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About the Author

Howard E. Aldrich received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and is Kenan Professor of Sociology, Chair of the Sociology Department, Adjunct Professor of Business at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Faculty Research Associate at the Department of Strategy & Entrepreneurship, Fuqua School of Business, Duke University.  His book, Organizations Evolving (Sage, 1999), won the George Terry Award from the Academy of Management and was co-winner of the Max Weber Award from the OOW section of the American Sociological Association.  In 2000, he won the Swedish Foundation on Small Business Award for his research on entrepreneurship.  In 2002, he won the J. Carlyle Sitterson Award for Excellent in Freshman Teaching at UNC-CH.  In 2011, the graduate students in sociology at UNC-CH gave him their "Best Instructor" award. His most recent book is An Evolutionary Approach to Entrepreneurship: Selected Essays (Elgar, 2012).

While formal organizations (and the institutions that support them) are key features of the contemporary social landscape, sociologists have only recently developed empirical descriptions of the processes that lead to their emergence. My research considers the social context of entrepreneurship from both a contemporary and historical perspective. Large-scale surveys of entrepreneurs in the United States permit me to explore team formation, innovation, exchange processes, and boundary maintenance in nascent startups. My historical analyses address entrepreneurial activity leading to the founding of U.S. medical schools since the 18th century and the organizational transformation of Southern agriculture and industry in the post-bellum period.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Organizations Evolving 7 Sept. 2006
By Kyle Siler - Published on
Format: Paperback
Indicative of the North Carolina Sociology tradition of serving as an incubator for ecological-sociological perspectives, the book opens by quickly stating its goal to apply ecological principles to the study of formal organizations. Aldrich and Ruef define evolution as occurring via four major principles: variation, selection, retention and struggle for scarce resources. Environments shape and select heterogeneous organizations competing for market share, legitimacy and survival. Since Herbert Spencer and his eventual fall from theoretical prominence in sociology, the imposition of scientific analogies to explain social science phenomena has been controversial. However, the evolutionary metaphors presented are lucid and intuitive, and may be especially compelling to newcomers to the field, who are immediately presented with a clear heuristic to understand markets and organizations.

Aldrich and Ruef adroitly apply the evolutionary perspective to all main organizational theories, including population ecology, institutional theory and resource dependency theory. However, regardless if one accepts or prefers the ecological rubric that is sketched out in the early chapters, I believe the book's prime contribution is serving as a comprehensive and contemporary review of the literature in organizations, markets and networks. The standard chapters on organizational forms, boundaries and populations are included, but the book also stands out for its emphasis on the dynamic and fluid nature of markets, institutions, networks, organizations and other relevant social entities. Numerous chapters focus on the emergence of new organizations and populations, showing how the dynamic and static states of organizations and social phenomena in general are intertwined and how organizations often serve as harbingers of social change and development.

The chapter on entrepreneurship and the emergence of new organizations emphasizes the author's emphasis on the dynamic processes that underlie organizational creation. Entrepreneurship and the decisions entrepreneurs make serve as the precursors for the development of organizations in addition the environments they are situated in. Forming (or at least strategizing) one's organizations and networks is an integral part of commerce and economic behavior, and may be one of many areas where economic sociology and formal organizations overlap. As was the case with the book's 1999 edition, the emphasis on nascent and dynamic organizations and entrepreneurs provides valuable perspectives on the struggles of individuals and organizations for survival and legitimacy, and driving forces of innovation and change within populations and industries.

A question the book left me pondering was to what degree formal organizations can be treated analogously to markets and other institutions. While the broad ecological principles Aldrich and Ruef sketch out may provide such an analogy, neoclassical and evolutionary economists have also used similar analogies to evidence their own theories. When an evolutionary perspective is applied to formal organizations or economic phenomena, how does it differ (and should it differ?), if at all, from the Darwinian/Smithian notion of "the survival of the fittest" often invoked by many economists. Some sociologists argue that contemporary economic life is characterized by much adverse selection, with insufficient or undesirable variation, unfair struggle and the retention of undesirable firms and behaviors, which may or may not be uniquely human/social issues and problems that transcend evolutionary theories and phenomena. At the very least, an evolutionary perspective provides an interesting metaphor to explore these macro-level questions.

In short, the second edition of Organizations Evolving can serve as a textbook for introducing undergraduates to organizational, market and network phenomena, in addition to providing a clear, comprehensive and up-to-date review of a vast array of relevant literature that more experienced scholars will also appreciate.

