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P&P

John F. Padgett and Walter W. Powell. 2012. The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Innovation in the sense of product design is a popular research topic today, because there is a lot of money in that. Innovation, however, in the deeper sense of new actors—new types of people, new organizational forms—is not even much on the research radar screen of contemporary social scientists, even though “speciation” (to use the biologists’ term for this) lies at the heart of historical change over the longue durée, both in biological evolution and in human history. Social science—meaning mostly economics, political science and sociology—is very good at understanding selection, both at the micro level of individual choice and at the macro level of institutional regulation and lock-in. But novelty, especially of actors but also of alternatives, has first to enter from off the stage of our collective imaginary for our existing theories to be able to go to work. Our analytical shears for trimming are sharp, but the life forces that push up novelty to be trimmed tend to escape our attention, much less our understanding. If this book accomplishes anything, we at least hope to put the research topic of speciation—the emergence of new organizational forms and people—on our collective agenda.

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Like Lata Murti, I, too, have been thinking, teaching, and writing about men and women at work for a long time, and my initial reaction to her story is one of regret for Adam.  Nearly simultaneously, though, I think about my own daughter and what my spouse and I expect of the people who care for her.  When I look back at the history of her baby-sitters, the majority of them (all but one) were women.  And when I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I can dismiss the possibility that each of those independent decisions was gendered in some way.

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I recently read an article that I’m recommending to all of my colleagues and will adopt for my graduate seminar next year.  It’s Robin Ely and Debra E. Meyerson’s “An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms.”  It is methodologically exciting—they performed a case study of two offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico (before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) and analyzed case data of published work on men doing “dangerous” work (e.g., miners, wild land firefighters, military service).   It is also theoretically provocative—they theorize that organizations can “disrupt conventional masculinity’s masculine elements” (page 5).  Organizations, they conclude, have the capacity to change deeply rooted work cultures; namely, organizations can both “do” and “undo” gender at work.  In their case, an organization initiative on one of the oil rigs designed to increase safety, had the unexpected effect of allowing men to “de-masculinize” their behaviors—to openly admit and share responsibility for mistakes, to work for the collective, to express their feelings, and reduce the typical need to express “toughness” common among men doing dangerous work.    They actually found that the new organizational initiative reduced men’s need to compete or otherwise affirm their masculine credentials.

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by Edward Walker, University of California-Los Angeles

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations have caused, to say the least, quite a stir in the weeks since the first events in the New York financial district on September 17.  Organized with explicit reference to the Arab Spring uprisings, activists responded to a February call by the Canadian magazine Adbusters for a “Tahrir square moment” targeted against Wall Street financial firms, which they called “the greatest corruptor of our democracy.”  Although the first events included only a small number of activists and looked like to many like a bust, fortuitous events facilitated broader mobilization: mass arrests of over 700 demonstrators who thought they were following the officially sanctioned march route over the Brooklyn Bridge, a YouTube video of an officer pepper-spraying a seemingly defenseless group of activists, and the early support of the Airline Pilots Association (followed by significant additional union support in the following weeks). The campaign’s reach has become astoundingly broad; as of October 15, the movement claims to have a presence in over 100 U.S. cities and over 1,500 global cities.  Even if these figures can be discounted to some extent as self-serving overestimates, the ability of the campaign to capture public attention has been remarkable.  For instance, Nate Silver notes that the movement received a cumulative 3,000 print stories over the first three weeks of its existence, and my own October 16 search of NewsLibrary shows that an additional 4,500 stories have been published in the week since Silver’s October 7 accounting.  Media coverage of the movement seems to be following an accelerating production function, to use Oliver and colleagues’ (1985) terms. By this metric, OWS is on pace to receive more cumulative early coverage than the first Tax Day Tea Party events in April 2009, despite OWS’s minimal initial coverage and associated questions about the its legitimacy early on.  Further, the movement is gaining major traction in public opinion, as 54% now hold a favorable view of these demonstrations (this compares to the 27% favorable view held about the Tea Party movement).  Read More

