Networks, Fields and Organizations: Micro-Dynamics, Scale and Cohesive Embeddings

  • Douglas R. White
  • Jason Owen-Smith
  • James Moody
  • Walter W. Powell


Social action is situated in fields that are simultaneously composed of interpersonal ties and relations among organizations, which are both usefully characterized as social networks. We introduce a novel approach to distinguishing different network macro-structures in terms of cohesive subsets and their overlaps. We develop a vocabulary that relates different forms of network cohesion to field properties as opposed to organizational constraints on ties and structures. We illustrate differences in probabilistic attachment processes in network evolution that link on the one hand to organizational constraints versus field properties and to cohesive network topologies on the other. This allows us to identify a set of important new micro-macro linkages between local behavior in networks and global network properties. The analytic strategy thus puts in place a methodology for Predictive Social Cohesion theory to be developed and tested in the context of informal and formal organizations and organizational fields. We also show how organizations and fields combine at different scales of cohesive depth and cohesive breadth. Operational measures and results are illustrated for three organizational examples, and analysis of these cases suggests that different structures of cohesive subsets and overlaps may be predictive in organizational contexts and similarly for the larger fields in which they are embedded. Useful predictions may also be based on feedback from level of cohesion in the larger field back to organizations, conditioned on the level of multiconnectivity to the field.

social cohesion complex networks organizational fields scaling and attachment macro-micro linkages 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas R. White
    • 1
  • Jason Owen-Smith
    • 2
  • James Moody
    • 3
  • Walter W. Powell
    • 4
  1. 1.Research Focus Group in Social Dynamics and Evolution, Institute for Mathematical Behavioral SciencesUniversity of California at IrvineIrvineUSA.
  2. 2.Sociology and Organization StudiesUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA.
  3. 3.Sociology, Ohio StateUniversity, ColumbusUSA.
  4. 4.Education, Sociology, and Graduate School of BusinessStanford UniversityStanfordUSA.

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