Why elites love authentic lowbrow culture: overcoming high-status denigration with outsider art
August 2017 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW (READ COPY HERE)
with Ezra Zuckerman and Minjae Kim
Going beyond the distinction-seeking explanation for why “cultural omnivorousness” (the tendency for Western elites to consume a wide range of genres) extends to lowbrow genres, we develop and test the idea that demonstrating appreciation of authentic lowbrow culture affords authenticity-insecure elites an effective way of shoring up their authenticity. This argument, which builds on recent sociological research on the “search for authenticity” (e.g., Grazian 2005), on Bourdieu’s (1993) notion of artistic “disinterestedness,” and on Hahl and Zuckerman’s (2014) theory of “high-status denigration,” is validated through experiments with American subjects in the context of “outsider” art (Fine 2004). The first study demonstrates that preference for lowbrow culture is higher when individuals feel insecure in their authenticity—i.e., when their social category attained status in a manner whereby extrinsic motives are salient. The second study demonstrates that audiences perceive the members of erstwhile denigrated social categories to be more authentic if they consume lowbrow culture but only if the cultural producer is perceived as authentic. We conclude by noting how this “authenticity-by-appreciation” effect might be complementary with distinction-seeking as a motivation for elite cultural omnivorousness and we draw broader implications for when and why particular forms of culture are in demand.
TURNING BACK THE CLOCK IN BASEBALL: THE INCREASED PROMINENCE OF EXTRINSIC REWARDS AND DEMAND FOR AUTHENTICITY
AUGUST 2016 ORGANIZATION science (READ COPY HERE)
This paper addresses why customers at times prefer traditional practices deemed more authentic to a domain, particularly where these practices had previously been discarded as inferior. I argue that customer demand for authenticity can be triggered when extrinsic rewards (i.e., fame or money) increase in prominence in a market, causing audiences to doubt the motives of the market’s producers. I examine this dynamic in the context of Major League Baseball, where appreciation for traditional stadium features seemingly arose after the advent of free agency heightened awareness and coverage of the economic rewards in the sport. Experimental analysis validates the proposed mechanism, whereby increased fan exposure to extrinsic rewards increases concern about player inauthenticity, which increases preference for traditional stadium features. Difference in Difference analysis of attendance patterns (home-away) provides external validation for these experimental findings by showing that authenticity was more highly preferred, in the form of higher relative attendance in traditional-style ballparks, by those fans more affected by free agency. Conclusions are drawn about the role that perceptions about motives play in market perceptions of authenticity and valuation of authentic cultural objects.
KNOWLEDGE ASYMMETRY AND STRUCTURAL HOLES: LINKING NETWORK PERCEPTION TO POSITION IN STRUCTURAL HOLES
MAY 2016 STRATEGIC ORGANIZATION (READ COPY HERE)
with Olenka Kacperczyk and Jason Davis
Although brokers who span structural holes have been shown to occupy a valuable position in organizations, emerging research suggests that the returns to these brokers can vary depending on whether alters can credibly threaten to disintermediate the broker and close the structural hole. Yet the factors that shape the likelihood of disintermediation have not been extensively explored. In this paper, we argue that local network perception influences both 1) alters’ ability to disintermediate, and 2) the likelihood that individuals occupy high-performing brokerage positions in intra-organizational networks. Drawing on prior research about cognitive social structures, we argue that individuals are most likely to be in a structural hole under the condition of knowledge asymmetry—that is, when brokers know about the structural hole, but alters do not—which reduces the likelihood of disintermediation by alters and benefits to brokers. Using advice network data from a high-tech organization, we find evidence of knowledge asymmetry in existing structural holes, and moderation of this relationship by two factors also related to disintermediation: (1) broker’s reputation and (2) alter’s position in the resource flow. We also show that knowledge asymmetry is related to higher returns for brokers. The broader theoretical contribution is a better understanding of how network perceptions are related to positions across structural holes, an important structure from which power is derived in organizations and markets.
BUY TERM AND INVEST THE DIFFERENCE REVISITED
MAY 2015 JOURNAL OF FINANCIAL SERVICE PROFESSIONALS (READ COPY HERE)
with David F. Babbel
The decision whether to buy term or permanent life insurance, or some combination of both, is among the most challenging elements of the purchasing process for many people. This study demonstrates that financial analyses which purport to show that the Buy Term and Invest the Difference (BTID) concept dominates the combination of permanent life insurance supplemented with term life are deficient in many ways and incapable of establishing this dominance. It also shows that the assumed financial discipline necessary to successfully implement the BTID approach is an unrealistic expectation for many consumers. Accordingly, it should not be claimed that one approach necessarily dominates the other for all consumers.
THE DENIGRATION OF HEROES? HOW THE STATUS ATTAINMENT PROCESS SHAPES ATTRIBUTIONS OF CONSIDERATENESS AND AUTHENTICITY
SEPTEMBER 2014 AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY (READ COPY HERE)
with Ezra Zuckerman
We develop theory and report on experiments that address the tendency for high-status actors to be deemed—even by high-status actors themselves—less considerate and more inauthentic than low-status actors. We argue that this tendency, which potentially contradicts the fact that status is accorded on the basis of an actor’s capability and commitment, stems from two paradoxical features of typical status attainment processes: (a) The benefits of a high-status position typically carry an incentive to feign capability and commitment, thereby leading to suspicions of inauthenticity; and (b) Status is typically achieved through interaction patterns in which the high-status actor asserts its superiority and another’s inferiority, thereby leading to suspicions of inconsiderateness. Three experimental studies are designed to validate this theory and help rule out an alternative hypothesis, whereby the negative correlation between status and morality derives from a psychological need for viewing the world as just or fair–leading evaluators to compensate those who lack status with higher attributions of morality. Our studies, based on the “minimal group” paradigm, ask subjects to evaluate two arbitrary social categories based on members’ performance in a joint cognitive task. Implications are drawn regarding high-status insecurity and the sources of instability in status hierarchies.
