Inequality and Organizations: Finally Someone Speaking My Language!

I have talked here before about how shocked I am that org theory so rarely engages ideas of inequality. I mean, we even call structural racism institutional racism. The word institutional is right there! Why so little theorizing about how institutions reproduce inequality or how they can be disrupted to, in turn, disrupt inequality? I’m not talking about theories that acknowledge institutional processes. Many great scholars do that. But most engage it theoretically while empirically analyzing at the individual, group or nation-state level. There’s little meso level analysis or organizations, organizational fields, org processes and the like.

I don’t know why that is. But I’ve even bugged Fabio Rojas over at about it before. People are doing it but it doesn’t seem to have a sustained research focus.

A colleague forwarded me a CFP for a conference that seems to feel the way I feel:


Although the relevance of organizational research to societal problems has been a heated debate for at least a decade and has generated a proliferation of polemics and prescriptions (Starkey & Madan, 2001, Hinings & Greenwood, 2002, Gulati, 2007, Lorsch, 2009, Dover & Lawrence, 2010), organizational scholars have not produced sufficient systematic empirical and theoretical examinations of social inequality, and especially of how organizations and institutions contribute to or mitigate inequality.

A critical way in which organizational scholars can contribute to a better understanding of social inequality is through an examination of the roles played by organizations and institutions in producing, reproducing, and lessening social inequality. An institutional perspective on these issues would highlight the ways in which social rules, beliefs, norms, values and practices are mediated through formal organizations to reinforce or challenge social inequality.  It would further highlight the institutional work of individual and organizational actors in the formation, ongoing operation, and potential transformation of institutions that include certain groups, while excluding others, reinforce unequal access to power and decision-making mechanisms, and provide freedom and wealth to some parts of society, while impoverishing and constraining others.

I went to no fewer than five conferences this year. One of which was one I organized and convened. I am broke and broken as a result. Conferencing is hard work.  But this is too good to pass up. I’m playing it cool in my cover letter but don’t think I’m above bribery. An excerpt from my giddy abstract, written giddidly:

Why a gendered analysis of for-profit higher education? In 2000, the for-profit college sector accounted for 3 percent of all enrolled undergraduates in the United States. In 2009, the sector accounted for 9 percent, or 1.2 million students. That makes for-profits the fastest growing sector of higher education. For-profit colleges are more expensive than all but the most elite private degrees with relatively non-existent admissions criteria. As a consequence of their open admissions and access to federal student loan programs, for-profit colleges have grown quickly and millions of students have accumulated large amounts of debt attending them. Almost 70 percent of those students are women. Despite this, it is difficult to interrogate why so many women enroll in expensive for-profit degree programs because the dominant market morality – the social construction of economic market processes as inherently right and natural (Polanyi 1957) – casts individual actors as education consumers while ignoring the organizational forces that constrain individual decision-making. A gendered analysis redresses this theoretical limitation and provides the best way to answer these questions: 1) why are so many women enrolled in for-profit colleges and 2) under what conditions are the social and economic outcomes of women in for-profit colleges shaped by the organizational processes of the sector of higher education in which they participate?

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