Theses Doctoral

Cultural Diffusion through Language: How Communication Networks Influence Culture in the Age of Digitization

Yeaton, Matthew Richard

My dissertation focuses on the strategic implications of the link between organizational culture and social network structure. I study their role in the process of knowledge transfer and diffusion, organizational memory, and organizational design. More broadly, I examine the way that social structure influences the information environment, and what effect this has on organizational learning. I focus in particular on the process of cultural evolution.

My dissertation leverages digitization as a phenomenon of inherent interest and as an empirical setting that can improve our theoretical understanding of both digital and non-digital communities. I have developed an expertise in computational methods, especially in machine learning techniques related to text and other unstructured data, and in the analysis of "big data," especially pertaining to large-scale networks. By combining these computational tools with organizational theory and the rich relational data generated by the explosion of digital records, my research grants insight into the dynamic process of learning in organizations and the implications for innovation and competitive advantage.

I explore how digitization informs and develops our understanding of organizational culture, knowledge transfer, and the labor market. Specifically, I investigate how digitization has opened a window to observe network structure and language, providing a lasting record of these changes through time. Using these digital records to observe the structure of social relations and the language used to communicate can help deepen our theory of knowledge transfer for a wide range of organizations, not just those that operate in the digital sphere. This means that these studies also have implications for understanding organizations in non-digital settings.

My dissertation contributes both theoretically and empirically to the knowledge theory of the firm. However, the mechanisms underlying knowledge transfer remain underdeveloped. I contribute by disentangling the related mechanisms of language and organizational structure, and I propose that common language directly impacts what knowledge may be efficiently transferred.

Next, my dissertation contributes to the growing field of digitization. Digitization is salient for researchers both as a unique phenomenon and as an ever-expanding source of accessible data to test theory. Moreover, since one of the central contributions of digitization is to reduce the cost of information gathering, it is well-suited to my theoretical setting of knowledge transmission and organizational memory.

Finally, my dissertation contributes to our understanding of culture in organizations. The focus on language as an aspect of culture allows both additional formalization as well as more specific empirical tests of the contribution of culture to organizational outcomes. In particular, a focus on dynamic settings in each of the chapters reveals the interplay between organizational structure, memory, and change. This helps us to understand how language evolves, how it is learned, and how it changes in response to information shocks.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Kogut, Bruce M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 18, 2021