Bernstein (2012). The Transparency Paradox: A Role for Privacy in Organizational Learning and Operational Control

Author:             Ethan S. Bernstein (ebernstein@hbs.edu)
Interviewers:    Curtis Chan (cchan@hbs.edu)
                         Stefan Beljean (sbeljean@fas.harvard.edu)
Article link:      http://asq.sagepub.com/content/57/2/181

Question 1. A striking aspect of your project is the “nearly unlimited access” that you had to your field site of a Chinese mobile phone factory for PrecisionMobile (p. 185). You describe the process by which you first gained access to PrecisionMobile in terms of network connections with board members and executives. But can you give us more detail about how you managed your relation with your field site contacts to gain such wide access—especially at the level where you could gain permission from management to conduct a field experiment? For example: how did you frame your research project to upper management, was there any initial resistance from managers, and how did you deal with any such resistance or other roadblocks? Also, what were the reactions of the upper-level management to the results of your study, and how did you speak to these reactions, if applicable?

As scholars, we can easily fall into the trap of becoming so focused on the phenomena of study that we lose track of the needs of those who are generously giving us access to their work environment and, often, themselves. That is only made worse by the fact that our pace, approach, and even language can be very different from the pace, approach, and language of the executives who open the door to us.

First impressions were important. On November 15, 2007, I met for the first time with a board member at Precision.  I already had a draft research proposal in hand. We discussed it, revised it together, and by December 4, we had a short, three-page document that he felt comfortable sharing with senior executives at the company and could stand on its own as it circulated. The first words in the title were “research proposal,” but the summary, project overview, hypotheses, intended results, and benefits from participation were written with management in mind—asking questions, framing ideas, and stating hypotheses from their perspective. I was clear about our objectives (advancement of social science through scholarly publication) but also clear in recognizing their interests (learning and productivity). The project was designed for rigorous scholarship but framed in the language, norms, and interests of PrecisionMobile executives, both in the short proposal and in the Powerpoint which ultimately accompanied it. This was, by no means, a core initiative at PrecisionMobile (indeed, it was highly peripheral), but at least senior executives knew enough about it not to be concerned. They also had clarity on what we intended to do: a Phase 0 (initial visit), Phase 1 (qualitative research), and Phase 2 (field experiment) approach, which not only set expectations on timing but also envisioned check-ins with management that were frequent enough to satisfy their organization’s norms of fast-paced work. My years in management consulting at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) were excellent training for this aspect of academic field research, and I drew on that training heavily.

On December 19, the board member spoke with one of the most senior executives at the company, who was highly supportive and said that the company is “full of research projects” for this kind of work. In perhaps the greatest moment of luck in this project, he put us in touch with a rising-star VP within PrecisionMobile who was everything a researcher could hope for in a partner-sponsor. The hardest part of confidentiality in this project is not being able to publicly thank him by name. Years after the work (and several promotions later), he remains a thought partner.

All of that preparation at the senior executive level was enough to lay the groundwork for the participant-observation phase of the research (especially given how, by design, only three people at the site were supposed to know anything about the research at that stage). As you point out in your question, however, the field experiment required a new level of signoff. To make matters worse, our rising-star VP had risen into a new position that was no longer in the PrecisionMobile business, thus putting all of our access at risk.

The next step was a stroke of genius by Professor Willy Shih at HBS. Together, we wrote an HBS case on PrecisionMobile to be taught in the Building and Sustaining Successful Enterprises second-year MBA course at HBS. In relatively few pages, it captured one core aspect of what we observed via the embedded participant-observers. It also required CEO signoff. With signoff came engagement—and a desire to address the issues raised by the case. The challenge was that, given the phenomenon (hiding behavior that was so well hidden that they didn’t know about it before our research), it was not clear what should be done about the situation. We proposed a field experiment. After coming to HBS to see the case taught for the first time, company executives agreed. It was one of the most intricate (and time-intensive) processes I have witnessed for gaining permission to run a field experiment, but it worked.

That is not the full story. In re-reading the last five paragraphs, I must offer a caveat: that clean-cut retrospective masks what felt, on a day-to-day basis, much more like climbing a brittle rock face where you’re never sure what is going to happen next . If it weren’t for unconditional support from mentors and peers, deepening relationships with thoughtful individuals at PrecisionMobile, and (quite frankly) a good dose of luck, this would have been impossible. No day in the field is “normal,” and I believe being fast-on-your-feet (while remaining true to the fundamentals of rigorous research standards) is one of the most important virtues of any field researcher trying to do this kind of work.

I still remember when, with about two hours’ notice, I was asked to provide a five-minute briefing to the CEO (of this multi-billion dollar enterprise) on why I had put up curtains in one of his most important facilities. I thought that would be the end of the experiment. But he was extremely thoughtful and interested in the science behind it. Indeed, my view is that most managers are quite interested in this kind of scholarly work if they know we aren’t just going to muck about but rather actually help their organizations get work done better.

Question 2. Your paper demonstrates and documents a fascinating causal effect of privacy on higher performance. And yet, a question that burns with both managerial and theoretical implications is under what boundary conditions this relationship between privacy and higher performance might hold, and conversely under which conditions it may not. Would you like to share any thoughts about what these boundary conditions might be?

