// Ph.D. in Sociology


// Organizations are made and molded by society. They are also a major driver of institutional change and sites of actions that structure and shape cities and nations. My research uses a variety of methods and original data sources to explore the reciprocal relationship between organizations and society, particularly in the context of civil society and urban innovation.


// I am a Postdoctoral Scholar in Sociology and an Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation at the University of Chicago. I am also affiliated with the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and the Research Institute of Urban Management and Governance at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. My work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences. I hold a Ph.D. in Sociology from Stanford University and a B.Sc. in Business, Economics, and Society from WU. I am a member of ASA, EGOS, SASE, ARNOVA, and AoM.




// My research straddles topics in nonprofit and public organizationSubstantively, I am interested how rational, economic principles of organizing enter and alter fields where social and democratic values loom large. Theoretically, this work is grounded in economic sociology and sociological institutionalism, which understand organizations' behavior as co-evolving with their external social and cultural environment. Methodologically, I combine statistical, meso-level analyses of many organizations with specific knowledge of the cases I study. This sometimes takes me into the domains of qualitative interviews, experiments, and computational social science (specifically quantitative text analysis). I am excited about building original datasets from scratch to test my arguments.




// Performance-oriented management practices and professionalism have spread from businesses to nonprofit organizations. This process is called rationalization, similar to when states started to rule through civil service and corporations were run by professional managers. I am particularly interested in contradictions resulting from rationalization, which Max Weber described as the "disenchantment of the world," and, generally, how hybrid practices are actually implemented in organizations. At Stanford PACS, I am part of the Civic Life of Cities Lab.

// In the 21st century, cities bear unprecedented responsibility for fixing socio-economic inequality, planning for economic development, and mitigating climate change. My dissertation, Cities in Action, explores how organizational infrastructures (e.g., nonprofits, businesses, and movements) and macro-institutional influences (e.g., inter-city associations and networks) shape the local capacity to act strategically and innovatively in the context of sustainable development.

// One of the most important contemporary transformations in the institutional environment of organizations is that internet and ideologies have given rise to a plethora of accountability and evaluation mechanisms that expose organizations to external scrutiny. I study how organizations respond to evaluation, especially when their constituencies disagree about what matters for success. And I am curious about how open practices interact with established bureacratic structures, which are by definition averse to the public.



Spatial mismatch and youth unemployment in US cities: Public transportation as a labor market institution

Brandtner, C., Lunn, A., and Young, C. Forthcoming. Socio-Economic Review.

Spatial mismatch between homes and jobs within a city can create unemployment despite the presence of unfilled jobs. This is especially problematic among young people who have limited transportation options and high rates of joblessness. Car ownership is a possible solution to spatial mismatch, but private vehicles are expensive and involve negative externalities. Public transportation provides an alternative infrastructure that reduces structural unemployment by matching supply and demand. Using longitudinal models of public transportation in the 95 largest US cities between 2000 and 2010, we test whether better public transit services reduce youth unemployment. Public transportation systems can serve as a labor market institution, but there are two worlds of public transportation in American cities. Improvements in public transit are mostly beneficial in cities that are already less dependent on private automobiles. Path dependence in transportation design means that some cities see little benefits to incremental investments in public transit.

Serve or Conserve: Mission, Strategy, and Multi-Level Nonprofit Change During the Great Recession

Horvath, A., Brandtner, C., Powell, W.W. Forthcoming. Voluntas.

Change is frequently afoot in the nonprofit sector, both in the wider institutional environment in which nonprofits operate and within the organizations themselves. Environmental transformations—funding sources, supply and demand for collective goods, and administrative norms—create the circumstances in which organizations operate. Internally, change involves the alteration of goals, practices, and personnel. To explore how multiple aspects of change intersect across levels, we ask how organizations’ practices influence their experience of and reaction to changes in the environment. Turning open systems theories inside out, we argue that internal planning, routines, and missions give rise to organizational mindsets that imbue evolving environmental circumstances with meaning. We illustrate our argument using a unique longitudinal dataset of 196 representative 501(c)(3) public charities in the San Francisco Bay Area from 2005 to 2015 to assess both accelerators and obstacles of change. Empirically, we investigate predictors of organizational insolvency and the ability to serve constituents in the wake of the Great Recession. We find that strategic planning decreases the likelihood of insolvency whereas an orientation toward the needy increases spending. We conclude with our contributions to understanding of multi-level organizational change and nonprofit strategy.

