Topics in Quantitative Sociology

Fall 2020 ENSAE

Social Ecology

Why do certain organizations succeed and others fail? We explore how to integrate time to concepts of ecology to answer questions about social organization and collective action.

Background readings

Case-study for reading and commentary

Olzak & Ryo, 2007, SF, "Organizational diversity, vitality and outcomes in the Civic Rights Movement"

Sociologists often assert, but rarely test, the claim that organizational diversity benefits social movements by invigorating movement vitality and facilitating success. Our analysis of black civil rights organizations shows that goal and tactical diversity of a social movement is largely a function of organizational density, level of resources available to the movement, and the number of protests initiated by the movement. Goal diversity increases the rate of protest, whereas tactical diversity increases the likelihood of achieving a desired policy outcome. These findings advance our understanding of social movements and organizations by illuminating how organizational dynamics of a social movement might change over time, and in turn how this change might affect the vitality and desired outcomes of social movements.

Case-studies for presentation

Pontikes & Hannan, 2014, SS, "An ecology of social categories"

This article proposes that meaningful social classification emerges from an ecological dynamic that operates in two planes: feature space and label space. It takes a dynamic view of classification, allowing objects’ movements in both spaces to change the meaning of social categories. The first part of the theory argues that agents assign labels to objects based on perceptions of their similarities to existing members of a category. The second part of the theory shows that an object’s perceived similarity to members of other categories reduces its typicality in a focal category. This means that for categories with a high degree of overlap with other categories in label space (lenient categories), the link between feature-based similarities and labeling weakens. The findings suggest that social classification will likely evolve to contain both constraining and lenient categories. The theory implies that this process is self-reinforcing, so that constraining categories become more constraining, whereas lenient categories become more lenient.
This paper examines the effect of category spanning on the lethality and survival of terrorist organizations. The core argument is that terrorist organizations that span multiple and distant ideological categories will be less lethal and end more quickly than other terrorist organizations whose membership lies squarely within a single ideological category. Using information on 385 terrorist organizations, this paper finds support for these claims, controlling for Islamic ideological orientation, suicide tactics, and measures of organizational capacity. In addition, de novo terrorist organizations are more likely than spin-off organizations to end by becoming part of the political process.
Sociological researchers have studied the consequences of strong categorical boundaries, but have devoted little attention to the causes and consequences of boundary erosion. This study analyzes the erosion of categorical boundaries in the case of opposing category pairs. The authors propose that categorical boundaries weaken when the borrowing of elements from a rival category by high-status actors triggers emulation such that the mean number of elements borrowed by others increases and the variance in the number of elements borrowed declines. It is suggested that penalties to borrowing in the form of downgraded evaluations by critics exist, but decline as the number of peers who borrow increases. The research setting is French gastronomy during the period from 1970 to 1997, when classical and nouvelle cuisines were rival categories competing for the allegiance of chefs. The results broadly support the authors' hypotheses, indicating that chefs redrew the boundaries of culinary categories, which critics eventually recognized. Implications for research on blending and segregating processes are outlined.

Sorensen & Sharkey, 2014, ASR, "Entrepreneurship as a mobility process"

We advance a theory of how organizational characteristics, in particular the structure of opportunity within organizations, shape the decision to become an entrepreneur. Established organizations play an important yet understudied role in the entrepreneurial process, because they shape the environment within which individuals may choose to enter self-employment. Yet, despite the fact that sociologists have long recognized that inequality within organizations plays an important role in career attainment and mobility, we lack an understanding of how it shapes the pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities. We develop a formal model in which entrepreneurial choice is driven by differences in the arrival rate of various types of advancement opportunities. Entrepreneurship then arises as a result of matching processes between workers and employers, as well as the features of opportunity structures in paid employment. Analyses using Danish census data provide support for empirical implications derived from the model.