Meet Your Council: Chair Lisa A. Keister, Duke University

Keister photoLisa A. Keister is currently serving as OOW Section Chair for the 2015-2016 year.  Lisa Keister is Gilhuly Family Professor of Sociology at Duke University. She conducts research on organizational startup and performance during China’s transition, wealth ownership in the U.S., the one percent, the role of religion in economic decision making, and immigration and its economic consequences. She is author/editor of numerous books and articles including Chinese Business Groups (Oxford 2000), Wealth in America (Cambridge 2000), Entrepreneurship (JAI 2005), Getting Rich: America’s New Rich and How they Got that Way (Cambridge 2005), Faith and Money: How Religious Belief Contributes to Wealth and Poverty (Cambridge 2011), and Religion and Inequality (Cambridge 2014).  She graciously responded to our queries on the state of the field, her research and the Annual Meeting in Seattle. 

In your opinion, what distinguishes scholarship and research in the area of organizations, occupations and work? What makes you excited about working in this field? 

If you were to ask me this question at different points in my career, I would probably have different answers. However, right now I am really excited about the same broad set of issues that originally drew me to the study of organizations: how inter-organizational relations shape organizational behavior and other outcomes. This is an issue that is truly sociological, and it is increasingly clear that these relations matter for a large number of outcomes.

I was drawn to the sociological study of firms years ago because it was clear that the approach that other fields use really missed this. I saw the potential for sociologists to contribute to understandings of organizations then, and that potential is even greater now. Our ability to collect and analyze data on social relations is truly amazing now! It is a really exciting time to be entering this field.

One area of focus within your research has been on wealth inequality.  What makes this an important arena for future sociological research? What do you think are some of the big questions sociologists should be asking? 

The study of wealth ownership and accumulation is also really exciting. I was originally drawn to looking at questions about wealth because I wanted to understand the methods needed to study them. Data on wealth used to be really lousy – it is much better now, but of course, there are still some huge gaps. Back then, simulating the distribution of wealth was really important, and that is what drew me in. However, what was originally a little side project for me quickly subsumed my thinking. There are so many extremely important, unanswered questions in this field. I just haven’t been able to stop studying them!

It might seem that the study of wealth accumulation and the study of organizations are two really different fields. In my mind, they are both part of a bigger need to understand how social connections are associated with behavior and other outcomes we care about. Not surprisingly, I am also interested in understanding how relations among actors are related to their wealth outcomes. This is both fascinating and frustrating to me: I have wanted to do a study of social connections and wealth for years, but the data are really hard to get. I am only now starting on this. This is an absolutely intriguing area to me as well.

What do you think OOW members can do to increase their influence in the public sphere? 

I am concerned about our publishing model on many levels, including the way it decreases our public influence. We are so dedicated to the traditional printed journal article that has a finite, limited number of pages that can be published. We add to that this notion that the journal publication process should be a multi-year developmental process and that every published paper has to include a new theoretical contribution that is never quite right for reviewers. The result is that our great findings sit in limbo for years getting stale. People from other disciplines get to the questions, answer them, and publish them while we try to make them perfect.

This model just doesn’t make sense any longer. We no longer have a finite, limited number of pages that can be published. We don’t typically read the hard copy of our journals any longer. Why pretend that their page limits are real?

To be clear, I am not saying that we should publish anything and everything. I am absolutely committed to the highest peer review standards. But it is time to move away from the multi-year developmental process that adds only modestly to an article’s quality. This is the reason I agreed to edit ASA’s new journal, Socius, where the goal is to disseminate the highest-quality work more rapidly by moving beyond the traditional model.

What are you looking forward to at ASA 2016 in Seattle? 

Seattle is one of my favorite cities! We spend our summers in Oregon, so I will already be nearby. The OOW slate of sessions also promises to be fantastic. Stay tuned for details on our program.

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