Putting the world in orders: Plurality in organizational evaluation

Brandtner, C. 2017. Sociological Theory 35(3):200–27.

Sociologists have shown that external evaluation stimulates convergent organizational behavior, yet many evaluative practices are superficial or susceptible to manipulation. When does external evaluation lead to convergence in organizational fields? Organizations regularly and increasingly experience fragmented social orders based on orthogonal notions of value, or so-called plurality. I propose that the plurality of evaluative landscapes, i.e., the universe of rankings, ratings, and awards in an organizational field, compromises the potential homogenizing influence of any single evaluative practice. Plurality in the evaluative landscape weakens the causal channels through which evaluative practices influence organizational behavior. Because evaluative activities are responsive to social conditions, plurality is suggested to be highest when external audiences are diverse, value is institutionalized, and rationalized rules limit access to evaluation. I conclude that neo-institutional organizational theory and the sociology of valuation, both of which inform this paper, would benefit from a more integrated account of evaluative landscapes. 

When Bureaucracy Meets the Crowd: Studying “Open Government” in the Vienna City Administration

Kornberger, M., Meyer, R. E., Brandtner, C., and Höllerer, M. A. 2017. Organization Studies 38(2):179–200.

Open Government is en vogue, yet vague: while practitioners, policy-makers, and others praise its virtues, little is known about how Open Government relates to bureaucratic organization. This paper presents insights from a qualitative investigation into the City of Vienna, Austria. It demonstrates how the encounter between the city administration and “the open” juxtaposes the decentralizing principles of the crowd, such as transparency, participation, and distributed cognition, with the centralizing principles of bureaucracy, such as secrecy, expert knowledge, written files, and rules. The paper explores how this theoretical conundrum is played out and how senior city managers perceive Open Government in relation to the bureaucratic nature of their administration. The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to empirically trace the complexities of the encounter between bureaucracy and Open Government; and second, to critically theorize the ongoing rationalization of public administration in spite of constant challenges to its bureaucratic principles. In so doing, the paper advances our understanding of modern bureaucratic organizations under the condition of increased openness, transparency, and interaction with their environments. 

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// I was a teaching assistant for Mark Granovetter's Economic Sociology and Sarah Soule's Organizational Design. I have also participated in research workshops on organizations, social networks, and economic sociology for several years, including a boot camp for young faculty on Organizational Effectiveness at CASBS, which I attended in 2016 and facilitated in 2017. 

// I worked as a teaching assistant for Woody Powell's class on the Sociology of Innovation and Invention and for Fred Stout's Introduction to Urban Studies. I am also passionate about civil society and philanthropy as social forces, topics debated vigorously at PACS. I see these topics converging in a new field for institutional analysis: social innovation in urban communities.

// I offer statistical software consulting for undergraduate and graduate students. I also had the pleasure of instructing several stellar undergraduate research assistants in developing datasets from scratch and performing qualitative and quantitative analyses.


// I am grateful for my collaborators in both the U.S. and Europe. If you are looking for a reference, these people can probably tell you all about me. Walter W. Powell and Aaron Horvath are my collaborators on the Civic Life of Cities.

At Stanford, I have also worked with Patricia Bromley, Michelle Jackson, and Cristobal Young (junior faculty) as well as Aaron Silverman and Anna Lunn (grad students). Outside Stanford, I have worked with Markus Höllerer (WU, UNSW), Martin Kornberger (EM Lyon), Renate E. Meyer (WU, CBS), and David Suárez (U of Washington). With Juan Pedroza I have once submitted a tiramisu titled Problem of Embreadedness to Stanford's annual dessert competition. You can read more about the sweet side of sociology in my CV.


// The people who told me to finish my dissertation are Walter W. Powell (Stanford GSE, chair), Xueguang Zhou (Stanford Sociology), and Sarah A. Soule (Stanford GSB).