It is very interesting to speculate on the boundary conditions for these findings. Based on the conversations I have had over the past 18 months, much of the speculation around limits to generalizability involves either industry (manufacturing) or geography (China). However, one of the tremendous benefits of having this article published in ASQ has been the large number of individuals who have reached out to me with examples of how this theory applies in their own contexts—health care, financial services, professional services, government, technology startups—across a wide array of geographies. The evidence is, of course, purely anecdotal at this point. But the emerging view is that neither industry nor geography is likely to impose barriers to generalizability.

Far more likely to be fruitful, I believe, is an evolving set of boundary conditions around the presence of enablers required for privacy from observability to be productive (and, conversely, the absence of eroders which undermine that relationship). Recall, for example, that performance remained closely tracked at PrecisionMobile all the time, even when work activity became less observable with the curtains. Were that not the case, I could imagine increased privacy yielding a very different result. Of course, track performance too precisely and one ends up back in the transparency paradox—in a recently published article on “Analytics 3.0,” Thomas Davenport writes: “Just as analytics that are intensely revealing of customer behavior have a certain ‘creepiness’ factor, overly detailed reports of employee activity can cause discomfort. In the world of Analytics 3.0, there are times we need to look away.” So an interesting set of boundary condition questions exists around how adjusting various levers of transparency, not just observability, may enhance our understanding of the paradox.

A second important boundary condition is emerging around time. Rather than asking under what conditions the relationship between privacy and higher performance holds, a better question to ask may be how long that relationship will hold in different context.

I am continuing to investigate these questions of generalizability, and I would genuinely welcome both input and collaboration from others who are equally interested in such research.

Question 3. From your qualitative data, you considered the nature of the mechanisms for how privacy may increase performance. You focused on mechanisms largely concerned with learning (e.g., productive deviance, localized experimentation, distraction avoidance, continuous improvement). Given the extensive and detailed observations conducted by your embeds, we would imagine that there was a considerable amount of rich material that you left on the figurative “cutting room floor” of the paper-writing process. Was there evidence for other potential mechanisms in your qualitative data that you found interesting, but ultimately were not the focus of this paper for particular reasons? More generally, what else did you find intriguing in the data that might be a focus of future work?

Great question! The answer is an unqualified yes—there is certainly evidence in my qualitative for elaboration on the mechanisms. Indeed, in addition to the embed data, I have a factory-floor employee survey that was completed before and after the curtain intervention (both for control and treatment lines) which is the basis, along with the transcripts, for a new paper which is currently a work in progress.

Question 4. A key empirical strength of your paper is your field experiment at PrecisionMobile. In it, you were conscientious to control for potential Hawthorne effects, and you argue that workers on the night shift were convinced that the experimental manipulation of the privacy curtain was for the day shift, suggesting that Hawthorne effects were not the driving factor behind the results (p. 195-196). What might you have done, though, if it had not been the case that the night shift workers were oblivious to the manipulation? Did you consider other general strategies for controlling for possible Hawthorne effects either by a priori design or by post hoc arguments?

Every context offers idiosyncratic assets and liabilities for research. I chose PrecisionMobile in part because of its scale for a field experiment like this one, so any intervention would have been designed a priori to control for Hawthorne effects. Because the night shift and the day shift share the same space, it was the easiest control to accomplish, but any control would have had the same feature: similar space used by different groups with different perceptions on whether they were being studied. Given the nature of the field context, one could imagine other experimental designs that would have accomplished the same goal (although none as clean as the night shift / day shift design).

In my own view, post hoc arguments are best avoided, especially when one goes to such significant efforts to design and implement a field experiment. Perhaps another good question to ask is what I would have done if I had found a Hawthorne effect. On the one hand, that would have made the effect of privacy very hard to tease out. On the other hand, in words borrowed from my phenomenal Editor in the ASQ review process, the similarities between my study and the old Hawthorne studies could be viewed as “a feature, not a bug”—and I might have had a very different paper as a result.

Question 5. Given that a large amount of work in the contemporary knowledge economy involves IT and computers, what might be the equivalent of the “privacy curtain” in the digital realm?

I do think there are interesting digital analogues. Let me start with an example. I just finished teaching an extraordinary first-year section of MBAs at HBS. About halfway through the semester, I ran into one of my students on-campus as I was carrying my 15-month-old son to daycare. Shortly thereafter, I ran into another student who mentioned my son. Apparently, the first student had sent a “GroupMe” to the section about the rendezvous—something she would “never do on Twitter” because it would be too public, but something she would do within the boundary of the 92 other individuals in her section.

The moral of the story: in the digital realm, we actually have even more ways to design (and enforce) boundaries that keep selected information “within these four walls” (at least metaphorically). When we do anything digitally, we consider how widely it will spread (and if we don’t consider it, as demonstrated by a number of notable situations, we often learn our lesson a little too late). How many times do you open an email and, even before reading the body of the note, see who is on the “To:” and “cc:” lines (not to mention wondering about the “bcc:” line) before deciding what to write in a “reply all” message—or deciding to pick up the phone and call someone to chat “offline” about something? A promising, new Silicon Valley startup is based on that premise and may provide a research opportunity to learn more about this phenomenon in the digital space over the next few years. In the meantime, one thing seems clear: just like in the physical realm, the presence and location of boundaries in digital spaces may indeed partially dictate how we perform.

