Research

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

Embeddedness and the Production of Novelty in Music:
A Multi-Dimensional Perspective

with Michael Mauskapf, Eric Quintane, and Joeri Mol.

Abstract:

Creativity and innovation are central to cultural production, but what makes certain producers more likely to innovate than others? We revisit the concept of embeddedness to evaluate how different dimensions of social structure affect the production of novelty in music. Using original data on over 10,000 unique artists and 115,000 songs recorded and released between 1960 and 1995, we estimate how musicians’ social, cultural, organizational, and geographic embeddedness affects their propensity to create novel products. Results from a series of Relational Event Models (REM’s) suggest that artists who are highly culturally and geographically connected are more likely to create novel songs, especially when they span multiple genres, are women, or are in the early stages of their careers. Surprisingly, variations in social and organizational embeddedness do not significantly influence this outcome. These findings produce new insights into the production of novelty in music, and encourage us to further examine the multiplexity of embeddedness and its role in organizing innovation.

 

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

with Michael Mauskapf. Working Paper (early version).

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.

 

“What is Social Status? An Integrative Framework”

with Matthew S. Bothner, Frédéric Godart, and Wonjae Lee.

Abstract:

Although status constitutes a core research concept in the sociology of organizations and markets, questions about what status is persist. We start with a flexible, provisional definition of status as a zero-sum relational asset that is possessed by social actors insofar as they are highly regarded by highly-regarded others. Using this definition as a backdrop, we begin by developing a fourfold typology of conceptions of status. This typology allows us to consider the implications of understanding status as an asset–either signaling quality or providing a good for conspicuous consumption–and of viewing status-conferring ties to highly-regarded others as deference- or dominance-based. We work toward greater conceptual clarity by comparing and contrasting status with several related concepts: quality, reputation, power, and legitimacy. We conclude with implications for future research, including cautionary remarks regarding network-analytic measurement in light of the definition we propose.

 

“Institutionalizing Authenticity in the Digitized World of Music”

with Joeri Mol. See a version of the chapter here.

Forthcoming in Research in the Sociology of Organizations, edited by Candace Jones and Massimo Maoret.

Abstract:

Since the arrival of mass production, questions regarding authenticity have been plaguing markets—none more so than that for music. At the core of the problem lies the commodification that accompanies mass production, which typically leaves products stripped of marks left by their maker and is the result of the separation of production and consumption in both space and time. It follows that commodification both requires the creation of institutions to organize markets and poses a significant challenge for those institutions because when artistic and economic value can no longer be ascertained prima facie, that evaluation process is driven by institutional arrangements and practices. Authenticity, seen as the rekindling of the relationship between isolated market participants, is therefore in its very essence an institutional achievement, providing guidance about artistic and economic value and keeping music from becoming a disposable good. Without the institutional practice of authentication, the isolated consumers, producers, and other market mediators are bereft of direct cues about value: what is worth consuming, and vice-versa, what is worth producing. This chapter explores authenticity as the institutional response to the commodification of music, which has accelerated with the rise of digitization and the Internet. 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. Subsequently, we describe how the digitization of music has affected each of these institutional realms and analyze how the practice of authentication has changed as a result. We aim to provide a thoroughly relational account of authenticity that captures how the challenges posed by commodification are overcome in the increasingly digitized world of music.

 

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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