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Howard E Aldrich

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Howard Aldrich


Howard E. Aldrich wwwkenanflagleruncedumediaImagesfacultys

Organizations and Environments, Organizations Evolving, Population Perspectives on Organizations

Howard E. Aldrich (born 1943) is an American sociologist and Kenan Professor of Sociology and Adjunct Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the Kenan Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a Faculty Research Associate at the Department of Strategy & Entrepreneurship at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business; and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge University. He is a Faculty Fellow of the Center for Study of Economy and Society at Cornell University. Aldrich’s main research interests are entrepreneurship, team formation, evolutionary theory, economic sociology and inequality, and gender issues in entrepreneurship.


Aldrich is best known for his work in applying an evolutionary perspective to organizational emergence and change. One of his seminal works is the 1999 book Organizations Evolving, which won the Academy of Management George Terry Award and was the co-winner of the Max Weber Award from the American Sociological Association's Section on Organizations, Occupations, and Work.

Early career

Aldrich received his BA in sociology from Bowling Green University in 1965 and went on to pursue his PhD at the University of Michigan. In 1966, he directed a survey project through the Institute of Social Research, which explored ethnic succession in the small business populations of high-crime areas of Boston, Washington DC, and Chicago. Aldrich carried out subsequent waves of the study in 1968 for his dissertation, titled Organizations in a Hostile Environment. This study led to follow-up studies in 1970 and 1972, in a collaboration with Albert J. Reiss Jr. The project became emblematic of the nationally representative, longitudinal research for which Aldrich came to be known and showed the effects of the broader social environment on business formation.

Following the completion of his dissertation in 1969, Aldrich accepted an assistant professorship at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. There he began to further develop his evolutionary perspectives on organizational theory, and wrote a number of papers that explored context as a driver for organizational change, including a paper titled "Organizational Boundaries and Inter-Organizational Conflict", and eventually formed the basis for his 1979 book, Organizations and Environments.

Following up on his earlier studies in the US, in 1975, Aldrich also undertook comparative research on ethnic business succession in the UK. Several other waves in subsequent years revealed similar evidence of business populations changing in response to population-level residential changes. These studies also ultimately formed the basis of his 1990 book Ethnic Entrepreneurs, co-authored with Roger Waldinger and Robin Ward.

Evolutionary Perspective on Entrepreneurship

Aldrich’s most influential works have presented, developed, and refined an evolutionary approach to organizational behavior and entrepreneurship. At the heart of this approach is the assumption that evolutionary processes are driven by entrepreneurs and organizations’ struggles to obtain scarce resources, both social and physical. In organizational communities, organizations with different characteristics enter into relationships of competition and cooperation; those organizations better able to deal with the environment are more likely to survive, and characteristics of successful organizations may then be diffused to other organizations in the same population. The approach is applicable at multiple levels of analysis and directs attention to the processes of variation, selection, retention, and struggle that jointly produce patterned change in evolving systems.

Aldrich’s perspective was developed throughout the 1970s, at a time when new approaches to organizational analysis were blossoming around the world. In a collaboration with Jeff Pfeffer that began during a summer spent as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Stanford University, Aldrich co-authored a key paper, “Environments of Organizations". The paper presented the first synthetic statement of evolutionary and resource-dependence perspectives in organizational research and appeared in the Annual Review of Sociology. In a later collaboration with Bill McKelvey, in “Populations, Natural Selection and Applied Organizational Science", Aldrich further argued that scholars could use the variation-selection-retention scheme to create a comprehensive understanding of organizational change.

Aldrich also championed the idea that this evolutionary approach could also be applied in a multilevel framework. The article “Fools rush in? The institutional context of industrial creation" coauthored with C Marlene Fiol, was a first step toward looking at new industries at the individual, group, organizational, and population levels. This multi-level perspective was also a key characteristic of Organizations Evolving, which began with creation at the organizational level, moved through change at the organization and population levels, and ended at the community level. That book was later revised in a collaboration with Martin Ruef.

Career at the University of North Carolina

Aldrich moved from Cornell University to the Department of Sociology at the University North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 1982. He was the first chair of the revamped Curriculum in Industrial Relations, later renamed the Management and Society (M&S) Curriculum within the sociology department. He chaired the M&S program until 2003, when he became department chair of sociology, serving until 2014. Under his direction, the department’s journal, Social Forces, switched from being self-published to becoming one of the major social science journals published by Oxford University Press.

After arriving at the University North Carolina, Aldrich’s research shifted toward a greater focus on entrepreneurship, inspired in part by colleagues at entrepreneurship conferences such as the Babson Conference. One of his most well-known works, “Entrepreneurship through social networks", conceptualized business creation as an outcome of opportunity structures and access to resources obtained through key connecting relationships. Relatedly, Aldrich wrote extensively on family business, gender, and race issues of entrepreneurship, and social ties in small business creation. He was heavily influenced by his colleagues at UNC, particularly Glen Elder, who pioneered the approach called life course studies, and Amos Hawley, a pioneering researcher in human ecology. Aldrich was also involved in a number of key large-scale entrepreneurship projects, including the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics (PSED) I and II.

Aldrich’s recent work has focused on entrepreneurial efforts made possible by current social movements and technology. As the maker movement has empowered would-be entrepreneurs to tinker, explore, and unleash creative efforts, social networks have evolved and made it possible for such creative efforts to receive validation in many ways, including through crowd funding campaigns. He is investigating the possible effects that participating in the maker movement, especially in well-equipped maker spaces, might have on hobbyists and tinkerers creating prototypes and subsequently starting their own enterprises.