Dahl, Dezső, & Ross (2012). Fatherhood and Managerial Style: How a Male CEO’s Children Affect the Wages of His Employees

Authors:           Michael S. Dahl (md@business.aau.dk)
                         Cristian L. Dezső (cdezso@rhsmith.umd.edu)
                         David Gaddis Ross (dr2175@columbia.edu)
Interviewers:    Johan Chu (johanchu@umich.edu)
                         Ivana Naumovska (i-naumovska@kellogg.northwestern.edu)
Article link:      http://asq.sagepub.com/content/57/4/669

Question 1. This is a fascinating paper, both in its subject matter and its rhetorical strategy (it was refreshing to see a quantitative paper that eschewed the rigid hypothesis-test framework). How did you end up with this paper? What path led you to this setting, finding, and framing?

All three of the authors are very interested in the internal dynamics of firms and in particular whether and how top managers impact firm outcomes. We are also all three fathers and can identify, at least in a general way, with the idea that fatherhood is life changing and thereby has the potential to change the way top managers manage their firms. In addition, focusing on the birth of a child rather than just the number of children of a top manager allowed us to exploit the random nature of the gender of a newborn to provide evidence of a causal relationship between top managers and firm outcomes. We eschewed formal hypotheses because we wanted to accurately convey the spirit of the study: it is using what we would like to believe is an elegant empirical design and an interesting research question to develop new theoretical possibilities rather than an attempt to test existing theory using formal hypotheses.

Question 2. You make a strong case that fatherhood and other “external”, “personal” factors matter for organizations because such factors affect top managers’ values. Can you speculate a bit on how much the actual findings of the study (daughters have a less negative influence on wages and female employees are in general less adversely affected) would be similar or different across countries and cultures? For example, countries like India where having daughters creates future costs (in dowries), or other non-Danish Western countries (e.g., the U.S. where CEOs are paid more compared to average workers)?

First, let us clarify that “CEO” in our study refers to the “boss” of all but the smallest firms, which we exclude. We do not necessarily mean the CEO of a large, public firm. One is always hesitant to argue forcefully that the results of a given study will obtain in a different context but we would not be surprised to see similar results in other countries. Virtually all of the laboratory studies that we cite in our theoretical motivation, for example, were conducted outside Scandinavia. Other results related to gender, moreover, are remarkably stable across countries, for example, the degree to which women are particularly underrepresented in senior business positions. Having said that, we agree that in cultures whereby women face a discriminatory environment from childhood or even from birth, our results could be different. This would be an interesting question to study.

Question 3. You draw upon literature on the effect of children on their parents to frame your findings. An especially intriguing finding from your paper was that there was a strong relationship between the birth of a first son and an increase in salaries (generosity) towards female employees and decrease in salaries (stinginess) towards male employees (p. 682). This is a striking result! You argue that this result obtains because CEOs become more selfish with each child, but a first child positively affects male CEOs’ attitudes towards women. Could you explain further how you see the two changes (more selfish yet more pro-female) interacting? Are there other predictions (perhaps in other settings) we can make using these two effects? How would a similar situation affect female top managers?

In general, one could hypothesize that, following the birth his first child, a male CEO could change a number of firm policies to be more advantageous to women. Examples include maternity leave and other accommodations for motherhood, more opportunities for promotion for women, etc. Yet, at the same time, the CEO would be less generous in general towards his male employees, with respect to these same dimensions and others. It is also possible that the birth and gender of a child could more generally impact gender dynamics in the workplace, whereby male employees would evaluate more highly the work of their female colleagues or superiors, or would work more effectively in mixed-gender teams. With regard to the impact of the birth of a child to a female top manager on firm outcomes, we view this as an interesting question for future research.

Question 4. You have a very nice data source! The Scandinavian countries seem to have available many rich and comprehensive datasets for organizational research. Could you give us some tips for accessing these databases? Are there any sources you think particularly intriguing for organizational scholars?

The Danish data has been used by many researchers at this point. Usually, a Dane needs to be part of the research team to access the data, but there is a strong trend towards more openness. Statistics Denmark is doing more and more to open up access to non-Danish researchers with the use of secure online systems.

Question 5. What question did we miss? Please ask yourselves a good question, and answer it.

We hope that our study is received in the spirit in which it was conducted, namely as one small step into a new and largely understudied area: how parenthood and other large life events change the way people do business – for instance, could the birth and gender of a child impact firm performance more generally? In that regard, while we quite like our results, we think they may be less important in the end than the encouragement we give to others to pursue their own questions in this domain. We also think that the research design may be a model for other researchers to follow.

Tilcsik & Marquis (2013). Punctuated Generosity: How Mega-events and Natural Disasters Affect Corporate Philanthropy in U.S. Communities

Authors:           András Tilcsik (andras.tilcsik@rotman.utoronto.ca)
                         Christopher Marquis (cmarquis@hbs.edu)
Interviewers:    Johan Chu (johanchu@umich.edu)
                         Michael Mauskapf (m-mauskapf@kellogg.northwestern.edu)
Article link:      http://asq.sagepub.com/content/58/1/111

Question 1. You make a strong argument that large events (planned or not) create changes in the behavior of organizations within a geographic community. What got you thinking about emplaced events? How did you decide on the setting of corporate philanthropy?

