Autumn Quarter 2010

September 27

James March and Mie Augier, Stanford University

The Roots, Routes, and Rhetoric of Change: North American Business Schools after the Second World War

Time and Location: 3-4:30pm; Cubberley Hall 115

The title is also the tentative title of a book to be published in 2011 by the Stanford University Press. The book reports an extended study, using primarily archival resources, of the changes in elite North American business schools in the 25 years after the Second World War. For many observers, the period was a “golden age” in North American business schools that transformed business schools from institutions without significant academic standing into centers of significant fundamental scholarship. The book explores the roots of the changes, particularly in the ethos of the time, the Flexner Report that was credited with transforming medical schools early in the 20th century, the efforts of Robert Hutchins to dedicate academic life at the University of Chicago to the glory of the intellect and fundamental knowledge, and the success of the RAND Corporation in mobilizing leading American scholars to use fundamental research in social science as a basis for policy analysis. The book discusses the routes the changes took and the different ways in which the transformation unfolded in different schools as a result of their different institutional histories and characters. Finally, the book examines the rhetoric surrounding the changes, particularly the debates around the relative advantage of business cases and other techniques in providing virtual realities for management education, the relation between experiential knowledge and academic knowledge, and the extent to which management should be seen as a profession based upon fundamental knowledge, with socially regulated entry, and social obligations.

October 4

Gudmund Hernes, Professor, Norwegian School of Management, Fafo Institute

The Nordic Model - One or Many?

Time and Location: 3-4:30pm; Cubberley Hall 115

During the last 10-15 years, the Nordic countries in comparative terms have performed exceptionally well, topping many international rank orders - e.g. not only on living standards, social equality and gender equity, but also ranking high on growth, productivity and competitiveness. This has been achieved in spite of the policies pursued running counter to much of the conventional wisdom of economic theory. So what are the sources of success? And do the Nordic countries pursue the same formula? Is there now a general agreement on what the Nordic Model is? What are the criticisms of present day functioning of the Nordic welfare states? And will the Nordic countries in the future follow more divergent paths? 

October 11

Anya Kamenetz, Fast Company Magazine
Author Meets Critics

DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010)

Michael Hout (UC-Berkeley) and Marc Ventresca (Said School of Business, Oxford University)

Time and Location: 3-4:30pm; Cubberley Hall 115

From the back cover of DIY U: "Nine out of ten American high school seniors aspire to go to college, yet the U.S. has fallen from world leader to only tenth-most-educated nation. The price of college tuition has increased more than any other major good or service for the last twenty years. Almost half of U.S. college students don't graduate; outstanding student loan debt totals $730 billion. In the age of information immersion and constant connectedness, it's time for centuries-old, ivy-covered walls to undergo a phase change into something lighter, more permeable, and fluid. Our choice is clear: Radically change the way higher education is delivered or resign ourselves to never having enough of it."

October 18

Elizabeth Armstrong, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Michigan

How and Why Some Women Benefit More from College than Others: An Organizational Approach to College Experiences and Outcomes

Time and Location: 3-4:30pm; Cubberley Hall 115

In the past few years we have witnessed an increase in concern about what undergraduates are getting out of college.  Armstrong will make the case that conventional higher education approaches to this question fail to get at what students, parents, and even legislators most need and want to know. Based on a five year longitudinal ethnographic and interview study of a cohort of women moving into and out of Indiana University, she and her collaborator Laura Hamilton argue for an organizational approach to explaining variation in college experiences and outcomes.  They argue that the payoff of college—defined broadly, not only in terms of career success and economic security, but also with respect to social, romantic, and other aspects of quality of life both in college and beyond—is shaped by the college pathways available at a particular university, which of these pathways a student lands on, and how well the student is equipped to succeed on that pathway.

October 25

Theodore M. Porter, Professor, Department of History, UCLA

Thin Description: Surface and Depth in Science and Science Studies

A succession of modern thinkers has theorized the thinning of the world and of thought. Edmund Burke and Frédéric Le Play lamented the disappearance of depth and wisdom as European states forsook tradition in the name of revolution. Alexis de Tocqueville worried about American democratic superficiality, and Marxist critical theorists about an alliance of capitalism and positivism. Against this, positivistic research on the modern pressed the need for professional social science on the ground that in a complex, interdependent world, local experience can only deceive us about true structures of causation. They had a point, but they underestimated the power of paradox. Our large, diverse, and politicized world has become less tolerant of subtlety, which recedes into nooks and corners, and increasingly it reveres information for its ready accessibility and seeming solidity. Science, adapting its public voice and some of its inward practices to such expectations, now flourishes in the public sphere as a preeminent site of facts, data, and statistics. Yet the aspiration to superficiality yields up all kinds of unexpected consequences, and exploring these is among the most pressing missions for science studies. We ought to scrutinize the domain of the superficial, yet not to be captured by it. We miss something vital if we merely follow scientists around or listen to what scientists and other spokesmen say about science, without asking about the meanings they make and the roles they create.