Honors and awards

Entrepreneurship Researcher of the Year Award, Swedish Foundation of Small Business Research, 2000.

Distinguished Scholar Award, Academy of Management Organization and Management Theory Division, 2000.

George R. Terry Award, Academy of Management, Best Management Book Published in 1999.

J. Carlyle Sitterson Freshman Teaching Award, 2002, UNC-CH.

Conference on Howard Aldrich's contributions to research on evolutionary approaches to entrepreneurship, sponsored by the Journal of Business Venturing (JBV) and the University of Maryland Business School, October 4-5th, 2002. Published as a special issue of the Journal of Business Venturing, Volume 19, Issue 3, Pages 309-463 (May 2004): “Evolutionary approaches to entrepreneurship: Honoring Howard Aldrich.” Edited by: Scott Shane

Mentor Award, Academy of Management Entrepreneurship Division, 2007.

IDEA Foundational Paper Award Academy of Management Entrepreneurship Division, 2009. For a paper co-authored with Marlena Fiol: “Fools Rush In? The Institutional Context of Industry Creation.” The paper was described as “representative of a classic and highly influential contribution to entrepreneurship research that serves as a legacy for scholarly work in the field.

B abson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference Lifetime Membership Award, 2013. Presentation in Lyon, France, June, 2013

Honorary Doctoral Degree, Mid-Sweden University, Ostersund, Sweden, 2014.

Honorary Doctoral Degree, Bowling Green State University, Ohio, 2015.

Selected Books

Howard E. Aldrich. 1979. Organizations and Environments. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Reprinted by Stanford University Press in their Stanford Business Classics Series, with a new Introduction, October, 2008.

Roger Waldinger, Howard E. Aldrich, and Robin Ward. 1990. Ethnic Entrepreneurs: Immigrant Businesses in Industrial Societies. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Howard E. Aldrich and Martin Ruef. 2006. Organizations Evolving, second edition. London: Sage Publications.

Howard E. Aldrich. 2011. An Evolutionary Perspective on Entrepreneurship: Selected Essays by Howard E. Aldrich. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Selected Articles

Phillip H. Kim and Howard Aldrich. 2005. “Social Capital and Entrepreneurship.” In Zoltan Acs and David Audretsch, editors. Foundations and Trends in Entrepreneurship. Available online at

Howard E. Aldrich and Phillip H. Kim. 2007. “A Life Course Perspective on Occupational Inheritance: Self-employed Parents and Their Children.” pp. 33–82 in Martin Ruef and Michael Lounsbury, Research in the Sociology of Organizations. Elsevier JAI.

Howard E. Aldrich, Geoffrey M. Hodgson, David L. Hull, Thorbjørn Knudsen, Joel Mokyr and Viktor J. Vanberg. 2008. “In Defence of Generalized Darwinism.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 18, 5 (October): 577-596.

Junko Shimazoe and Howard E. Aldrich. 2010. "Group Work Can Be Gratifying: Understanding & Overcoming Resistance to Cooperative Learning." College Teaching 58: 1-6.

Steven W. Bradley, Howard E. Aldrich, Dean Shephard, and Johan Wiklund. 2011. “Resources, Environmental Changes, and Survival: Asymmetric Paths of Young Independent and Subsidiary Organizations.” Strategic Management Journal. 32, 5 (May): 486-509.

Howard E. Aldrich and Tiantian Yang. 2012. “Lost in Translation: Cultural Codes are not Blueprints.” Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 6: 1-17.

Howard E. Aldrich. 2012. “An Interview with Howard Aldrich: Conducted by Hans Landstrom.” Revue de l'Entrepreneuriat, 11: 1: 73-83

Howard E. Aldrich. 2012. “The Emergence of Entrepreneurship as an Academic Field: A Personal Essay on Institutional Entrepreneurship.” Research Policy, 41 (7): 1240-1248.

Tyler Wright, J. Adam Cobb, and Howard E Aldrich. 2013. “More Than a Metaphor: Assessing the Historical Legacy of Resource Dependence and Its Contemporary Promise as a Theory of Environmental Complexity.” pp. 439–486 in Royston Greenwood, editor, The Annals of the Academy of Management, Volume 7, Number 1.

Tiantian Yang and Howard E Aldrich. 2014. “Who’s the Boss? Explaining Gender Inequality in Entrepreneurial Teams.” American Sociological Review, 79 (2): 303-327.

Stephen Lippmann and Howard E Aldrich. 2014. “History and evolutionary theory.” Pp 124 – 146 in Marcelo Bucheli and R. Daniel Wadhwani, editors, Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Alex Stewart and Howard E. Aldrich. 2015. “Collaboration between Anthropology and Management Researchers: Obstacles and Opportunities.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 29, 2: 173-192.

Howard E. Aldrich. 2015. “Perpetually on the Eve of Destruction? Understanding Exits in Capitalist Societies at Multiple Levels of Analysis.” Pages 11 – 41 in Dawn R. DeTienne and Karl Wennberg, editors, Research Handbook of Entrepreneurial Exit. Cheltenham UK: Edward Elgar publishing.


Howard E. Aldrich Wikipedia