Sociologist and organizational theory pioneer Walter W. “Woody” Powell will serve as interim director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences as the center based at Stanford University continues to find a permanent replacement for Margaret Levi, who will step down at the end of August after more than eight years as CASBS director. Powell takes office on September 1.
He will serve a one-year term while a selection committee completes its comprehensive search.
Powell is the Jacks Family Professor of Education, and (by courtesy) professor of sociology, organizational behavior, management science and engineering, and communication at Stanford University. Powell has been a CASBS fellow twice, first in 1986-87 and again in 2008-09. He served on the center’s Fellowship Selection Committee from 2012-14 and co-directed a Summer Institute on Economy and Society in 2006. In 2016-17 he was appointed as a CASBS research affiliate and, since 2017, has served as a CASBS Stanford faculty fellow. Since 2016, he has co-directed (with Robert Gibbons) the CASBS summer institute on Organizations and Their Effectiveness.
“I have a deep affection for the Center and its many remarkable contributions to the vitality of the social sciences,” he said. “I take special pleasure in helping it flourish.”
“No one better exemplifies what a faculty fellow – and, indeed, a scholarly community member – should be,” said Levi. “Woody engages with our fellows, mentors them, and links them with others in his vast network at Stanford and throughout the world. And he is also an invaluable sounding board and advisor to CASBS leadership, putting to good use his skills as an observer of organizations.”
Powell and Levi are expected to coordinate and collaborate extensively over the summer to facilitate a smooth leadership transition.
“Margaret Levi has been a magnificent director, reinvigorating and reimagining CASBS while retaining its best features. She is an exceptional scholar of leadership, and has put those lessons into practice with ease and wit,” Powell said.
His interests span organizational theory, economic sociology, the sociology of science, and institutional analysis. His research focuses mainly on processes through which ideas and practices are transferred across organizations, the role of networks in facilitating or hindering innovation, and how institutions codify ideas and practices. Powell’s collaborations with former CASBS fellow Paul DiMaggio are considered seminal within organizational theory. Their now-classic 1991 edited volume, The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, was initiated at a conference during Powell’s first CASBS fellowship. Powell wrote his influential article, “Neither Market nor Hierarchy,” winner of the 1991 Max Weber Outstanding Scholarship Award from the Organizations and Occupations section of the American Sociological Association, during the same year. Both works have been cited more than 10,000 times. And the Powell and DiMaggio article, “The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields,” (1983) is the most cited article in the history of the American Sociological Review.
Powell’s most recent books include The Emergence of Organizations and Markets, with John F. Padgett (2012), which won the 2012-13 Best Book Award from the Political Networks section of the American Political Science Association, and The Nonprofit Sector, co-edited with Patricia Bromley (2020).
Powell’s academic accomplishments combine with administrative experience. He has served as faculty co-director of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society since its founding in 2006, and currently shares the Marc and Laura Andreessen Co-Directorship of PACS. From 1999-2010, he served as director of the Scandinavian Consortium for Organizational Research at Stanford. He also has served on the board of the Social Science Research Council since 2000.
He earned his PhD in sociology at SUNY Stony Brook in 1978 and joined the Stanford faculty in 1999. He previously taught at the University of Arizona, MIT, and Yale University. He served as an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute from 2001-13, and remains involved with the institute.