WORk in Process
The Authentic Appeal of the Lying Demagogue: Proclaiming the Deeper Truth about Political Illegitimacy
with Minjae Kim and Ezra W. Zuckerman
We develop and test a theory to address a puzzling pattern that has been discussed widely since the 2016 U.S. presidential election (and validated here in a post-election survey): that a constituency of voters can find a candidate “authentically appealing” (i.e., view him as authentic and support him due to such perceived authenticity) even though he is a “lying demagogue” (someone who deliberately tells lies and appeals to non-normative private prejudices). Key to the theory are two points: (a) that certain types of lies (those pertaining to facts about which the speaker has no special access) may be understood as flagrant violations of the norm of truthtelling; and (b) that when a political system is suffering from a “crisis of legitimacy” (Lipset 1959) with respect to at least one political constituency, members of that constituency will be motivated to to see a flagrant violator of established norms as an authentic champion of its interests. Two online vignette experiments on a simulated college election support our theory. In the first experiment, lying demagoguery makes an outsider candidate seem more authentically appealing to members of his constituency but only when political leaders seem illegitimate because they govern in a self-serving way. In the second experiment, lying demagoguery makes an establishment candidate seem more authentic to members of his constituency but only when the political establishment seems illegitimate because it favors an upstart social category. These results demonstrate that mere partisanship is insufficient to explain sharp partisan differences in how lying demagoguery is perceived, and that several oft-discussed factors—information-access, culture, language, and gender—are not necessary for explaining such differences. Rather, for the lying demagogue to have authentic appeal, it is sufficient that at least one side of a social divide regards the political system as treating it unfairly.
Outside Investment or Opportunism? Outside Investor Perceptual Effects on Commitment in Diversification
with Jae Kyung Ha
When might affiliation with outside investors harm a firm’s ability to diversify? While most work has found that outside investors provide positive reputational effects for firms, we argue that in certain contexts, where commitment to a firm’s objectives and customers is not taken for granted, such affiliations limit a firm’s ability to diversify because a) diversification is an ambiguous signal of commitment to the focal industry and b) affiliation with outsiders will resolve this ambiguity negatively by increasing suspicions that the firm is no longer committed to its original customers and intentions. Through experiments based on qualitative work on therapists in the field of behavioral health, a key demand-side audience in the industry, we show that outside investor affiliations increase demand-side penalties for diversification through reduced perceptions of commitment. We further validate the mechanism by showing that when outside investors are perceived to be committed to the industry and its customers that the negative effect associated with such affiliations is eliminated. Articulating this mechanism and providing causal evidence contributes to research on organization theory by highlighting how and when audience perceptions of commitment might serve as a key demand-side factor influencing audience acceptance of firm attempts to diversify. We conclude by discussing how supply-side activities behind strategic commitments are related to demand-side perceptions of commitment and practical implications for the important role of impression management when affiliating with outside investors like private equity.
Sacrifice and Commitment in economic exchange: the case of overqualification in labor markets
with Roman Galperin, Jerry Guo, and Adina Sterling
Why do high status actors face difficulties moving into lower status market niches? In this paper we develop a theory of sacrifice and commitment in economic exchange and argue that audiences interpret a high status actor’s move into a lower status market niche with distrust due to the concomitant signals of commitment such actions produce. We theorize how inferences of commitment unfold along dimensions - volition and motive – which can be influenced by commitment disclaimers provided by the actor, and influences the level of acceptance of the actor’s offering in the lower status niche. We test our theory by applying it to the phenomenon of overqualification in labor markets. We first show that overqualification results from concerns about job applicant’s commitment to the prospective employer. We then reconceptualize a job application by an overqualified candidate as an act of sacrifice and show that the nature and the level of commitment concerns can be changed with disclaimers that provide information on the origins of the sacrifice (voluntary or forced) and the motives of the actor (prosocial or economic gain). We discuss the generalizability of our theory and show that the problem of unraveling two-sided markets is a special case of the problem of commitment in economic exchange and thus can be resolved without relying on a centralized matching authority.
May I Deviate, Please? Status Effects on Anticipatory Impression Management
with Renee Richardson Gosline
How can firms effectively reduce penalties for categorical deviance? Past research on organizational impression management indicates that firms can minimize penalty for deviance by pre-emptively using verbal accounts, or language that presents deviant behavior in a way that makes it acceptable to an audience. However, this work has yet to explore the role that organizational status plays, a factor that has also been shown to affect how audiences interpret a firm’s activities. This paper builds a bridge between these perspectives by showing how organizational status influences the effectiveness of anticipatory impression management tools like pre-emptive verbal accounts. We propose that high-status firms, unlike middle-status counterparts, are more effective at avoiding penalty for deviance when they employ the use of assertive verbal accounts that convey confidence. We design a series of experiments to test this argument in the context of the food industry. Specifically, we show that high-status firms are better off when they do not appear deferential, or overly apologetic, in anticipatory impression management signaling – while the opposite is true for middle-status firms. Mediation analysis shows that the same type of framing differently affects perceptions of skill and confidence depending on the status of the firm, but that too much perceived effort in framing the deviance will lead to negative results. Our findings support the claim that an organization’s attempts to manage audience impressions with verbal accounts must be aligned with the perceived status of the firm, such that status positively interacts with confident styles of anticipatory impression management and negatively interacts with more deferential styles.