About The Center for Organizational Research


COR facilitates research on new organizational forms and processes now taking shape in a variety of contexts. As the 21st century unfolds, we increasingly find organizing that diverges from traditional bureaucratic structures. Such possibilities can be found in global teams, web-based collaboration, network structures, collective threats to security and privacy, micro enterprises, international non-governmental organizations, and alliances across private, public, and non-profit fields. These developments raise opportunities for alternative modes of decision-making, just as they present challenges for accountability and efficacy. They also raise questions about how existing distributions of power both constrain and enable organizational experimentation. COR contributes to the development of organization theory by connecting scholars from many disciplines who bring their knowledge and methods to a common understanding of these issues.

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Qualitative Research Workshop with Prof. Torsten Schmid Friday, Feb 20th 2015

“Practice Research: An Alternative Methodology for Qualitative Research”

Torsten Schmid
Assistant Professor of Qualitative Research
University of St. Gallen, Switzerland

Friday, February 20
**SSPA 2112** (note location other than for previous COR events)

Light lunch will be provided. Please RSVP to cor@uci.edu by February 15.

This workshop offers an interactive introduction into practice research as an alternative methodology for qualitative research. A practice perspective has become increasingly influential and applied to the study of phenomena as different as knowledge, culture, technology, routines or policy-making. The practice turn not just offers a conceptual alternative to existing social and cultural theories (“practice theory”). It has also developed into an innovative and inspiring re-search strategy (“practice methodology”) that differs from and complements more established approaches, such as grounded theory, case study or discourse analysis. The workshop provides a user’s perspective on common principles and practices of a practice methodology. A major focus will be on how a practice lens opens up a unique way to study and re-conceptualize axiomatic categories of social life, taking the weathered concept of “power” as exemplar. The workshop reports on a late-stage empirical project that attempts to do just that and engages participants in a practice-based analysis of data from this study.

Short bio: Torsten Schmid is an Assistant Professor of Qualitative Research and Strategic Man-agement at University of St. Gallen (a leading European business school, located in Switzerland). In my research, I aim at understanding and informing the fundamental transformation and re-structuring of large, complex corporations. My current research interests center around the ques-tion of how these organizations enact and cope with related power dynamics. For this, I combine various practice theories with extended, ethnographically informed, longitudinal and collaborative, field studies of strategic change programs at leading European firms. My work is motivated by the potential of practice theory to develop alternative relational conceptualizations of power that integrate the functionalist concern for effective strategic leadership with the critical agenda of human emancipation. Following a pragmatist tradition, I aim for research that has a human orientation and is practically useful. My interest in power dynamics in the context of large-scale strategic change is, therefore, also motivated by a concern for learning from and educating employees and executives on how to maintain a collective capacity to act in current conflictual set-tings.

This practice orientation also informs my teaching that comprises innovative practice-based formats in strategic management and qualitative methods, including graduate and PhD courses at various universities. I am also in charge of consulting qualitative research projects at my university. A collaborative research project with Prof. Martha S. Feldman brings me to UCI where I look very much forward to writing, teaching and engaging with fellow scholars.

Colloquium with Prof. Gabriel Rossman on Monday, February 9, 2015

Colloquium (Co-sponsored by Paul Merage School of Business and COR)

Monday, February 9
SB1 5400 (5th floor Colloquium Terrace)

Prof. Gabriel Rossman
Department of Sociology, UCLA

“Obfuscatory Relational Work and Disreputable Exchange”

This article develops a model of how the structure of exchange can manage such disreputable exchanges as the commensuration of sacred for profane. Whereas existing research discusses the rhetorical reframing of exchange, I highlight structures that obfuscate whether an exchange is occurring and thereby mitigate exchange taboos. I identify three such exchange structures: bundling, brokerage, and gift exchange. Bundling uses cross-subsidization across multiple innocuous exchanges to synthesize a taboo exchange. Brokerage finds a third party to accept responsibility for exchange. Gift exchange delays reciprocity and reframes exchanges as expressions of friendship. All three strategies have alternative meanings and so provide plausible deniability to taboo commensuration. The article concludes by arguing that these sorts of exchange structures represent a synthesis of “nothing but” reductionism and “hostile worlds” moralism, rather than an alternative to them as Viviana Zelizer suggests.

Professor Frank Dobbin, Friday January 23, 2015 at 12noon-1:30pm

Talk co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology and COR

Be Careful What You Regulate: Sarbanes-Oxley and Banks’ Growing Appetite for Risky Derivatives

Frank Dobbin
Professor of Sociology
Harvard University

Friday, January 23, 2015
SSPB 4250


In the wake of the Enron, Worldcom, and Tyco scandals in the early years of the new millennium, Washington passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to restrain corporate malfeasance and excessive risk-taking. Many commercial banks responded by appointing Chief Risk Officers to monitor risk exposure. Institutionalists have found that professionals tasked with regulatory compliance over-comply, expanding their own corporate role by exaggerating likelihood of government sanction. We argue that Chief Risk Officers, trained to maximize risk-adjusted returns, took a different tack, touting their capacity to comply with the law, but meanwhile bringing their firms to the edge of the risk cliff so as to maximize shareholder value. They thus transformed themselves from compliance officers to central actors in the shareholder value revolution. Two groups proved capable of preventing CROs from over-investing in risky derivatives: CEOs who held substantial equity in the firm, and institutional investors who held large positions in the firm. We contribute to institutional theory by showing another path by which professions can use regulatory compliance to gain a foothold in the firm, and highlighting the importance of internal power relations in determining corporate strategy.

COR Faculty Workshop: Prof. Chris Bauman Dec 5th

COR Faculty Workshop

Friday, December 5
Social and Behavioral Sciences Gateway SBSG 1321

Prof. Chris Bauman
Merage School of Business

Blame the Shepherd not the Sheep: Subordinates who Imitate Authorities are Absolved of Moral Responsibility”

Discussants: Prof. Joey Cheng (Social Ecology) and Prof. Lyman Porter (Merage)

Leaders often leverage social learning processes to influence group norms and promote desirable behavior. When authorities misbehave, however, the bad examples they set can endorse and even exonerate unethical behavior. Yet, current models of blame and punishment focus on characteristics of acts, transgressors, and punishers and fail to consider the organizational context in which transgressions occur. We propose that organizational precedence for specific misdeeds can influence punishment recommendations, even when the acts themselves are obviously against company rules. Five studies supported our claim. Specifically, Study 1 revealed that employees who observed unethical behavior at work felt more entitled to act similarly if the unethical actor was high but not low status in their organization. Study 2 found that people generally recommended harsher punishment for employee thefts of greater than lesser amounts, but punishment recommendations were low, irrespective of the amount taken, when higher status employees first modeled the behavior. Studies 3 and 4 showed that differences in attributed levels of personal responsibility explained why people recommended less punishment for low status individuals who imitated theft by high (vs. low) status others. Finally, Study 5 indicated that punishment recommendations were lower when the high and low status transgressors were from the same organization, but not when the high status transgressor was from a different organization within the same industry. Taken together, results indicate that transgressions modeled by high status, in-group members license imitators’ unethical behavior by releasing them from moral accountability.

Please RSVP to cor@uci.edu by Monday, December 1. Lunch will be provided.