Bourdieu and organizations: the empirical challenge

Abstract

Emirbayer and Johnson critique the failure to engage fully Bourdieu’s relational analysis in empirical work, but are weak in giving direction for rectifying the problem. Following their recommendation for studying organizations-in-fields and organizations-as-fields, I argue for the benefits of analogical comparison using case studies of organizations as the units of analysis. Doing so maximizes the number of Bourdieusian concepts that can be deployed in an explanation. Further, it maximizes discovery of the oft-neglected links among history, competition, resources, sites of contestation and struggle, relations of dominance and domination, and reproduction of inequality. Perhaps most important, case studies can identify the connection between macro-, meso-, and micro-level factors in the formation and shaping of habitus. To support my claims empirically, I draw from case study research (Vaughan The challenger launch decision: Risky technology, culture, and deviance at NASA, 1996; Signals and interpretive work: The role of culture in a theory of practical action. pp. 28–56, 2002) that verifies Bourdieu’s as the “Theory of Practical Action” that supplies the micro-level component to the new institutionalism (DiMaggio and Powell, Introduction. pp. 1–41, 1991).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We always bring to our research certain assumptions about how the world works and theories derived from our reading and research. Even though we are not by design testing those assumptions and theories, making them explicit at the outset, then looking for similarities and differences, is a good way to guard against self-fulfilling prophecies.

  2. 2.

    Scholars do combine methods but they tend to combine at the same level of analysis, not in pursuit of the macro-micro-link.

  3. 3.

    Minimally, it would include contractors, safety regulators, the White House and Congress, other government administrative departments, business partners (e.g., the Department of Defense, the Russian and Japanese space programs, research institutions, university science and engineering departments), competitors in private enterprise and foreign government defense and space programs, etc.

  4. 4.

    Formally designated as Level IV, the work group was responsible for all the hands-on engineering work for the boosters and also formal risk assessments prior to each launch, which are forwarded up the hierarchical launch decision chain.

  5. 5.

    He pointed out that the engineering analysis did not prove an association between cold temperature and O-ring erosion because the charts contained mixed, weak, and routine signals. Hadn’t erosion occurred for many reasons in the past? Wasn’t the most serious erosion on the warmest launch?

  6. 6.

    Social and economic capital no doubt influenced who was employed by NASA, who was hired at what level, and who was promoted.

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Correspondence to Diane Vaughan.

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Vaughan, D. Bourdieu and organizations: the empirical challenge. Theor Soc 37, 65–81 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-007-9056-7

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Keywords

  • Relational Analysis
  • Organization Field
  • Organizational Analysis
  • Symbolic Capital
  • Analogical Comparison