Category Archives: Organizational Theory and Social Movements

Mayer Zald: A Mensch Ahead of His Time

By Calvin Morrill

With a twinkle in his eye and a couple of questions, Mayer Zald appeared in the doorway of my office in the Sociology Department at the University of Arizona late one afternoon in 1997 during one of his many winters teaching in Tucson.  His questions?  When can you have lunch and could he borrow a copy of a book I had written on organizational conflict.[i]  He also suggested that I read his 1978 AJS piece[ii] on social movements in organizations since we had mutual interests in social conflict.  A week or so later at lunch, we talked about what he found most intriguing about my book – the near absence of collective action among managers across the thirteen organizations in the study.  He then pivoted the conversation to a sociology-of-knowledge puzzle about his own career: the dramatically different trajectories of his most famous piece, his and John McCarthy’s 1977 ASR[iii] article on resource mobilization and social movements, and the 1978 social movements in organizations piece. While the resource mobilization piece became a near-instant classic upon its publication (and continues to enjoy iconic status to the present), the 1978 article, as Mayer put it, “fell into an intellectual black hole” and was cited less than a dozen times over the next decade.  The puzzle was why? Continue reading

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Mayer Zald: The Johnny Appleseed of Organization Sociology

By Huggy Rao

Johnny Appleseed or John Chapman, as his recent biographer, Howard Means (2011:9) notes was unique among his contemporaries because “he had an uncanny sense of where the frontier would migrate next. He would load up with seeds each winter at cider presses in southwestern Pennsylvania. Then, as the spring thaw came on, he would follow waterways and Indian trails into unclaimed land, make a clearing of a few acres, plant his seeds, and surround the nursery with a brush fence to keep the deer out. When the settlers arrived a few years later, his seedlings would be waiting for them”.[i]

Like Appleseed, Mayer Zald was unique, because he was blessed with an uncanny nose for interesting problems and phenomena. Continue reading

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October Dialogue: Organization Theory and Social Movements in the 21st Century

Our October essay dialogue focuses on the significance of Mayer Zald’s work to the study of social movements and organizations in light of his recent passing. Contributors discuss not only Mayer’s well-known contributions, but also some important themes in his work that have been under-developed and, thus, are fertile ground for current research.  We see this dialogue as both a tribute to Mayer Zald and an attempt to raise questions that he might have found intriguing.  Many thanks to the distinguished contributors to this topic:

Elisabeth Clemens, University of Chicago (essay)
Jerry Davis
, University of Michigan (essay)
Brayden King, Northwestern University (essay)
Calvin Morrill, University of California, Berkeley (essay)
Huggy Rao, Stanford University (essay)
Jackie Smith, University of Pittsburgh (essay)
Sarah Soule, University of Stanford (essay)

Enjoy these essays and join the conversation by posting your comments.

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Dan Myers

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Following Mayer’s Bridge-Building, Boundary-Spanning Path Requires a Movement in our Profession

By Jackie Smith

When thinking about Mayer Zald’s impact on the study of social movements and global change, what is most striking is how he helped build bridges between disciplines and perspectives that are structured in ways that virtually ensure that no cross-fertilization of ideas will occur. At a time when our universities and core institutions of the academy such as academic freedom and tenure are being seriously threatened, it is useful to think about why people like Mayer are so rare in the academic profession. Mayer’s writings on organizations, firms, and social movements can help us look closely at the organizational “prisons” in which we work, and his example as a mentor and catalyst of ideas provide insights on how to respond to the challenges of our time. Continue reading

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Sources of Organizational Heterogeneity

By Brayden King

Mayer Zald leaves a lasting legacy on our field, in part because of his great intellectual productivity and vitality – I know few people who wrote so much and so well about so many different things – but also because of his important role in bridging the worlds of organizational and social movement theory.  As many before have argued, these two fields have had a long and intertwining history and Mayer had much to do with that. He made a strong case that if we want to understand how social movements evolve over time, we need to zero in on the organizations that drive movement activity, that embody movement goals and ideals, and that sometimes thwart movements from accomplishing their original purposes. His classic 1966 Social Forces paper with Roberta Ash laid the groundwork for a broader theory of social movement organizations, Continue reading

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Reflections on the Nexus of Social Movements and Organizational Studies

By Sarah Soule

Mayer Zald’s passing has left many of us with a great sense of sadness and loss. We have lost one of the great leaders of sociological thought at the intersection of organizational and social movement studies. And, we have lost a dear friend and mentor. During the two years preceding his death, Mayer and I corresponded fairly frequently about an article that I was working on for Organization Studies. These discussions had a great impact on what I was writing and this short essay summarizes some of the ideas that Mayer and I discussed during this period.  Since these ideas are really suggestions for future research at the intersection of social movements and organizational studies, it seems appropriate to share them with the readers of Mobilizing Ideas. Continue reading

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Mayer Zald’s influence on the study of social movements and organizations

All of us who knew Mayer Zald were deeply saddened by his passing on August 7, 2012.  I am fortunate to count myself as one of Mayer’s students, proteges, colleagues, collaborators, and friends.  Mayer was an enormously influential scholar of social movements, and he was a central contributor to the study of organizations.  He also helped engineer a friendly merger between these two domains, although it took much longer than he expected, as I describe below.

Mayer was a pioneer in the study of social movements as organizational phenomena.  In an organizational society, social movement activity typically takes place through social movement organizations, which in turn can comprise a social movement industry. Continue reading

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