We became interested in local events for a couple of different reasons. One is that even though there has been a revival of interest in geographic communities, most research tended to look at how the persistent features of communities matter for organizations. A common assumption has been that, for example, being headquartered in, say, Atlanta rather than New York matters because these places have longstanding differences in their local norms, networks, traditions, and so on. While that’s very important, we felt that a key mechanism was missing. Atlanta, for example, hosted the Summer Olympics in 1996, and being headquartered in that community at that time had some really powerful effects on Atlanta-based firms. Mary Ann Glynn has a wonderful paper on this specific case in JMS in 2008, where she shows how the Olympics reshaped the networks of local organizations and changed their behaviors, at least for some time. This is an example of an important, geographically delimited, community-based influence on organizations, but if we focused solely on stable differences between communities, we would completely miss this. That’s why it’s so important to have what we call an “emplaced and eventful” perspective.

Another reason why we were drawn to this is that these large local events—from hurricanes to the Super Bowl to major political conventions—are interesting in and of themselves. Even if they only last for a day or a week, their ramifications can shake up communities. And policymakers, urban leaders, economists, and other scholars hotly debate the consequences. But typically the focus has been on regional economic consequences, such as job creation and tourism due to mega-events. We wanted to understand the social and organizational consequences.

The focus on corporate philanthropy as an outcome made sense because prior work suggested several interesting mechanisms that could link these events to charitable giving by locally based firms even beyond the event itself. And because the majority of corporate donations tend to stay in the headquarters community, this outcome is important because it has major consequences for the vibrancy of the local nonprofit sector and civic life.

Question 2. You looked at Fortune 1000 companies in core-based statistical areas (CBSAs). Can you speculate on how your research applies to smaller organizations or to organizations that are “networked”? Would the same dynamics apply in virtual online communities (e.g., Anonymous and its Project Chanology protests against Scientology)?

It is interesting to speculate how these findings may generalize. In regard to smaller organizations, there are reasons to think that such organizations may be even more susceptible to effects of local events than larger, more global firms. And much prior work has shown that larger organizations serve as role models for smaller ones, and so as larger organizations become more involved in local philanthropy and nonprofits as a result of events, smaller organizations may follow. We think that the dynamics of how these effects may vary by type of organization is very interesting to study in the future.

But for online communities, we are not as sure if the findings generalize to that context. As we note in the paper, a focus on events provides an important rationale for studying geographic communities because events “take place.” That is, geographic communities are sites of shared experience, and the identity-based and mobilization mechanisms we theorize in the paper are particularly likely to be triggered by direct, in-person involvement. While research has shown that many of the social, cultural and regulative processes of geographic communities do generalize to online communities, the event effects we study in the paper may mainly apply to geographic communities.

Question 3. You touch on the endogeneity of mega-events and philanthropy, and argue that such “institutional recursivity” can act as a mechanism for imprinting. Can you see in your data whether certain communities are institutionally different—i.e., have higher levels of corporate philanthropy and propensity to host mega-events? Also, it seems that natural disasters are not always unexpected (e.g. hurricanes in New Orleans). Are communities with a propensity for natural disasters different from other communities?

Certainly, there seem to be some important and persistent institutional differences across communities. For example, even after controlling for a bunch of relevant factors, the typical level of corporate giving in some communities is much higher than in others. This has been well documented in the literature. For example, Joe Galaskiewicz has a number of important studies about how the organization of corporations in the Twin Cities maintained a high level of giving in that community. And we see it in our data as well. Of course, some communities are also more prone to hosting mega-events or experiencing disasters. In this paper we took pains to control away such differences and to isolate within-community changes over time while holding constant stable institutional and other differences across communities. But you do bring up a very interesting question about repeated events and their connections to the institutional characteristics of a community. This may be a nice way to connect punctuating local events to stable community characteristics.

It is also interesting to consider whether there is something special about communities that experience mega-events or major disasters relatively frequently. As you note, in certain communities, such as New Orleans, there is the expectation that disasters may occur, which likely affects the community and resident corporations in an enduring way. Statistically controlling for these enduring features of communities is why including community fixed-effects in our models was crucial. But we think that further study on what these characteristics mean for organizations headquartered in the area is worthy of future study. We agree that the notion that some communities experience repeated punctuations that are, at least to some degree, anticipated (even if their timing often isn’t predictable) is quite intriguing.

Question 4. Do mega-events durably change the identities of the recipients of corporate philanthropy? It’s not clear where increased giving goes: Do nonprofits associated with a relevant cause benefit disproportionately? The mechanisms you suggest in the paper seem to privilege large, high-visibility, and prestigious non-profits: the build-up to mega-events creates enduring network ties while disasters have no such build-up. (And the data sources in your triangulation analysis only cover larger non-profits). Could mega-events create solidarity among elite non-profits and contributors, and so shift contributions to elite “want”-based organizations from “need”-based organizations serving the disadvantaged?

