Mark Granovetter Shawn Pope Stanford University
Sociological institutions are "standardized interaction sequences" such as double-entry accounting and internal labor markets. Core questions about institutions are how they emerge, diffuse, entrench, and dissolve. Institutional emergence, in particular, is at the heart of the proposed dissertation project. This study examines discursive contests about the meaning of organizational performance, the outcomes of which are often reflected in rankings, ratings, and indices, which attempt to evaluate organizations against their peers. Changes in these evaluation criteria can be precursors to institutionalization, as they often precede a series of new organizational practices. Changes, for example, in recent years in how the U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges have had a large, almost immediate effect on such university practices as class size, freshmen retention, and alumni giving. The case of the current study is the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which surrounds the idea that firms should commit to society by going beyond a narrow profit focus or minimum legal requirements. Dozens of groups now evaluate CSR performance, such that some commentators describe a brewing "rankings war." Understanding how these evaluation schemes shape organizational performance and how organizations, in turn, seek to shape changes in the evaluation schemes is the primary object of the proposed study. The research plan is to (a) identify the CSR evaluator population and catalog changes in their methodologies; (b) capture discourse about these changes through (c) a large-scale, longitudinal (1991-2011), automated analysis of the voluntary CSR reports of the population of all Russell 2000 companies; and through semi-structured interviews with (e) 24 evaluators and (d) and an industry-stratified random sample of 48 CSR officers at Russell 2000 companies. Grounded theory will be used to indentify recurring narrative patterns, group them into concepts, assemble them into categories, and finally chart the life-course of the various categories against the changes performance metrics in the field of corporate social responsibility.
Broader Impacts Much work on CSR inherently concerns broader impacts, by seeking the best practices, for example, to reduce pollution or increase minority representation on executive boards. This study furthers this research by yielding a dataset of great general use, for example, for answering questions about (a) which social issues corporations are taking up and (b) how they do so. Broader impacts in teaching and training will come from including undergraduates as research assistants in each stage of scientific discovery. Assistants will be trained in workflow protocols, confidentiality maintenance, date coding, data storage, reference management software, interviewing methods, content analysis, academic writing, and oral presentation. Broader impacts are also increased by making the findings easily and inexpensively available. All coding in this study will employ open-source software (the R programming language). Findings will be disseminated not only to scholars (e.g., at CSR conferences), but to practitioners, and to students. The findings, codebook, and programming script will be published the investigator's personal website, in a format accessible and understandable to a general audience. To ensure transparency and reproducibility, the investigator intends to submit the dataset to the ICPSR data repository.