Walter W. Powell

Jacks Family Professor of Education, and Professor of Sociology at Stanford University

Woody Powell is Jacks Family Professor of Education, and Sociology, Organizational Behavior, Management Science and Engineering, and Communication at Stanford University. He has been faculty co-director of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society since its founding in 2006, and currently shares the Marc and Laura Andreessen Co-Directorship with Rob Reich and Robb Willer. At PACS, he heads the Civic Life of Cities Lab, which studies civil society organizations in the SF Bay Area, Seattle, Shenzhen, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, and Vienna. He is the 2019 recipient of the School of Humanities and Sciences Dean’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching. He has received honorary degrees from Uppsala University, Copenhagen Business School, and Aalto University, and is an international member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Science and The British Academy. He has served on the board of directors of the Social Science Research Council since 2000.  He was an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute from 2001-13 and continues involvement with SFI today.  With Bob Gibbons (MIT), he has led the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) summer institute on Organizations and their Effectiveness since 2016.

His interests focus on the processes through which ideas and practices move across organizations, and the role of networks in facilitating or hindering the transfer of ideas. He is the author or editor of Books: The Culture and Commerce of 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); The Emergence of Organizations and Markets, with John Padgett (Princeton U. Press, 2012), and The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook, with Patricia Bromley (Stanford U. Press, 2020).  His 1990 article, “Neither Market Nor Hierarchy: Network Forms of Organization,” won the Max Weber award, and “Network Dynamics and Field Evolution: The Growth of Inter-Organizational Collaboration in the Life Sciences,” (2005), received the Viviana Zelizer prize. “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 one of its most influential publications. “Amphibious Entrepreneurs and the Emergence of New Organizational Forms,” with Kurt Sandholtz (2012), received the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal best paper prize. His 1983 paper with Paul DiMaggio, “The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields,” is the most cited article in the history of the American Sociological Review.


  • Organizational behavior

Current Research Interests

  • Networks.
    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.
    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.

Selected Publications & Presentations

Journal Articles
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“A hardhitting economic sociology would attempt to draw on the best of sociology and economics, and to unite interests and social relations in one and the same analysis.”— Richard Swedberg