Research Interests


Research Interests

Below are my primary areas of research, as well as links to selected papers on these topics.  I also provide a brief overview of current work-in-progress.

Networks are where knowledge resides and action transpires. Networks have been largely invisible, but recent developments in mapping nets have led to an outpouring of work on network topology and dynamics. See related papers.

Institutions are the external memory of society. Institutions focus collective attention, encode the mores and rules of a community, and enable coordination to take place. See related papers.

University-Industry Interfaces.
University-Industry interfaces have grown rapidly in recent decades as a number of new science-based industries have emerged. This co-mingling of public research and proprietary science raises critical questions about the balance of stocks and flows of knowledge. See related papers.

Economic Sociology.
Economic Sociology builds on the observation that society and the economy are closely intertwined and co-evolve. See related papers.

Comparing Institutional Forms
What are the performance and distributional consequences when a good or a service is delivered by the state, the market, or a nonprofit organization? See related papers.

Work in Progress

Longitudinal Study of the San Francisco Bay Area Nonprofit Sector, 2000-present. With Christof Brandtner amd Aaron Horvath. We have been following a random sample of 200 501(c)3 charities, including shelters, soccer clubs, PTAs, museums, and large social service agencies, since 2000. We look at the changing character of their operations, missions, funding, staffing, and increasing use of social media. We observe a new set of practices that highlight transparency, impact, and collaboration. To study these organizations, we have developed new methods for analyzing webpages. Recently, we have launched a comparative project to study civil society organizations in Shenzhen, China, Seattle, WA, Sydney, Australia, and Vienna, Austria.

Institutional persistence with Gregoire Croidieu and Birthe Soppe, we are studying the remarkable continuity of the 1855 wine classification system in Bordeaux, France.  This system was adopted on an idiosyncratic basis but has continued to leave an imprint for more than 150 years. This temporary convention has resisted numerous challenges and become the most venerated wine classification in the world. Our work examines how classifications evolve into powerful symbolic representations. We draw on a wealth of archival data sources that we have uncovered – rankings, international exhibitions, buildings, naming conventions, marriage records, and ownership changes – to explain how a convention became institutionalized.

The Metrics and Discourse of Evaluation in the Nonprofit Sector.  With Valeska Korff and Achim Oberg. We are studying the proliferation of forms of evaluation and standards for assessing impact in the social sector, and their consequences. Our approach combines linguistic and relational analyses. See my London School of Economics public lecture for a flavor of what we are doing:


Collective Invention and Inventor Networks (PDF) in B. Hall and N. Rosenberg, editors, Handbook of the Economics of Innovation, Elsevier (2010) W.W. Powell, Eric Giannella, pp. 525 – 605.

Network Dynamics and Field Evolution: The Growth of Inter-organizational Collaboration in the Life Sciences (PDF) American Journal of Sociology 110(4):1132-1205 (January 2005) W.W. Powell, Douglas R. White, Kenneth W. Koput, Jason Owen-Smith

Networks of Innovators (PDF). The Oxford Handbook of Innovation (2005) W.W. Powell, Stine Grodal, pp. 56-85

Networks and Economic Life (PDF). The Handbook of Economic Sociology. Princeton University Press (2005) Laurel Smith-Doerr, W.W. Powell, pp. 379-402

The Institutional Embeddedness of High-Tech Regions (PDF) in Clusters, Networks, and Innovation. Oxford University Press (2005) Kelley Porter, Kjersten Bunker, W.W. Powell, pp. 261-96.

Knowledge Networks as Channels and Conduits: The Effects of Spillovers in the Boston Biotechnology Community (PDF). Organization Science 15(1):5-21 (2004) Jason Owen-Smith, W.W. Powell

Learning From Collaboration. Knowledge and Networks in the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries (PDF) California Management Review 40(3):228-40 (Spring 1998)

Inter-Organizational Collaboration in the Biotechnology Industry (PDF). Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 120(1):197-215 (1996)

Interorganizational Collaboration and the Locus of Innovation: Networks of Learning in Biotechnology. Administrative Science Quarterly 41(1):116-45 (1996) W.W. Powell, Kenneth W. Koput, Laurel Smith-Doerr

Neither Market nor Hierarchy: Network Forms of Organization (PDF). Research in Organizational Behavior 12:295-336 (1990)


Opening the Black Box: The Microfoundations of Institutions, with Claus Rerup, in 2nd. edition of Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism, 2017.

Organizations as Sites and Drivers of Social Action, W.W. Powell and Christof Brandtner, Handbook of Contemporary Sociological Theory, ed. by Seth Abrutyn, Springer (2016), pp. 269-95.

From Smoke and Mirrors to Walking the Talk: Decoupling in the Contemporary World, Patricia Bromley and W. W. Powell.  Academy of Management Annals, 6 (2012); 483-530.

Roads to Institutionalization: The Remaking of Boundaries Between Public and Private Science (PDF), Research in Organizational Behavior, 21:305-53 (2006) Jeannette Colyvas, W.W. Powell.

Institutions and Entrepreneurship (PDF). Handbook of Entrepreneurship Research. Kluwer Publishers (2005) Hokyu Hwang, W.W. Powell, pp. 179-210.

