Research

Click on the links following each paper’s co-authors to view a draft.

Group Recognition Orientations: The Grammy for Best New Artist and Group Creativity Over Time

with Spencer Harrison and Lydia Hagtvedt

Abstract:

How do groups manage early creative recognition? Through an inductive study of the bands nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy between 1980 and 1990, we develop a theory of the reactions to early recognition—defined in this context as public, field-wide acknowledgment of creative success by domain experts—in creative groups. Our multi-method analyses include oral histories from members of each band and quantitative data for triangulating the processes they describe. Our findings reveal that groups develop sets of emergent reactions and active adjustments to the recognition and its consequences, which we call “recognition orientations.” We identify three—elevated, insulated, and mixed—that reflect how recognition factors into groups’ creative processes going forward. For most groups, early recognition “elevates” their need for future recognition, which leads to their absorbing external expectations and opening their relationships to outsiders, ultimately inhibiting creativity. However, some groups—unburdened by a need for subsequent recognition—“insulate” themselves from forces that accompany the need for recognition and sustainably produce creative output over time. A third category of groups initially experiences the pitfalls of elevated recognition-seeking but ultimately attempts to insulate its needs for external recognition by re-focusing on their creative process. We discuss the implications for long-lived creative groups in any context.

The Collaboration-Association Tradeoff: How the Gender Composition of Networks and Genres Influence the Novelty of Creative Products

with Michael Mauskapf, Sharon Koppman, and Brian Uzzi.

Abstract:

While creative production is widely recognized as a collective endeavor, scholarship on gender and creativity has primarily focused on individual-level gender differences in creative ability and evaluations of creative output. In this paper, we explore how the gender composition of artists’ social worlds—the collaborators with whom they interact, and the other artists with whom they are associated through shared genre membership—influences their creativity. Using an exhaustive and original dataset comprising nearly 250,000 commercially recorded songs written and released worldwide by 15,000 unique artists between 1955 and 2000, we construct a quantitative measure of musical creativity to test how the gender composition of artists’ networks and genres shape the relative novelty of their creative products. Extending prior research, we first demonstrate that female musicians are dramatically underrepresented in the field of music and produce significantly more novel music than men. We then show how artists’ creativity can be both enabled (through network diversity) and constrained (through perceived status threat) by the gender composition of their occupational environments. The results suggest a collaboration-association tradeoff, shedding new light on the role and consequences of gender composition for the creative careers of both men and women.

Where Do New Ideas Come From? The Social Foundations of Creativity in Music

with Michael Mauskapf, Eric Quintane, and Joeri Mol.

Abstract:

Creativity is a central tenet of cultural production, but what conditions enable some producers to be more creative than others? To answer this question, we investigate how different types of social connection influence the creation of novel cultural products. Leveraging Spotify data on over 25,000 musicians and 600,000 songs, we construct a feature-based measure of creative output (i.e., song novelty) and estimate how an artist’s collaboration network, category memberships, organizational affiliations, and geographic location affect their propensity to produce novel work. Our results show that individual creativity is in large part socially determined, not only through direct collaboration, but also – and to a greater extent – through proximity to creative “neighbors” in shared genres, record labels, and cities. Co-membership in a genre occupied by other creative artists is the most significant predictor of future creativity.

What Makes Popular Culture Popular?: Product Features and Optimal Differentiation in Music

with Michael Mauskapf. Available at American Sociological Review.

Click here for a TEDx talk I gave on this research.

Abstract:

In this paper, we propose a new explanation for why certain cultural products outperform their peers to achieve widespread success. We argue that products’ positioning within feature space significantly predicts their popular success. Using tools from computer science, we construct a novel data set that allows us to test how the musical features of nearly 27,000 songs from Billboard’s Hot 100 charts structure the consumption of popular music. We find that, in addition to artist familiarity, genre affiliation, and institutional support, a song’s perceived proximity to its peers influences its position on the charts. Contrary to the claim that all popular music sounds the same, we find that songs sounding too much alike—those that are highly typical—are less likely to succeed, while those exhibiting some degree of optimal differentiation are more likely to rise to the top of the charts. These findings offer a new contingent perspective on popular culture by specifying how content organizes competition and consumption behavior in cultural markets.

Institutionalizing Authenticity in the Digitized World of Music

with Joeri Mol. See a pre-publication version of the chapter here. Or find the published version in Research of the Sociology of Organizations here.

Abstract:

Since the arrival of mass production, commodification has been plaguing markets – none more so than that for music. By separating production and consumption in space and time, commodification challenges the very conditions underlying economic exchange. This chapter explores authenticity as the institutional response to the commodification of music, rekindling the relationship between isolated market participants in the increasingly digitized world of music. Building upon the “Production of Culture” perspective, we unpack the commodification of music across five different institutional realms – (1) production, (2) consumption, (3) selection, (4) appropriation, and (5) classification – and provide a thoroughly relational account of authenticity as an institutional practice.

