work and occupations.

Written by katherinechen

July 26, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Posted in books, culture

Tagged with ,

“organizing creativity” and other articles on organizations and work available in sociology compass journal

Need an overview of research on conditions that enhance or constrain creativity in organizations?  Check out my just published Sociology Compass article “Organizing Creativity: Enabling Creative Output, Process, and Organizing Practices,” which pulls together findings from organizational sociology, cultural sociology, psychology, and organizational studies.

Orgheads may also be interested in other Sociology Compass articles on a variety of topics in organizations and work.  These articles are ideal for undergraduates and practitioners as they quickly and comprehensively introduce classic and current research. In addition, graduate students and thesis writers may find these helpful for exploring possible topics to research.  Also, seasoned researchers can keep up with the latest research under specific topics of interest.

Here are several examples from the past two years:

–       David Shulman’s (2011) “Deception in the Workplace: Recent Research and Promising New Directions

–       Amy Hanser’s (2012) “Class and the Service Encounter: New Approaches to Inequality in the Service Workplace

–       Amy S. Wharton’s (2012) “Work and Family in the 21st Century: Four Research Domains

–       Christine Williams and Patti Giuffre‘s (2011) “From Organizational Sexuality to Queer Organizations: Research on Homosexuality and the Workplace

Have any recommendations for your own or your colleagues’ articles on organizations or work that are useful for updating syllabi or catching up on the field?  Please post them in the comments.

Written by katherinechen

July 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm

more self-managing organizations and the spread of participatory practices, part 2

Thanks to those who suggested additional examples of self-managing organizations on my previous post about self-managing organizations!  In the comments, Usman has also kindly provided a link to a documentary, The Take.  Such examples show how people use self-managing organizations to reverse economic decline or stagnation, as well as defend their community, dignity, and livelihoods.  For more examples of how grassroots organizations and democratic organizations can underpin economic revitalization, Orgheads might be interested in Jeremy Brecher‘s Banded Together: Economic Democratization in the Brass Valley (2011, University of IL Press).  Drawing on archival research, participant-observations of meetings, and interviews conducted about efforts to revitalize Western Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley in residents and workers’ interests using Alinskyite methods, Brecher delves into several case studies of reorganizing the workplace, from factory to home-care.  (See my review of Brecher’s book in Contemporary Sociology for a more detailed synopsis.)

Participatory practices are also spreading to local governance in the US.  Last fall, with the help of local organization Community Voices Heard, the Participatory Budgeting Project, and scholars and other groups, and trained volunteers such as myself, four districts in NYC experimented with participatory budgeting.  Those who live, work, or attend school in these districts could propose and then prioritize projects on how to allocate several million dollars of city funds to improve community life.  Volunteer budget delegates then developed proposals selected at the neighborhood assemblies, which they presented to the public.  Residents aged 18 years and older voted for their top choices.  Elected officials then allocated funding to these choices; some allocated additional funds for proposals that hadn’t won the popular vote.  For more info on this experiment, see a PBS segment, which includes an interview with Celina Su, one of the advisers to this experiment.  (Su published Streetwise for Street Smarts: Grassroots Organizing and Education Reform in the Bronx, which compares Frierian and Alinskyite organizing tactics.)   See also my op-ed about this experiment and its implications for otherwise underrepresented voices in a local paper.

Think these practices might work in your hometown or organizations?  Add your comments and recommendations below.

Written by katherinechen

July 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm