Social Structure and Organizations Revisited: Volume 19


Table of contents

(15 chapters)
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What are the social, political and institutional conditions for organizational heterogeneity and the production of new organizational forms? I address this question using historical methods and time series analyses of 3145 mutual fire insurers — important cooperative alternatives to markets and hierarchies. Developing politically oriented neo-institutional arguments, I show that mutuals were vehicles by which property owners and agrarian interests resisted corporate consolidation and secured conditions for autonomous economic development. Mutuals embodied a vision of a decentralized, “cooperative commonwealth” of farmers, merchants and independent producers. And they rested on a socio-industrial order characterized by political struggles against corporations; anti-monopoly social movements; immigrants and other cultural carriers of mutual organizing templates; and an institutional infrastructure of protestant churches and local movements.

This paper examines the interaction between politics and organizations in the development of investment funds in Russia from 1992–1997. The organizational design of investment funds in post-communist Russia became part of broader political battles over how to construct new institutional arrangements of wealth creation following the collapse of the Soviet central-planning system. Initially, market reformers structured investment fund activity to facilitate the rapid privatization of state-owned enterprises. Subsequently, politicians moved quickly to change the rules of the game when they believed that new investment rules would better shore up their own positions against rivals. Politics, not economics, has defined both the emergence and transformation of investment fund organizations in Russia during the 1990s.

This paper takes a “social movements” approach to employee activism regarding diversity and inequality in the workplace. The social context is often neglected in studies of organizational change, while the workplace as a locus of activism receives less attention from social movement theorists than other organizational settings. We do not seek to differentiate employee activists from quiescent employees but to understand the concerns, language, and tactics of small groups of employee activists when they mobilize. Our study is based on interviews with thirty-nine activists from nine grassroots employee groups in a 900-person division of a high technology firm. We learn how employee activists pursue changes that question power relations, draw links to broader societal issues, sustain their “passion” and collective efforts over cycles of involvement, manage risks to their careers and their mission, handle the protection and constraints offered by the “umbrella” of management, and make sense of their accomplishments. We close by highlighting the significance of local, fragmented change efforts. Without being too sanguine about employee activism nor too cynical about its cooptive function, theorists should allow a place for piecemeal change.

High rates of dissolution and bankruptcy among organizational startups have stimulated social scientific interest in the causes of disbanding for both business firms and NPOs (nonprofit organizations). While recent quantitative analyses have primarily addressed liabilities associated with organizational age and operational scale, some sociologists have considered a broader set of factors affecting the life chances of new startups. Following Stinchcombe (1965), these factors subsume such considerations as the resources that a startup has access to as a result of its status in a stratification system; the activities undertaken by organizational founders in their efforts to mobilize resources, secure legitimation, attract participants, and introduce new ways of doing things; and the extent to which organizational structures and routines tend to reflect idiosyncratic conditions prevailing at the time of founding. Using data on 766 business organizations, this chapter explores how unobserved temporal heterogeneity along these dimensions may account for ostensible liabilities of aging over the organizational life course. In the process, it seeks to develop fruitful connections between recent empirical work in organizational ecology and the ‘old’ institutionalist tradition.

We examine how the social structure of existing organizations influences entrepreneurship and suggest that resources accrue to entrepreneurs based on the structural position of their prior employers. We argue that information advantages allow individuals from entrepreneurially prominent prior firms to identify new opportunities. Entrepreneurial prominence also reduces the perceived uncertainty of a new venture. Using a sample of Silicon Valley start-ups, we demonstrate that entrepreneurial prominence is associated with initial strategy and the probability of attracting external financing. New ventures with high prominence are more likely to be innovators; furthermore, innovators with high prominence are more likely to obtain financing.

The stratification of firms was a key component of Stinchcombe's (1965) pioneering essay and of other organizational sociologists in the 1960s. Since then, organizational theory has de-emphasized its focus on stratification in favor of more structural approaches that neglect the unequal distribution of resources within an industry. In this paper, I argue for the reintegration of the two traditions to better understand the dynamics of markets. Specifically, I focus on Stinchcombe's (1965) concept of the “liability of newness” and apply principles of stratification to theory about entrepreneurship. I analyze how social, financial and reputational capital produce a differential liability of newness for the firms within an industry. In other words, not all new organizations experience the liability of newness equally. Rather, disparities in social network access, finances, and reputational capital create advantages for some new firms over others. I study funding patterns in the venture capital industry to highlight the theoretical advantages of reintegrating the study of stratification into organizational sociology.

Rather than studying social structure and organizations as separate things, this chapter analyzes how people organize social structure. Whereas the “old structuralism” is built on a reified conception of social structure that defines all significant social elements a priori, “new structuralism” emphasizes the processes by which agents and structures are transformed. Instead of the category-centred old structuralism, we adopt an interaction-based approach to explain the creation of a new kind of “radical” science organization called Science for the People. We explain how, though a series of dynamic public performances, Science for the People disrupted the very boundaries between science and politics.

I argue that two insights of organizational sociology enhance standing explanations of the vitality of conservative Protestant (CP) faiths. I outline the limits of rational choice and subcultural identity approaches to CP vitality, and show how Stinchcombe's early (1965) claim about the organizational production of solidarity, and the institutionalist notion of the field, help to redress those limitations.

This paper argues that actors are more likely to create new organizational forms in contexts of collective creativity. Contexts of collective creativity are characterized by intense interaction, uncertainty, and a multiplicity of available cultural materials. The context of collective creativity provided by the New Left made possible the creation of new kinds of lesbian/gay organizations in San Francisco in the early 1970s. The political upheaval of the 1960s enabled the creation of a new political logic, the logic of identity politics, which, in turn, made possible the development of the gay identity politics that structured contemporary lesbian/gay organizations.

Publication date
Book series
Research in the Sociology of Organizations
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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