Great questions! We started exploring some of these issues, but these analyses didn’t fit in the paper. One thing we looked at, although only cursorily, was whether the boost to corporate giving due to a mega-event tended to benefit certain types of nonprofits, and we compared effects across the standard nonprofit categories like culture, recreation, sports, housing, health care, youth development, and so on. No major differences jumped out—it didn’t seem like any such categories benefitted disproportionately more or less than the others. But we haven’t looked at the broader categories of elite-oriented versus welfare-oriented nonprofits, and that’s a great question to explore. For the reasons you mention, it’s certainly possible that mega-events (or some mega-events, or mega-events in some communities) will shift contributions to elite-oriented nonprofits, so these events might have some interesting distributional consequences. Recent research by Marquis, Davis, and Glynn (2013 in Organization Science) on how corporations in communities with more cohesive local elites are more likely to support elite nonprofits also supports this line of thinking. And this would also be very much in line with the complex image that emerges from the economics and sociology literatures on mega-events: Despite the claims of event promoters and sports boosters, these events bring a really mixed bag of blessings and curses, can have all sorts of distributional effects, and may have important implications for inequality. And you’re suggesting that they might matter for inequality not just between, say, urban developers and the urban poor who are often displaced by events like the Olympics but also for inequality between different organizations, such as nonprofits with different orientations—which in turn can have further effects on the community itself. It’s definitely worth looking at this, and perhaps that could be Paper #2, so thank you!

Question 5. What question did we miss? Please ask yourselves a good question, and answer it.

[András & Chris's question:] How did the paper evolve and change over time?

We initially started with the general idea that major public spectacles like the Olympics or the Super Bowl may have a powerful effect on corporate social action in the host community. It was only somewhat later that we also became interested in natural disasters, which are a very different kind of event—an exogenous destructive shock.

When we initially submitted it to ASQ, the paper focused on documenting the main-effect relationships, some of which were surprising and quite dramatic, but the paper was largely silent on the mechanisms and contingencies. The reviewers were very helpful in making us think through the mechanisms more clearly, and the paper evolved quite a bit as a result. But each reviewer had a fairly different take on this. One reviewer helped us think about firm- and community-level moderators that would get at the mechanisms indirectly. Another reviewer suggested the use of qualitative and anecdotal illustrations, which helped us talk about potential mechanisms in a more concrete and compelling way. And another reviewer was really helpful in pushing us to explicate the logic of the underlying theory and to identify boundary conditions more clearly. Our editor, Martin Ruef, was great at synthesizing all these fairly different comments and helping us make the paper better without ballooning it. So, the final paper was much more explicit about both the potential mechanisms and the cases when these effects are less likely to occur. The process really was a constructive conversation with the reviewers—the way it should be.

McPherson & Sauder (2013). Logics in Action: Managing Institutional Complexity in a Drug Court

Authors:           Chad McPherson (chad-mcpherson@uiowa.edu)
                         Michael Sauder (michael-sauder@uiowa.edu)
Interviewers:    Johan Chu (johanchu@umich.edu)
                         Curtis Chan (cchan@hbs.edu)
Article link:      http://asq.sagepub.com/content/58/2/165

Question 1. You build a compelling argument for discretionary use of institutional logics by individuals in your study of drug court deliberations . How did you end up with your final framing? Did you strongly consider other framings? Why did you choose your final framing over these alternatives?

Well, we definitely did not enter into the research with institutional logics in mind. We were drawn to the case because it was a site at which people of various professional and organizational backgrounds were required to discuss cases, negotiate interpretations, and reach an agreement about how to proceed. We knew we were interested in this as a nexus of several institutional backgrounds and the micro-processes by which these backgrounds were negotiated.

About halfway through the data collection, however, it became clear in our discussions that institutional logics played an important role in drug court activities. We noticed that there were clearly different logics that were being employed in interactions and we became interested in how these were being used, by whom, and to what effect. It is important to admit, though, that other theoretical frames were floating around at the same time—to us this case seemed to be a clear example of inhabited institutionalism, hybrid organizations, institutional complexity, and micro-institutionalism as well. We stuck with the logics frame because it fit the data so well (this was truly an exercise in grounded theory) and because we thought our ethnographic data could make a real theoretical contribution to the logics literature.

Of course, this type of retrospective description hides a lot of the messiness and doubt that accompanied the framing process. For example, because we saw connections with so many theoretical approaches, early versions of the paper tried to speak to as many of these as possible. So the paper attempted to “make contributions to” institutional logics AND inhabited institutionalism AND hybrid organizations AND . . . you get the picture. Two rounds of very incisive reviews at ASQ helped us (forced us) to address this issue. The framing of the paper was much more focused and the contributions to the logics literature were made much more clear in the final version of the paper than they were in any of the previous iterations.

Question 2. You use some innovative techniques not often seen in qualitative papers: using count data to support your arguments and classifying outcomes by comparing “actual decisions of the judge” to “estimates of the ‘default decision’ that would typically be handed down, given the circumstances” (p. 171). What compelled you to take these novel approaches, especially the latter approach, which is more uncommon than the former? More generally, when might such approaches be appropriate and desirable in qualitative work? Also, could you provide a concrete example of how you estimated a “default decision”?