Introduction to The New Institutionalism (PDF) (1991) Paul J. DiMaggio, W.W. Powell

The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields. American Sociological Review 48(2):147-60 (1983) Paul J. DiMaggio, W.W. Powell

University-Industry Interfaces

Public Research Universities- From Land Grant to Federal Grant to Patent Grant Institutions (PDF), in D. Rhoten and C. Calhoun, editors, Knowledge Matters. Columbia University Press (2010) Diana Rhoten and W.W. Powell, pp. 319-41.

The Frontiers of Intellectual Property: Expanded Protection vs. New Models of Open Science (PDF), Annual Review of Law and Social Science Vol. 3. (2007). Diana Rhoten and W.W. Powell, pp. 345 – 73.

From Vulnerable to Venerated: The Institutionalization of Academic Entrepreneurship in the Life Sciences (PDF). Research in the Sociology of Organization 25: 219-259 (2007). Jeannette Colyvas and W.W. Powell

Innovation and Emulation: Lessons From American Universities in Selling Private Rights to Public Knowledge (PDF). Minerva 45: 121-142 (2007). Walter W. Powell, Jason Owen-Smith, and Jeannette A. Colyvas

The Expanding Role of University Patenting in the Life Sciences: Assessing the Importance of Experience and Connectivity (PDF). Research Policy 32(9): 1695-1711 (2003) Jason Owen-Smith, W.W. Powell

A Comparison of U.S. and European University-Industry Relations in the Life Sciences (PDF)Management Science 48(1):24-43 (January 2002) Jason Owen-Smith, Massimo Riccaboni, Fabio Pammolli, W.W. Powell

Careers and Contradictions: Faculty Responses to the Transformation of Knowledge and its Uses in the Life Sciences (PDF). Research in the Sociology of Work 10:109-40 (2001) Jason Owen-Smith, W.W. Powell

To Patent or Not: Faculty Decisions and Institutional Success at Technology Transfer (PDF). Journal of Technology Transfer 26(1):99-114 (January 2001) Jason Owen-Smith, W.W. Powell
Table 1 – Case Comparisons RPU v. State (PDF)
Table 2 – Physical and Life Scientist’s Perceptions of Patent Outcomes (PDF)

Universities and the Market for Intellectual Property in the Life Sciences (PDF). Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 17(2):253-77 (1998) W.W. Powell, Jason Owen-Smith

Economic Sociology

A Sociologist Looks at Crowds: Innovation or Invention? Strategic Organization: Organizing crowds and innovation, 15(2): 289-97, 2017.

Poisedness and Propagation: Organizational Emergence and the Transformation of Civic Order in 19th Century New York City, NBER Working Paper #21011 (2015).

Amphibious Entrepreneurs and the Emergence of New Organizational Forms (PDF) W.W. Powell and Kurt Sandholtz, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 6,2 (2012): 94-115.

Organizational and Institutional Genesis: The Emergence of High-Tech Clusters in the Life Sciences (PDF) with Kjersten Whittington and Kelley Packalen, in The Emergence of Organizations and Markets, Princeton University Press. 2012, pp 434-65.

Networks, Propinquity and Innovation in Knowledge-Intensive Industries (PDF), with Kjersten Whittington and Jason Owen-Smith, Administrative Science Quarterly, 54,1 (2009): 90-122.

Accounting for Emergence and Novelty in Boston and Bay Area Biotechnology (PDF), in Cluster Genesis: Technology-Based Industrial Development, Oxford University Press (2006), Jason Owen-Smith and W.W. Powell, pp. 61-83.

The Knowledge Economy. Annual Review of Sociology 30:199-220 (2004) W.W. Powell and Kaisa Snellman

Magic Bullets and Patent Wars: New Product Development and the Evolution of the Biotechnology Industry (PDF), in Managing Product Development, T. Nishiguchi, ed. Oxford University Press (1996). W.W. Powell and Peter Brantley

The Capitalist Firm (PDF) (2000)

Careers in Print: Books, Journals, and Scholarly Reputations. American Journal of Sociology 101(2):433-94 (September 1995) Elisabeth S. Clemens, W.W. Powell, Kris Mcllwaine, Dina Okamoto

Comparing Institutional Forms

Serve or Conserve: Mission, Strategy, and Multi-Level NonprofitChange During the Great Recession. Aaron Horvath, Christof Brandtner, and Walter Powell. Voluntas (2018).

Click and Mortar: Organizations on the Web, Walter W. Powell, Aaron Horvath, Christof Brandtner, Research in Organizational Behavior, 36: 101-20, 2016.

Contributory or Disruptive: Do New Forms of Philanthropy Erode Democracy?, Aaron Horvath and W.W. Powell. 2016 in Philanthropy in Democratic Societies, ed. by R. Reich, L. Bernholz and C. Cordelli, University of Chicago Press, pp. 87-122.

The Rationalization of Charity: The Influences of Professionalism in the Nonprofit Sector (PDF) with Hokyu Hwang, Administrative Science Quarterly , June 2009, pp. 268-98

The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook. W.W. Powell, Richard Steinberg (eds.), Yale University Press (2006). Review of The Nonprofit Sector (PDF), by Dennis Young