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Walter W. Powell

Walter W. Powell
Professor (by courtesy), Organizational Behavior
Contact Info
Professor of Organizational Behavior (by courtesy)
Professor of Education, Graduate School of Education
Professor of Communication and Sociology (by courtesy), School of Humanities and Sciences
Professor of Management Science and Engineering (by courtesy), School of Engineering
Academic Area: 
Organizational Behavior

Additional Administrative Titles

Co-Director, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society Society

Research Statement

Dr. Powell is an organizational sociologist whose current research focuses on how knowledge is transferred across organizations, the role of networks in facilitating or hindering innovation, and the manner in which institutions codify ideas and practices. With Jeannette Colyvas, he is studying the origins of university technology transfer, and the processes by which commercial engagement by faculty eventually became taken-for-granted and institutionalized. With Hokyu Hwang and Tricia Bromley, he is examining the consequences of increased professionalism in the nonprofit sector and its broader impact on civil society. With Jason Owen-Smith, he is analyzing the evolving network structure of the life sciences field and the reshaping of the boundaries of public and private science. With Dan McFarland, Chris Manning, and Dan Jurafsky, he is working on a NSF-funded project to study how scientific ideas are created and propagated, and whether interdisciplinary collaboration enhances, retards, or alters the terra


Walter W. Powell is Professor of Education (and, by courtesy) Sociology, Organizational Behavior, Management Science and Engineering, and Communication, Co-Director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and Director of the Scandinavian Consortium for Organizational Research at Stanford University. He has been a member of the board of directors of the Social Science Research Council since 2000, and an external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute since 1999. Powell works in the areas of organization theory, economic sociology, and the sociology of science.

His 1990 article, “Neither Market Nor Hierarchy: Network Forms of Organization,” won the 1991 Max Weber prize for best paper in the field of organizations; and “Network Dynamics and Field Evolution: The Growth of Inter-Organizational Collaboration,” with D. White, K. Koput, and J. Owen-Smith (American Journal of Sociology, 2005), received the 2007 Viviana Zelizer prize for best paper in economic sociology. “Technological Change and the Locus of Innovation: Networks of Learning in Biotechnology,” with K. Koput and L. Smith-Doerr (1996), was recognized by Administrative Science Quarterly as its most influential scholarly publication in 2002. His 1983 paper, “The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields,” with Paul DiMaggio, is the most cited article in the history of the American Sociological Review.

Powell is the author or editor of: The Culture and Commerce of Book Publishing, with Lewis Coser and Charles Kadushin (Basic Books, 1982); Getting into Print: The Decision-Making Process in Scholarly Publishing (U. of Chicago Press, 1985); The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, with Paul DiMaggio (U. of Chicago Press, 1991); Private Action and the Public Good, with Elisabeth Clemens (Yale U. Press, 1997); and The Nonprofit Sector, with Richard Steinberg (Yale U. Press, 2006). He received his PhD in Sociology from SUNY – Stony Brook in 1978, and previously taught at Yale, MIT, and the University of Arizona. He holds honorary degrees from Uppsala University, Copenhagen Business School, and the Helsinki School of Economics, and is a foreign member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Science.

Academic Degrees

  • PhD, SUNY Stony Brook, 1978
  • MA, SUNY Stony Brook, 1975
  • BA, Florida State University, 1975

Academic Appointments

  • At Stanford University since 1999
  • External faculty member, Santa Fe Institute, 1999-present
  • Professor, University of Arizona, 1991–1999
  • Associate Professor, University of Arizona, 1988–1991
  • Fellow, Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, 1986–1987
  • Assistant-Associate Professor, Yale University, 1979–1987
  • Associate Professor, MIT, 1985
  • Assistant Professor, SUNY Stony Brook, 1978–1979


Journal Articles

Walter W. Powell, Kaisa Snellman. Annual Review of Sociology. August 2004, Vol. 30, Pages 199-220.
Jason Owen-Smith, Walter W. Powell. Organization Science. 2004, Vol. 15, Issue 1, Pages 5-21.
Walter W. Powell. To profit or not to profit : the commercial transformation of the nonprofit sector. Cambridge University Press, 1998, Pages 169-194.

Stanford Case Studies

Social Service Mergers: Hope Services & Skills Center | SI104
Victoria Chang, Walter Powell2008

Service to the Profession

  • Associate Editor, Stanford Social Innovation Review
  • Board of Directors, Social Science Research Council
  • Editorial Committee, Stanford Univ. Press
  • External Faculty Member, Santa Fe Institute
  • U.S. Editor, Research Policy

Insights by Stanford Business

July 2, 2015
As charitable organizations collaborate more with businesses, their vocabulary transforms.