Magnus Thor Torfason

Assistant Professor of Business Administration (Leave of Absence)

Magnus Thor Torfason is an assistant professor in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, where he teaches the Founders’ Dilemmas course in the MBA elective curriculum. Previously he taught The Entrepreneurial Manager course in the MBA required curriculum.

His research focuses on how behavior is influenced by the social structure of individuals and organizations. One research stream explores how social networks and group identities jointly affect adherence to informal societal rules and norms of behavior. Another research stream examines norms and their violation within exchange networks, including VC investment networks and transactions using electronic currency. In a third stream, Magnus has examined the birth and death of network weaving organizations – organizations whose main purpose is to provide connections between other actors.

Magnus Thor Torfason is an assistant professor in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, where he teaches the Founders’ Dilemmas course in the MBA elective curriculum. Previously he taught The Entrepreneurial Manager course in the MBA required curriculum.

His research focuses on how behavior is influenced by the social structure of individuals and organizations. One research stream explores how social networks and group identities jointly affect adherence to informal societal rules and norms of behavior. Another research stream examines norms and their violation within exchange networks, including VC investment networks and transactions using electronic currency. In a third stream, Magnus has examined the birth and death of network weaving organizations – organizations whose main purpose is to provide connections between other actors.

Several of Magnus’s research projects rely on electronic trace data generated in online interactions, and he has a deep interest in both the methodological questions associated with the analysis of large scale electronic data sets and the theoretical questions associated with studying behavior in environments that are not considered “real” in the conventional sense.

Magnus is the recipient of a number of awards for his research and scholarly work, including a best paper award at the 2009 Transatlantic Doctoral Student Conference. Previously, he was a finalist for the Douglas Nigh Memorial Best Paper Award in 2007. His work has also been profiled in media outlets such as The Washington PostBBC, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com.

Magnus was a co-founder of HandPoint, a software company currently headquartered in the UK, which develops payment and point-of-sale solutions for handheld computers. He served as Technical Director until he began his doctoral studies at Columbia in 2005, but continued to serve on the board of the company until 2009. He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Iceland, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in both electrical and electronic engineering and computer science.

  1. The Global Rise of Democracy

    We examine the influence of an interstate network created by intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) on the global diffusion of democracy. We propose that IGOs facilitate democracy’s diffusion by transmitting information between member states and by interpreting that information according to prevailing norms in the world society, where democracy is viewed as the legitimate form of government. We employ a network autocorrelation model to track changes in democracy among all of the world’s countries from 1815 to 2000. We find that democracy does diffuse through the IGO network and that the influence of democratic countries is stronger than that of undemocratic countries. Evidence indicates that the IGO network serves as a basis for normative diffusion. This is an important contribution to sociological accounts of globalization, which tend to emphasize diffusion divorced from network structure or diffusion dependent on the coercive influence of a small set of international organizations.
  2. Organizing the In-between

    This article examines the population dynamics and viability of network weavers, which are organizations that provide network relations for others. An analysis of the population dynamics of the intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) that are the basis of the interstate networks that infl uenced global economic relations, peace, and democracy in the 1815–2000 period shows that IGO founding and failure depends on the ease and value of specifi c interstate relations. Results indicate that networkweaving organizations are easier to operate when they encompass proximate and similar actors, yet they also reap rewards for bringing together otherwise disconnected actors, in particular, actors with confl icts. Combined, these organizational processes can account for the high clustering and short-path distance between nodes that are characteristic of the endemic small-world network structure. Furthermore, the study shows that the concepts of legitimacy and competition can be applied to identify particular spaces in the network of bilateral relations that are more or less hospitable for IGOs.