Both occupations and organizations are the subject of the latest version of the American Sociological Review (ASR), the flagship journal of our parent organization the American Sociological Association (ASA). The issue includes “Professional Role Confidence and Gendered Persistence in Engineering” (Erin Cech, Brian Rubineau, Susan Sibley, and Caroll Seron), which introduces the concept of professional role confidence to help explain the persistence of gender barriers in STEM professions. They argue that women have on average lower levels of confidence in their ability to fulfill professional roles. They find that women’s relative lack of professional role confidence explains some of the attrition of women from STEM occupations.

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Just a quick note on upcoming content.

First, we would like to welcome Adia Harvey Wingfieldwho has joined us a blog editor. And also welcome to Rachel Sherman who will be coming on soon as a regular contributor.

We are planning on getting a number of other regular contributors in the near future, with a goal of getting up to half a dozen new blog posts each week. Until we get fully up to speed, we’ll probably be posting around one or two new posts per week. All new posts will be announced on our Twitter.

In addition to contributions from our regular contributors, we are commissioning a number of pieces for Discussions and Panels. Among topics we expect to be coming soon are:

  • Ed Walker on Occupy Wall St.
  • Ofer Sharone on digital media and the job search
  • Dave Cotter, Joan Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman on egalitarian essentialism
  • Jeff Sallaz and Victoria Johnson on Bourdieu and the study of work organizations
  • Work, Gender, and the Media
  • Financialization and work
  • The new labor scholar/practitioner network that is being set up (coordinated by American Rights at Work)

Contact is if you have any more ideas for Discussions or Panels. And if you are a sociologist interested in posting something, please do be in touch.

Welcome to the Organizations, Occupations and Work blog, established under the auspices of the OOW section of the American Sociological Association. We hope the blog will provide a lively home for sociologists studying organizations, occupations and work, who will (we hope) enjoy the scholarly exchanges we aim to provide. But we also hope to address a broader audience, confronting questions of broad public concern about workplace and occupational issues today. Yes, there will be some jargon. And yes, there will be discussion of cutting edge journal articles, of the state of the art in this or that field. But in addition, we hope to provide fresh and irreverent takes on a wide array of work-related issues and events that to appeal to a wide audience.

And surely, such commentary has never been more sorely needed. For nearly a generation now, our nation’s economic institutions have been undergoing structural changes of historic proportions. Some occupations are being uprooted entirely. New forms of work organization have emerged. Non-standard work arrangements have begun to become the norm. Globalization has relocated employment in whole industries. And unemployment has spread widely, reaching levels not seen in generations.

Given these and other changes on the horizon, we have decided to join a small but growing group of sociologists and scholars in organizational studies who want to raise the public profile of sociology by establishing a stronger and more interactive presence in social media. Please see our blogroll for a list, by no means exhaustive, of related endeavors.

We think that the sociology of organizations, occupations and work can play an especially important role in this respect. Both popular and policy discourse on work and organizations are dominated by the efficiency-based perspective of mainstream economics. The list of sociological critiques of mainstream economics is well known: assumptions of perfect rationality, perfect information and information processing capability, fair and equal exchange, and efficient markets tending toward equilibrium and stability.

All of these – assumptions for economists – are generally seen by sociologists as outcomes that vary across time and space. Sociologists focus analysis on how the social world, including the economy, is fundamentally constituted by social and political institutions, from cultural understandings, habits, ways of thinking and norms to formal organizations, rules and laws, to power relationships (class, race/ethnicity, gender, etc). And these days, we are convinced that work organizations are simply too important (and too embattled) to be left to the economists.

We hope this blog will serve as a venue for disseminating these types of ideas and analysis, a platform for sociologists to try to reach a broader audience, and for sociologists and other scholars to exchange ideas and debate. We hope you find it useful, and we encourage your input topics you would like to see discussed here. Do not hesitate to contact us via email. And follow us on Twitter if you’d like.

Steve, Matt and Chris.