Like the framing of the paper, these techniques emerged from the study itself rather than being pre-planned. One of the reasons we started to play with “counts” was to try to manage the huge pile of data that had been collected. Early on in the data analysis (which, for qualitative researchers, is just a fancy way of saying that we were re-reading notes), we realized that we could accurately identify the invocations of logics in drug court proceedings. Thanks to McPherson’s meticulous notes, we could examine how each case unfolded in terms of the employment of logics as well as draw a more general picture of logic use in the courtroom.

In terms of the estimates, we made an early decision to track each case proceeding as a discrete event. We noticed that people who invoked logics seemed to be able to influence the decisions adopted by the drug court team and the judge, and our quantitative tracking and counts showed that case outcomes very frequently matched the proposed solution of persons who had invoked logics. This was exciting because it offered us the chance to show that logics—at least here—were consequential, and not just vacuous frames used in conversation. Because most drug court actions are very formulaic, it quickly became apparent to us (and our data supported the idea) that the use of logics often created variation from these normal outcomes.

We definitely do not believe that this type of quantification of qualitative data is necessary or even preferable for most studies. The nature of our site and our data collection methods allowed us to do it, and in this case counting and quantifying was an effective way of summarizing the processes at work and demonstrating our findings in a convincing way. It is important to note as well, however, what was lost in this process: much of the depth, fluidity, and character of the interactions as they are represented in the qualitative data. We are working on a second paper that focuses on these aspects of decision making in the drug court.

Question 3. You focus on deliberations in the “team-members-only meeting” (p. 169) rather than in the official court proceedings. A cynic might say that this is “backroom justice” which subverts due process, and that the “team members” were colluding to build legitimacy for this process, their decisions, and their group by practicing a discourse for later public consumption. This suggests another motive for bringing in different logics: making sure the team would be perceived as legitimate by others. Did you see evidence of anything like this either in the team meetings or in differences from the team meeting and subsequent official court proceedings?

In a sense, drug courts are designed to promote “backroom justice.” Drug courts attempt to eliminate a “one size fits all” system for addressing substance abusing criminal offenders by incorporating strategies and input from medicine, psychology, and the social sciences. Offenders (clients) agree to waive their rights to typical legal processes so that their case will be considered with all of these perspectives in mind, their sanctions will be tailored to their specific circumstances, and their jail time will be significantly reduced. In this way, drug courts—and Stone City exemplifies this—offer a productive alternative to traditional courtroom proceedings (an alternative, we might add, that also offers an ideal setting for data collection on legal issues since discussions are less formal, various institutional perspectives must be considered, and outcomes are based on individual circumstances).

Given the atypical features of the drug court model, however, legitimacy was indeed a persistent concern among drug court members. They consistently expressed concern that their decisions and processes would be seen as legitimate to others in the legal community. This concern often led to arguments for harsher sanctions for fear that the drug court would otherwise be seen as too “soft” or too removed from normal legal responses. In addition, drug court members worried about their legitimacy in the community more generally. We frequently observed the team reflecting on and making subjective assessments of the drug court’s worth and value to the community and how they could enhance the perceived and actual contributions being made.

Question 4. You mention three types of structural constraints on the use of logics—procedural, definitional, and positional (p. 183-185). You also suggest that “a varied use of the available tools perpetually reinforces the validity and relevance of these multiple logics and, more generally, the drug court itself” (p. 183). Do you think procedural, definitional, and positional constraints generally evolve to strengthen the functioning and legitimacy of the team? If so, how so? If not, what actors or factors can influence these constraints? It seems that changing structure should change outcome. In your setting, making the clinicians initiate conversations and manage case information should increase their flexibility in using different institutional logics and lead to more “rehabilitative” outcomes, for example. Who decides procedure, logics, and positions?

Yes, on some levels, these constraints likely do strengthen the functioning of the team. These constraints seem to provide various levels of informal and formal limitation on actors’ appeals to institutional logics and on the relevance of these external systems of rules and practices. They also set limits on the amount of interpretation and negotiation that is acceptable as well as on how flexibly given logics can be used to interpret situations. Of course, the structural constraints discussed in our paper also create inequalities in access and influence among drug court professionals. In particular, the positional constraint seems to subvert a level playing field at times in that it provides some actors with more exposure to, knowledge of, practice using, and liberty drawing upon external logics—all resources that they can then use to shape and influence case outcomes.

As such, our findings do imply that changes in the structure would likely affect the outcomes of some of the deliberations. In most circumstances—the cases in which discussion does not take place and logics are not invoked—outcomes would likely be very similar. However, if different professionals acted as the gatekeepers of information or if the flow of communication and interaction were structured differently, other professionals—say, clinicians—might be in a better position to enhance the relative influence of different logics. We believe that the structure of relationships within these multi-institutional environments matter a great deal and that future work using formal network analyses or other methods could specify more clearly how these structures matter and under what circumstances.

Question 5. What question did we miss? Please ask yourselves a good question, and answer it.

[Chad & Michael's question:] Do you intend to continue work in this area? If so, what theoretical questions might you explore? Would this work use the data you’ve collected in a different way?

