[Ed note: This is the seventh of 14 posts in a virtual panel on The Future of Organizational Sociology.]
In August the American Sociological Association held a panel, organized by Liz Gorman, on “The Future of Organizational Sociology.” I want to follow Liz’s instructions and react to the comments made by the panelists (Howard Aldrich, Lis Clemens, Martin Ruef, Harland Prechel, and Ezra Zuckerman). In doing so, I’ll try to connect their comments and suggest how organizational sociology can have a vibrant future.
Is it really true that organizational sociology has no past? I’m not as pessimistic as Howard Aldrich: I see many very good sociological studies of organizations that are historical, meaning that they are sensitive to both time and place. Let me give you just a few examples. First, my Berkeley colleague Cristina Mora’s book Making Hispanics (2014 University of Chicago Press) reveals how social-movement organizations, the US Census Bureau, and Spanish-language media firms jointly created the ethno-racial category “Hispanic,” despite the fact that Spanish-speaking immigrants to the US differ widely in terms of race and country of origin. This book powerfully demonstrates the effect of organizations in a particular time and place – the United States in the 1970s and 1980s.
Second, let me mention my work on the magazine industry in America from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. In a series of published papers, all available on my website, and a book entitled Magazines and the Making of America (which will be published in 2015 by Princeton University Press), I demonstrate how, over the first 120 years of their history, magazines connected people: this “old” new media literally mediated between people, facilitating frequent interactions between them even when they were far apart and would otherwise never meet face to face, thus creating many distinct communities whose members had common interests, values, principles, ideas, and identities. These included communities of faith (religion), purpose (social reform), and practice (commerce and specialized occupations). Communities of different types often intersected, which fostered the pluralistic integration that was central to American public culture in this era. In this way, magazines helped make an America that was distinct from European societies: magazines both pushed American society toward a common center and pulled it apart into many distinct subgroups.