Diane Vaughan received her Ph.D. in Sociology, Ohio State University, 1979, and taught at Boston College from 1984 to 2005. During this time, she was awarded fellowships at Yale, the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford, the American Bar Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She came to Columbia in 2005.
Influenced as a graduate student by Georg Simmel’s work on social forms, she began experimenting with what she calls analogical theorizing: developing theory by comparing cases of similar events, activities or phenomena across different organizational forms in order to elaborate general theory or concepts. Since then, she has written three books on how things go wrong in organizations: Controlling Unlawful Organizational Behavior, Uncoupling, and The Challenger Launch Decision. The fourth book in the project, Dead Reckoning: System Effects, Boundary Work, and Risk in Air Traffic Control (in review) is her negative case, looking at how an organization gets it (mostly) right.
Challenger and Dead Reckoning are both historical ethnographies. The theoretical framing examines system effects: the dynamic relationship between events in the institutional environment - historical, political, economic, cultural - on organizations, changing them, and how, in turn the organization affects the architecture, technology, and tasks of the workplace and the interpretation, meanings and actions of the people who work there. Equally important, we see their responses. Far from a top-down model, historical ethnography displays the agency of individuals. In combination, this layered relational framing explores the process of making and remaking social systems small and large across time and social space. Next, she will complete Theorizing: Analogy, Cases, and Comparative Social Organization.