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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor David Stark

IAS Fellow at St Chad's College, Durham University (October - December 2007)

Professor Stark is a leading economic sociologist studying organizational innovation in a broad range of research settings. He has carried out field research in Hungarian factories before and after 1989, in new media startups in Manhattan before and after the crash, and in a World Financial Center trading room before and after the attack on September 11th.

Professor Stark is currently Arthur Lehman Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Columbia University where he directs the Center on Organizational Innovation. He is an External Faculty Member of the Santa Fe Institute and served as the President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics.

After receiving his PhD in Sociology from Harvard University in 1982, Professor Stark held faculty positions at Duke University, the University of Wisconsin, and Cornell University. For more than twenty-five years he has looked at organizational settings in which multiple principles for evaluating work and worth are at play. During the 1980s he conducted ethnographic research in Hungarian factories examining an organizational innovation in which workers leased equipment from the socialist firm in which they were employed. As they shifted daily from bureaucratized routines during the regular hours to self-organized practices in the off hours Stark's informants were navigating among coexisting and competing evaluative principles.

After 1989, Professor Stark was a leading critic of "designer capitalism" - the blueprints, recipes, and formulas for getting from Communism to Capitalism in six steps or sixty. His book Postsocialist Pathways: Transforming Politics and Property in Eastern Europe (with Laszlo Bruszt, Cambridge University Press, 1998) examined the challenges of the simultaneous expansion of property rights and citizenship rights in postsocialist East Central Europe. Stark's paper, "Recombinant Property in East European Capitalism," (American Journal of Sociology 1996) has been frequently translated and reprinted and is included in the list of "greatest hits in sociology" with over 200 citations in scholarly journals.

Supported by major grants from the National Science Foundation, Professor Stark has augmented his ethnographic research with longitudinal data collection on the ownership ties among the largest 2,000 Hungarian enterprises as well as their personnel ties to political parties. His paper, "Social Times of Network Spaces"(with Balazs Vedres, American Journal of Sociology 2006) develops an innovative methodology that uses optimal matching (borrowed from DNA sequencing) to conduct a historial sequence analysis of the changing shape of network ties among Hungarian firms from 1987-2001.

While at the Institute of Advanced Study, Professor Stark will be completing a book manuscript for Princeton University Press. Worth: A Sociology of Value examines the search for value in heterarchical organizations. It draws on his research in Hungary as well as on two other prize-winning ethnographic studies: "Distributed Intelligence and the Organization of Diversity in New Media Projects" (with Monique Girard, Environment and Planning A) received the 2002 Ashby Prize in social geography; "Tools of the Trade: The Socio-Technology of Arbitrage in a Wall Street Trading Room" (with Daniel Beunza, Industrial and Corporate Change 2004) received an award from the American Sociological Association.

Professor Stark is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, the Institute for Advanced Study/Collegium Budapest, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, the Center for the Social Sciences in Berlin, and the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Spirituality as Everyday Consumption: Megachurches as Shopping Malls in Contemporary America

Commercial activity in places of worship has a long history. Churches in 16th Century England were once also places of trade, and Jesus cast out usurers from the Temple in Jersulem. This study examines the reverse process where churches are built to resemble shopping malls. The research setting is Oklahoma City, known for innovations in commerce and televangelism, where today, as elsewhere in North and South America, non-denominational evangelicalism is the fastest growing segment of religious affiliation. The study thus returns, a century later, to a site where Max Weber conducted field research among Protestant sects for his study of the relationship between the realms of religion and the economy.

Professor David Stark Publications

Stark, D. 2009 The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life. Princeton University Press

IAS Insights Paper


Financial models pose a cognitive paradox. As a powerful form of codified knowledge, models allow their users to interpret complex information in an uncertain world. But models can also blindside their users by locking them in the cognitive schema encoded in the models. Professional arbitrageurs, our ethnographic study reveals, overcome this paradox by  introducing dissonance in their daily calculations. They compare the outputs of their models with the estimates made by their rivals, themselves obtained by using models in reverse. This form of reflexive modeling distributes calculation across rival arbitrage funds. Reflexive modeling differs from Granovetter's embedded action in that it entails a calculative activity centered on formulae and numbers. It differs as well from Callon's disentanglement in that it emphasizes how social relations make calculation possible.

Insights Paper