Wes Longhofer Defends

December 10, 2011

Last but not least, Wes Longhofer defended yesterday!  Woohoo!  Wes is the first student I’ve worked with from beginning to end, so it was especially rewarding to see it all come together.

Wes’s dissertation, “Foundations of Global Giving”, examines the recent explosion of globally-oriented philanthropic foundations, as well as their consequences for a variety of outcomes.  He also has a chapter on individual participation in charitable organizations, which turn out to be affected by world society variables (in addition to conventional predictors).

Philanthropy isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, and sometimes it has taken transnational forms (from missionary work to the Ford Foundation).  Yet, Wes argues we are seeing a new kind of liberal/American-style philanthropy emerging and becoming institutionalized in world society.  The argument parallels work by John Meyer and Ho-Kyu Hwang on recent changes in the development regime, where models of progress become increasingly Anglo/liberal, locating the key to progress in individuals and their aggregations (e.g., NGOs) rather than states or other collectivities.  Philanthropy is increasingly organized along global (neo-)liberal lines, generating a distinctive new flavor.  Instead of missionaries or the Ford Foundation, we get lots of INGOs and global philanthropic networks, pushing all sorts of new “social ventures” worldwide.

It goes without saying that the dissertation had some diffusion analyses — in this case models of the global expansion of philanthropic foundations (at least one type of them).  It is sort of a rite of passage — everyone in the world polity/world society tradition has to model diffusion at some point or another.  And, there have to be INGOs.  Lots and lots of INGOs.

Wes also examines the effects of foundations on national-level outcomes using statistical data.  Foundations, it seems, have concrete consequences.  Environmental foundations affect some measures of environmental degradation; medical foundations affect some kinds of medical outcomes (e.g., vaccinations), and so on.  Some of the effects are mediated by the size of the state, with bigger effects where the state is smaller.  In a world frequently typified by loose coupling, these direct consequences of foundations are actually kind of surprising…

Wes’s defense was a nation-wide phenomenon, with Liz (co-chair) and Michael Goldman in Minnesota, me and Ann Skyping in from the West Coast, and Michael Barnett on the East Coast.  The defense was particularly lively, with the Michaels doing a great job of pushing back on the world society perspective, in a manner that was thought-provoking and constructive.  It is always great when people ask the hard questions…  I think of it as a sign of respect.  You don’t push people if you know they can’t hold their own.  Anyhow, it made for a fun defense (especially for those of us, who weren’t actually in the hot seat!).

Congratulations, Wes, on a job well done!!!

p.s. Wes won some serious style-points for dedicating his dissertation to their newborn, who is appallingly cute by all accounts:  “For our beautiful daughter, Harper, whose first smiles came as I put this dissertation to bed — an event I chalk up to correlation, not causation.”

Jasmine Kerrissey Defends

December 10, 2011

This past Wednesday Jasmine Kerrissey defended her dissertation, entitled “Union Mergers in the United States, 1900-2005″.

The project examines the causes and consequences of union mergers in the United States over the past century. As I told Jasmine many times, this ambitious project could easily have been two dissertations.  First, she assembles historical data on essentially the entire population of mergers among national labor unions, to understand why and under what conditions unions merge.  Second, she looks at the consequences of mergers for union governance — and in particular, the extent to which unions are internally democratic.

Union mergers are interesting for lots of reasons.  Most of the research on organizational mergers comes from the study of private-sector firms, and so unions provide a fresh arena to test conventional arguments.

But, more interesting and important is the question of how mergers relate to the union movement specifically.  Are mergers a response to external threats and the growing size of corporations which they bargain with?  Changes in the political environment?  Something else?  And, does merging change the character of unions?  No single project could fully address the latter, but Jasmine looks at a key issue:  whether mergers lead to less-democratic governance.  She discusses several reasons why this might occur… and, indeed, she finds that post-merger unions are often less-democratic their pre-merger counterparts (controlling for key factors, such as size). Thus the consolidation of unions has arguably generated some adverse consequences for the labor movement.

The project includes remarkable quantitative data and analyses (building on Judy Stepan-Norris’s unrivaled dataset on American unions), and rich archival research — a real empirical tour de force, with a very compelling case study that unpacks the findings of the quantitative research.

Having known next-to-nothing about unions before meeting Jasmine a few years back, it has been a pleasure to see this project develop, and also to work with Jasmine on various collaborative endeavors.  Judy Stepan-Norris was the chair (Caleb Southworth, Cal Morrill, and David Meyer were also on the committee)…  I was just along for the ride.

Anyhow, congratulations Jasmine!

Karen Robinson Defends

December 10, 2011

OK, still catching up on old news…  We’ve had a bunch of defenses at UCI, starting with Karen Robinson a few months ago.

Karen’s dissertation looks at the rise of choice in university curricula over the past century.  Classically, universities offered rigid “courses of study” — specific sequences of topics, from which students could not deviate.  Or, there were exam-based programs, again affording no options to students.

This, of course, has given way to a world where students choose among myriad elective courses, and even design their own majors to address their highly individualized interests and preferences.

Karen does a wonderful job of telling an intertwined story — that the rise of individualism writ large is bound up with celebration of individualism and choice in university curricula.  On one hand, the university is a fantastic site to interrogate the nature of modern individualism (she has some amazing qualitative material). On the other hand, Karen argues that the university, itself, is a primary locus for the institutionalization and promulgation of individualism in modern societies.  Obviously, this historical shift is related to the rise of students as consumers, but she resists a simple story that student “demand” drives the expansion of choice.  Rather, Karen compellingly argues that the imagery of demand is just one facet of a sweeping cultural shift toward greater individualism in society.

David Frank chaired the committee, and you can see his influence in the massive data collection that Karen undertook.  (David is rather zealous — some would say crazy — when it comes to data.)  She examined university course catalogs over an entire century, focusing mostly on American universities (including elite, land-grant, religious, and historically black universities and colleges).  She also has a comparative chapter that examines diverse cases across the world — and shows that the rise of individualism and choice in university curricula is a global phenomenon.

Congratulations, Karen!

You can get a flavor of the project from Karen’s solo-authored paper in Sociological Forum, which came out in the September issue:  “The Rise of Choice in the U.S. University and College: 1910–2005“.  Congrats on that, too!


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