We are currently working on a follow-up paper in which we focus more directly on the ethnographic data, a paper that will look like a more traditional qualitative article. Drawing on insights from social psychology, we drill deeper into the micro-level negotiations among professionals in drug court cases. In particular, we dissect the elements of the institutional appeals discussed in our ASQ paper, examine why drug court actors use elements of extra-local culture to shape interactions, and how these cultural resources define the identity of the drug court.

To do this, we use our data to look closely at the decision-making in the court as it unfolds in real time, and the identity conflicts that arise when a team composed of professionals from diverse institutional backgrounds negotiates solutions without shared bases of understanding, interpretation, and worldviews. This approach allows us to highlight the professional creativity used by these actors in collaborations, show how they draw upon cultural resources to reach a sometimes difficult consensus, and provide insight into how actors—both individually and as a group—reconcile their various professional identities with the organizational identity of the drug court.

Rao & Dutta (2012). Free Spaces as Organizational Weapons of the Weak: Religious Festivals and Regimental Mutinies in the 1857 Bengal Native Army

Authors:           Huggy Rao (hrao@stanford.edu)
                         Sunasir Dutta (sunasird@gsb.stanford.edu)
Interviewers:    Johan Chu (johanchu@umich.edu)
                         Suntae Kim (suntaek@umich.edu)
Article link:      http://asq.sagepub.com/content/57/4/625

Question 1. This is a cool paper! How did you become interested in the 1857 Bengal Army mutinies, and how did you track down sources of data and background knowledge? What piqued your interest in free spaces?

Huggy: I am delighted you found the paper to be cool! Let me situate how we converged on the paper – for converged is I think the right word!

A nagging problem for me was whether organizations produced collective action or were outcomes of collective action. I remember having long conversations with Mayer Zald about this when I was visiting Michigan in 1997.  James Scott’s work on the weapons of the weak only reinvigorated my interest in the question of whether ‘free spaces’ were the precursor of organizing or their antecedent. I also wanted to do a study using Indian data, and thought that the mutiny was one great setting. I realized it was the subject of hundreds of historical studies, and that any effort to study it ought to use new data – that had not been used before – and the data needed to be yoked to the issue of movements and organizations. I also knew I could not do this on my own – it needed a collaborator – who knew India, and loved history, and was above all, interested in the questions that fascinated me. Then came Sunasir!

Sunasir: In June 2009, about 5 months after I got accepted to the GSB’s PhD program, but before I matriculated, Huggy called me and asked if I would be interested in studying a historical setting to understand a social phenomenon. I of course jumped at the opportunity because I’ve always been fascinated with history—which is often even stranger than fiction, in terms of revealing both the most admirable and the most despicable possibilities of human behavior. So anyway, since I was already bored of vacationing (I had spent the previous month on vacation), I spent the rest of the summer looking at archived documents and texts in Calcutta (the former capital of the East India Company’s administration) and Delhi (the capital of British India under the Queen, i.e. after 1857), to find out more. In this process Huggy and I discovered a somewhat strange pattern. There were often simultaneous mutinies in different parts of the subcontinent, by regiments that shared few common characteristics. But it took us a while to realize that regiments’ susceptibility to believing the rumors of the profane cartridges (such as based on where they were located) or infectiousness (such as based on how influential a regiment was in accelerating adoption of a norm-violation such as mutiny)—that these were not sufficient to explain the patterns we observed.

Meanwhile we were soon (i.e. “soon” in the context of historical research!) presenting the in-progress work in various workshops and seminars. From a few of those, especially the Comparative Politics Workshop at Stanford, we got the sense that what was needed was an exogenous shock to organizing capacity to really trigger mutiny among regiments. One of the workshop participants ( an expert on Islamic politics)  asked if Muslim regiments mutinied more during months designated as times of piety and fasting. And that’s when we instantly realized the connection between festivals and free spaces, and the theoretical issues alluded to earlier.

Question 2. In making your prediction that mutinies were most frequent immediately following religious festivals, you outline several different supporting mechanisms—e.g., creation of group identity and solidarity, overcoming pluralistic ignorance, practice of (ritualized) violence, emotional contagion,  spread of news, and the interruption of daily routines. Do you have a sense of whether one of these mechanisms was most important in the case you describe? What about in general?

Huggy:  I suspect that our invocation of a number of examples other historical settings, such as Huguenot France, maritime mutinies, and modern social movements might have led to this question. As far as our study is concerned, large festival-gatherings provided (exogenously imposed) free spaces. Free spaces typically provide two things in repressive social systems: (1) a site (physical or virtual) outside of existing structures of dominance (such as the workplace), that creates a shared rhythm of expression (e.g. chanting or marching in unison) which creates a shared identity and arouses emotions (e.g. anger or pride), and (2) allows prospective participants to observe who else might be willing to join in risky collective action—together we call this collective empowerment. The secondary effect of such empowerment is that it leads sometimes to a violent expression of emotions.

Sunasir: Indeed. Both these aspects of free spaces matter. So for example, there were also festivals that involved private fasting rather than communal gatherings- and those didn’t trigger mutiny, so getting people together, and gauging others responses to emotional empowerment is also important. Similarly, just getting people together also doesn’t by itself foster collective empowerment: for example, the soldiers, who lived in open “lines” rather than enclosed barracks, might have had opportunities to communicate with each other; but without the activation of an alternative collective identity (alternative to their soldier identity), such as of religion or tradition, communication alone wouldn’t be enough to organize a challenge to the seemingly insurmountable status quo. Further, if you noticed, these festival gatherings mattered the most for regiments far away from their place of recruitment, while those closer to their homes and villages would have had other opportunities for mobilization and identity-activation, such as through social ties.

