Is the sociology of organizations merging with stratification research?

Meeting Room, Board Room, Conference Hall, Chairs
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In 2019, Victor Ray published an incredibly influential article called “A Theory of Racialized Organizations” in the American Sociological Review. This article offered a very straight forward, but important, argument. Since race is a fundamental feature of social life, access to resources within formal organizations will be built around racial lines. Ray’s article provided a very intuitive way to understand racialized exclusion in firms, schools, non-profits, and other organizations.

Since then, I’ve peer reviewed quite a number of articles that cite or rely on Ray (2019). It’s now the “go to” article if you want to motivate an empirical study racial inequality in organizations. At the same time, I’ve noticed that the number of sociology of organizations articles in sociology journals that are *not* about race, gender or other forms of inequality seems to have decreased. For example, classical population ecology seems to be played out. You don’t see the major soc journals publish extensions of neo-institutionalism today. Network analysis never dies, but it doesn’t seem to be present in a lot of organizational research in top soc journals.

These types of organizational sociology seem to be alive, but in the management literature. ASQ, which represents the edge between sociology and management does publish discussions of institutional theory and AMJ still publishes empirical works in this vein. There’s a robust discussion of organizational ecology, both Hannan/Freeman sense and just the broader idea of studying org populations. It’s just not in soc journals.

So that leads me to this hypothesis. While sociology is certainly open to a wide range of organizational research, the “center of gravity” seems to be squarely on inequality. I wouldn’t say that organizational sociology has merged completely with stratification, but most sociologists working on organizational topics are strongly focused on aspects of organizational life that reflect hierarchy. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of the current political mood among social scientists, who are strongly focused on inequality.

I don’t see this as a bad thing. All disciplines go through research cycles. Right now, we’re getting a flood of papers on gender and racial exclusion in orgs and many will be excellent. Also, if you think we’re over doing it, that’s ok – there are plenty of low hanging fruit people are ignoring. So look around if you want some neat research topics. They’re out there.


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