Threading the Diversity Needle: The Impact of Minority Group Presence on Perceptions of Organizational Status

Abstract:

How do the perceptions of organizational members influence organizational status? Colleges in the U.S. face normative and self-imposed demands for both on-campus diversity and status, making them fertile ground to explore this question. Schools highlight their unique academic opportunities, social desirability, and other amenities to prospective applicants, hoping that drawing the “right” students will drive up status and that higher status will attract more students. Part of schools’ pitch includes an important, if amorphous, commitment to diversity. Each applicant, in selecting where to apply, has an idiosyncratic understanding of what diversity actually means; preferences differ accordingly. This leaves schools to figure out roughly what constitutes an “appropriate” mix of students, while applicants then choose from an array of institutions based on their own preferences and their inferences of other applicants’ preferences. In aggregate, students’ selections have consequences for schools’ status as current applicants’ decisions signal desirability and prestige to future applicants. Against this backdrop, two seemingly incongruous responses arise: increases in the proportion of a school’s Asian American students—a high scoring and high achieving minority group—improve a school’s ranking but appear to harm school status in the eyes of applicants. I explore the loss of status associated with increased Asian American presence on campus and discuss the implications of these dynamics.

What is social status and how does it impact the generation of novel ideas?

with Matthew S. Bothner, Frédéric Godart, and Wonjae Lee. Forthcoming in Research in the Sociology of Organizations.

Abstract:

Status constitutes a core research concept across the social sciences. However, its definition is still constested, and questions persist about its consequences. We begin with a flexible, provisional definition: status is a relational asset possessed by social actors insofar as they are highly regarded by highly-regarded others. Using this definition as a backdrop, we develop a fourfold typology based on how status is used as an asset and from where it is derived. The typology allows us to explore the implications of considering status as either a quality signal or a good, and of viewing status-conferring ties as either deference- or dominance-based. We then consider the implications of our framework for the generation of novelty. Though status has been connected to many social and economic outcomes, because of competing predictions in the literature—novelty is purported to come from low- and/or high- status actors—this is where we focus our attention. In particular, we distinguish between creativity and innovation in our effort to better link status and novelty. We also work toward greater conceptual clarity by comparing and contrasting status with selected related concepts: quality, reputation, and legitimacy. We conclude with considerations of future research, including cautionary remarks regarding network-analytic measurement in light of the definition we propose.

Status-Aspirational Pricing: The “Chivas Regal” Strategy in U.S. Higher Education, 2006-2012

with Matthew S. Bothner. Available at Administrative Science Quarterly.

Abstract:

This paper examines the effect of status loss on organizations’ price-setting behavior. Our main prediction, counter to existing status theory, is that a status decline prompts a focal organization to charge a higher price. We also develop two moderating hypotheses: the positive effect of status loss on future price is strongest (1) for organizations with broad appeal across disconnected types of customers and (2) for organizations whose strategically similar rivals have charged high prices previously. Using panel data from U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of private colleges and universities, we model the effect of drops in rank that take a school below an aspiration level. Findings show that schools set tuition higher after a sharp decline in rank, particularly schools with broad appeal among college applicants and whose rivals are expensive. Scope conditions on our predictions are proposed. Implications for status theory, performance feedback theory, and organizational research on rankings are discussed.

Emergence of Stratification in Small Groups

with Matthew S. Bothner and Wonjae Lee. Early version of the paper.

Published in Wiley & Sons’, “Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource.”

Abstract:

Stratification within small groups is virtually inevitable. Understanding the precise mechanisms by which it occurs and the nature of its consequences is an important sociological endeavor. Individuals’ pre-existing qualities, as well as advantages emerging from intra-group interactions, affect the flows of respect and deference accruing to each member of a group. Differences in these flows in turn create a hierarchy. In this article, we first discuss foundational research on the causes and consequences of stratification before turning to more current trends. We focus on the ways in which status, the primary determinant of one’s location in a group’s hierarchy, is created and maintained or lost. We discuss the Matthew Effect—a process by which high-status group members receive disproportionate credit for their contributions, and also more easily maintain their status. We also address the circumstances and activities that can curb the Matthew Effect. We then move to current research, which centers on two main concepts: first, we consider peer effects, discussing the various means by which an individual’s closest peers shape his or her status; second, we take a broader perspective by examining small groups as open systems. This section considers how a group’s external environment, including other nearby groups, affects the level and stability of within-group stratification. We emphasize key issues and implications for future research on these topics.

Peer Effects in Tournaments for Status: Evidence from Rank Dynamics of U.S. Colleges and Universities

with Matthew S. Bothner.

Abstract:

Individual outcomes in tournaments for status result not only from participants’ own qualities and behaviors, but also from those of their most proximate peers. In this article, we take an alter-centric view of status dynamics, examining the effect of peers’ perceived quality on future changes in a focal organization’s status. Utilizing the yearly tournaments created by U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of national colleges and universities, two competing predictions are investigated. The first is that peer’ advances in perceived quality impair the future status of a focal school, reflecting inter-school competition for finite resources and rewards. The second is that peers’ improvements incite a focal school to make cosmetic or material adjustments, leading to an increase in its status. Peers are defined in two ways: by proximity in the prior iteration of the tournament and by network-based structural equivalence. Using fixed effects models predicting future changes in annual USN ranks, we observe opposing forces at work, depending on the type of peer exerting influence. When peers identified by prior rank proximity improve in perceived quality, they exert status-eroding effects on a focal school. Conversely, when structurally equivalent peers in the college-applicant market show improvement, the focal school subsequently increases in status. We examine the mechanisms responsible for this divergence by focusing on the bases of each type of peer-affiliation, presenting interaction effects that highlight the contextual conditions that shape the influence of peers on status change. Future directions for research on peer effects and status are discussed.

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