Katherine Chen

Prof. Katherine K. Chen’s research specialties cover organizational studies and economic sociology.  Her award-winning book, Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event, shows how an enabling organization can support members’ efforts without succumbing to either under-organizing’s insufficient structure and coordination or over-organizing’s excessive structure and coercive control.  Additional articles on prosumption, storytelling, and communification have appeared in American Behavioral Scientist, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Qualitative Sociology, The Sociological Quarterly, and other journals.  

To understand how organizations collectively innovate—or maintain the status quo—through relational work and advocacy, Chen is working on two parallel ethnographic projects.  One examines the coordination efforts among organizations that help older adults who prefer to “age in place” in their homes.  A 2019 Socio-Economic Review article based on this research shows how markets are supported by “bounded relationality,” a process by which intermediary organizations train people to undertake consumer routines.  Another project studies how a flagship microschool and its network of affiliates communicate innovative ways of organizing learning to multiple audiences.  This research focuses on how this network blends a seemingly unlikely mixture of practices from the democratic free school movement, decolonization and abolition efforts, and the field of software project management to promote lifelong learning in communities.

Besides serving as a mentor to tenure-track faculty in CUNY’s Faculty Fellowship Publication Program (FFPP), Chen has focused on developing and supporting interdisciplinary communities that study organizations and markets, with a focus on participatory and liberatory practices that prefigure and expand future possibilities. With Victor Tan Chen, she co-edited a special issue that showcases cutting-edge research on democratic practices by presenters from SASE annual meetings between 2017 and 2019.  This Research in the Sociology of Organizations volume, titled “Organizational Imaginaries: Tempering Capitalism and Tending to Communities through Cooperatives and Collectivist Democracy,” will be published in 2021.  In addition, Chen has contributed to methodological discussions regarding research on organizations, including what we can learn from “extreme” cases and how to undertake organizational ethnography in her work as a regular contributor to orgtheory.net, a popular sociology blog. 

Chen is currently an associate professor of sociology at The City College of New York and the Graduate Center, CUNY.  She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University and an undergraduate degree from Stanford University.



As an academic, I have worked at both private and public institutions, written extensively for specialist and more generalist audiences, and partnered with other scholars across disciplinary lines. These diverse experiences have given me a strong appreciation for the global community of scholars that SASE cultivates, while also reminding me of the intensifying challenges confronting many researchers that I feel our professional association can collectively help address—among them, the difficulties in securing employment and adequate resources for teaching and conducting research, disseminating findings to broad audiences, and co-creating futures that are more inclusive.  With these intertwined concerns in mind, I started my first year with SASE as a 2017 mini-conference co-organizer.  I subsequently co-founded Network I: Alternatives to Capitalism and co-organized that research network through 2019.  I also started serving on the Executive Council in 2018.  This year, I have joined the leadership collective of SASE’s Network A: Communitarianism and Civil Society. 

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