November 1

Tom Christensen, Professor of Political Science, University of Oslo

University Governance Reforms – Potential Problems of More Autonomy?

University governance reforms strongly reflect the broader New Public Management reforms that have focused on increasing efficiency in public organizations. The article deals with how reform ideas of a generic nature – generic because they emphasize that universities should be treated and reformed like any other public organization – have been applied to universities, and it looks at how these ideas are reflected in specific reform measures. Its special empirical focus is on how reforms have changed universities’ formal affiliation to superior ministries and apparently given them more autonomy, particularly in financial, management and decision-making matters. At the same time, the reforms have also exposed the universities to more reporting obligations, scrutiny and control systems, financial incentive systems, pressure to obtain their resources from non-government sources, cut-back management, etc. So a main question in the analysis is whether universities, which have traditionally had quite a lot of real autonomy, actually have less autonomy following the reforms rather than more, despite the promises of reform entrepreneurs. The analysis is based on a transformative approach from organization theory, which uses a combination of structural, cultural and environmental factors to explain reform processes and their effects. Empirically the article is based on the author’s own studies of university reform and reviews of comparative studies.


November 8

Carol Heimer, Professor, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University

Inert Facts and the Illusion of Knowledge: Managing Ignorance in HIV Clinics

Time and Location: (Co-hosted with Center for Work, Technology and Organization)

Like other highly regulated arenas, HIV clinics contain dark corners that some want to explore and others want to hide. Drawing on an ethnographic study of HIV clinics, I argue that awkward knowledge is kept inert in two rather
different ways. Information can be sequestered often under a pile of regulatory paper or a document describing an organization's routines, creating
an illusion of knowledge while deflecting questions. Alternatively, distributed ignorance allows people to avoid seeing awkward patterns by using the division of labor and organizational boundaries as excuses to keep key facts apart. Normal organizational processes that make a show of gathering and disseminating information are in fact often deployed strategically to create an
illusion of knowledge while keeping important facts inert. 

November 15

Steven Kahl, Assistant Professor of Organizations and Strategy, University of Chicago (with Christopher Bingham)

The Process of Schema Development: How the Insurance Industry Conceptualized the Computer, 1945 - 1975

Time and Location: Co-hosted with Center for Work, Technology and Organization)

Schemas are a key concept in strategy and organization research. While much is known about the value of schemas and their underlying structure, explicit theoretical models of how new schemas develop are lacking. Our study of the life insurance industry’s development of the computer schema from 1945-1975 addresses this gap. We find that schema development involves three key inter-related socio-cognitive processes: (1) assimilation into an existing schema, (2) deconstruction of the existing schema, and (3) unitization of the new schema into a single cognitive unit. Intriguingly, our study also shows that these three processes are associated negative transfer effects of learning, positive transfer effects of learning, and zero transfer effects of learning respectively. More broadly, these findings have implications for the process of learning, change and the increasingly influential cognitive paradigm in organization studies. 

November 29

Mette Morsing, Professor, Center for Corporate Social Responsibility, Copenhagen Business School

Organizations online in the era of transparency

December 6

Gary Alan Fine, Professor, Dept of Sociology, Northwestern University

The Sociology of the Local: Action and Its Publics

Sociology requires a robust theory of how local circumstances create social order. If we analyze social structures without realizing that they depend on groups with shared pasts and futures, that are spatially situated, and that depend on personal relations, we avoid a core sociological dimension: the importance of local context in constituting social worlds. In other words, what we often define as produced by macro-forces or from individual motivation emerges from local, place-based practices of nested groups. Building on theories of action, group dynamics, and micro-cultures, I argue that a sociology of the local solves critical theoretical problems of how identity and action incorporate external forces and provide a basis in which networked groups contribute to the organization of society. The local is a stage on which social order gets produced and is a lens for understanding how particular forms of action are selected. Relying on ethnographic studies, I examine how the situated features of group life (spatial arenas, relations, shared pasts) generate action but also suggest that local practices provide the basis for cultural extension, influencing societal expectations through the linkages among groups.