(A similar version of this review appeared in Accounts, the Economic Sociology Newsletter of the ASA, Summer 2006.)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Welcome improvement to a classic 9 May 2006
By Benson Honig - Published on
Format: Paperback
I bought this book despite having the first edition. It is a welcome addition, and is really well executed. There's a new section on organizational forms that examines organizational cognition, organizational knowledge/culture, and knowledge/cultural diffusion. Addressing culture was a particularly important improvement to a classic work, which now cites more recent literature. For the classroom, it also includes "student friendly" questions at the end of each chapter, although it would be well worth buying regardless.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Yvette Borcia and Gerry Stern - Published on
Format: Paperback
Focusing primarily on businesses, and using a multidisciplinary approach, the book examines organization from three standpoints: the challenge of studying organization; the genesis of organizations, organizational populations, and communities; and the evolutionary processes through which new organizations, populations and communities emerge.

The book is organized into five sections:

1) introduction to the evolutionary approach;

2) a discussion of the role of individuals and groups in the creation and maintenance of organizations;

3) an examination of organizational transformation by exploring the historical context and social change;

4) the emergence of new and established populations; and

5) an assessment of organization evolution at the community level.

The book offers many insights and an extensive discussion of each topic. Each chapter ends with study questions and exercises. Includes an extensvie list of references. For scholars seeking to understand organizations from an evolutionary standpoint, this book is very highly recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Review on "Organizations Evolving" 31 July 2007
By Alexei Kourakine - Published on
Format: Paperback
It is a well-written (text)book outlining and discussing, in an accessible and at the same time scholarly manner, the organizational patterns uncovered by organizational theorists studying the emergence and co-evolution of organizations and their socio-politico-economic environments.

There are three features of the presentation of material I especially like:
1) The organizational phenomena/patterns discussed are often considered from the different perspectives of different schools of organizational theorists, each emphasizing very different aspects/interpretations of the same organizational phenomena. This ensures an unusually rich, multi-faceted perspective on and thus a clear understanding of the organizational phenomena/patterns under consideration. You may consider/interpret a red rose, for example, as a geometrical object, as a biochemical system, as a botanic variety, as an object of esthetics, as a symbol of love and passion and in many other ways. Neither perspective alone will give you, however, an adequate understanding of what red rose actually is. Only together, when coordinated within an overarching conceptual context/framework of life, they will provide you with an understanding of the red rose phenomenon. In "Organizations Evolving", the overarching conceptual framework coordinating different interpretations of and perspectives on organizations is the evolutionary framework built on the four conceptual patterns common to all living systems - variation, selection, retention/inheritance and struggle. Notwithstanding the limitations of Darwinian framework for adequate description/understanding of living systems, it is currently by far the best one as compared to any of existing alternatives, and its use as an overarching framework of the organizational theory is a brilliant advance.
2) The organizational dynamics is presented as inherently contextual, i.e. defined by the environment and defining the environment at the same time.
3) The organizational patterns/phenomena are considered across several levels of organizational hierarchy, from intra-organizational dynamics through inter-organizational relationships to the dynamics of organizational populations.
All of these features together with a broad coverage of topics in organizational theory and a well-structured, clear and scholarly presentation of material, make this book a must-to-have resource for any intellectual.

Please keep in mind that everything around you and inside you are organizations. Your thoughts (if they are organized, of course), the organization of your psyche, your cells and tissues, your family, your social network, your organization, your country and your planet are all, in their essence, organizational phenomena. Therefore, if you would like to gain a better understanding of any of those phenomena, and of all of them together, buy and study this book. It is one of those rare texts, the value of which is so overwhelming that any critical comments you may have in mind while reading it eventually fade into insignificance.


Alexei, you have captured the spirit in which I wrote the book! Maybe you could log on & amend your review to include this? (I know that it is allowed).

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Must Read 11 May 2006
By Linda A. Renzulli - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is a must read for organizational scholars in any discipline. This book not only summarizes and synthesizes decades of research in organizations but also provides new insights and understandings of the evolving organization and its environment. Selection, Retention, and Variation are key oncepts that make sense for understanding organizations from their creation and disbanding to innovation and stagnation within organizations. The book has created and encourages news ways to think about organizations by combining what was thought of as opposing theories in the past.

It is imperative that students, scholars, and anyone who interacts with organizations (that is all of us!) should read this book.
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