Question 3. You close by mentioning Facebook and Twitter as “large free spaces to organize collective action in repressive systems” (p. 660). Could you elaborate on why you think they could serve this function? It seems that some of your mechanisms would be less effective online, where body language, nuance, and irony may not communicate well.  Also, how would collective action instigated online be affected when nation-states (e.g., China, the United States) show the capacity and willingness to monitor online association?

Sunasir: I think the social closure, albeit limited, of online social network platforms, and their low cost of signaling intent, discontent, and ideological beliefs, makes them suitable for fostering common knowledge of who else is likely to participate in possible acts of collective action. It also manifests another consequence typical of free spaces: identification with a collective identity, such as of online forums and interest groups, shared hashtags of lighning-rod events and causes, generational communities such as of millenials, and even offline gatherings down the road such as informal “tweet-ups” and Meetup.com groups.

Huggy: Let me begin by saying that Roman emperors were wary of public festivals – lest – they lead to coups!  They sprinkled spies throughout a festival procession. Nonetheless, repression of online activity undercuts collective action. As far as Twitter and Facebook go, they are not substitutes for face-to-face interaction, but instead, serve as complements that might trigger face- to- face interaction among anonymous strangers.

Question 4. You implicitly allude to the failure of the British to “divide and rule” in two passages of your article (top of p. 638, middle of p. 650). Did the divide and rule tactics instituted after the mutiny work to suppress further rebellion? It seems that the effects of religious festivals (and other free space events) should be curvilinear in regard to the diversity of regiments; homogeneous regiments may not need festivals to mobilize (much like local ones relied on them less in your results), and festivals may not have been enough to create shared mutinous identity in very ethnically/religiously/caste-wise fragmented regiments. Also, did the British differently police religious festivals after the mutiny?

Huggy: The divide-and-rule strategies were implemented in the form of mixed recruitment into some regiments, stationing of antagonistic ethnic regiments in cantonments, and also in arbitrarily changing the recruitment base (under the command of the new Viceroy after the EIC’s charter was abolished due to the mutiny) to those ethnic/religious/caste groups who hadn’t mutinied. In terms of ideology, the definition of who constituted the “martial races”, and hence were appropriate candidates for recruitment, was simply flipped to define those ethnic/religious groups who hadn’t mutinied (for example, see Heather Streets’ 2004 book “Martial races”).

Sunasir: Your theory of diversity seems plausible. However in this particular setting we didn’t find significant interaction effects of demographic diversity with the festival clock. We ran a second order interaction too, and the magnitudes imply an inverted U-shaped effect as you hypothesize, but it’s not statistically significant so there isn’t much one can say about that. One important reason why demographic diversity doesn’t play a leading role in this context is that each regiment was recruited almost entirely from a particular area- such as a district, city, or a set of neighboring villages (p. 639). Even if they differed in religion and caste (p. 646), the members of these regiments would have shared the bonds of being from the same communities, or at least be more accepting of the caste hierarchy or religious difference in the regiment that mirrored the communities they grew up in. So in empirical terms, even if there is variation in demographic diversity, there isn’t much operational value in that because of shared communal roots.

Huggy: In regard to your question on homogeneity, do note that we show the regiment’s majority-group festivals had a bigger effect on raising the mutiny hazard, but the minority-group’s festivals also had smaller but significant effects. So, one might possibly infer (with some slippage) that the marginal effects of festival gatherings would actually be greater for larger majority groups (such as in homogeneous regiments). To be sure, there were other elements of diversity (e.g. age of regiment, which would determine cohort diversity), but they were not salient bases of organizing.

Sunasir: To your final sub-question: In the latter half of the nineteenth century and early 20th century, we don’t know of any evidence that religious festivals were policed differently, although the civilian (local) police expanded in numbers, while the number of local troops garrisoned in interior regions declined. Also there emerged a new class of professional civil servants under the Imperial Civil Service in 1858; perhaps that might have allowed more intensive monitoring than by the East India Company officials.

Question 5. What question did we miss? Please ask yourselves a good question, and answer it.

Huggy—That is a very good question to ask. One issue that merits attention is the legacy effects of mutinies. Are places where mutinies occurred in 1857, for example, also the locations for violent collective action events a 100 years later? This is both theoretically, and empirically challenging.

Welcome!

Post author: Johan Chu (johanchu@umich.edu)

Welcome!

The ASQ Blog (asqblog.com, also reachable at asq.colloq.net) is a student-run community of scholars who enjoy reading articles from the Administrative Science Quarterly. The blog is approved and supported by ASQ’s editorial board.

Most posts on the blog are interviews with authors of recent and forthcoming ASQ articles. Two Ph.D. students ask five questions, and article authors answer. When a new Ph.D. student interviewer joins, he or she commits to working on two interview posts, one with an experienced interviewer and the next with a newbie.

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