Doctoral Student

Curtis Kwinyen Chan

Curtis K. Chan is a Ph.D. student in the Organizational Behavior program jointly offered by Harvard Business School and the Department of Sociology at Harvard. Curtis’s research interests include the social and cultural processes of inequality and meaning-making as they relate to the lived experiences of workers within the context of organizations and occupational groups.

Currently, Curtis has research in two streams of work. His first stream considers processes of inequality. In an inductive, qualitative case study of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), he theorizes a mechanism called task segregation, where a subgroup of workers is disproportionately allocated to spend more time doing particular tasks within a job. The basis of this theorization is the observation of gender inequality between female and male security screening officers at the TSA, and the disproportionate allocation of female screeners to the task of conducting passenger pat-downs. His second stream of research considers cultural processes of meaning-making. In an ongoing ethnographic case study of a consulting firm, he theorizes micro-institutional processes of meaning-making in a firm undergoing isomorphic change.

Curtis K. Chan is a Ph.D. student in the Organizational Behavior program jointly offered by Harvard Business School and the Department of Sociology at Harvard. Curtis’s research interests include the social and cultural processes of inequality and meaning-making as they relate to the lived experiences of workers within the context of organizations and occupational groups.

Currently, Curtis has research in two streams of work. His first stream considers processes of inequality. In an inductive, qualitative case study of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), he theorizes a mechanism called task segregation, where a subgroup of workers is disproportionately allocated to spend more time doing particular tasks within a job. The basis of this theorization is the observation of gender inequality between female and male security screening officers at the TSA, and the disproportionate allocation of female screeners to the task of conducting passenger pat-downs. His second stream of research considers cultural processes of meaning-making. In an ongoing ethnographic case study of a consulting firm, he theorizes micro-institutional processes of meaning-making in a firm undergoing isomorphic change.

Before joining the doctoral program in 2011, Curtis worked as an Analyst and then as an Associate at the boutique management consulting firm Innosight, which focuses on innovation in a variety of industries. Earlier on, he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 2008 with an A.B. in social anthropology and a secondary field in psychology, and he was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society since his junior year. In college, he conducted ethnographic research on the cultural values of street dancers in New England and Miami, and the undergraduate thesis he wrote on this topic under the advising of Professor of Anthropology Michael Herzfeld was awarded a Thomas T. Hoopes Prize. 

  1. Overview

    Curtis K. Chan is a Ph.D. student in the Organizational Behavior program jointly offered by Harvard Business School and the Department of Sociology at Harvard. Curtis’s research interests include the social and cultural processes of inequality and meaning-making as they relate to the lived experiences of workers within the context of organizations and occupational groups. Currently, Curtis has research in two streams of work. His first stream considers processes of inequality. In an inductive, qualitative case study of a unit of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), he theorizes a mechanism called task segregation, where a subgroup of workers is disproportionately allocated to spend more time doing particular tasks within a job. In this study, he observes gender inequality between female and male security screening officers at the TSA alongside the disproportionate allocation of female screeners to the task of conducting passenger pat-downs. His second stream of research considers cultural processes of meaning-making. In an ongoing ethnographic case study of a consulting firm, he theorizes the micro-institutional processes of meaning-making in a firm undergoing isomorphic change.

    Keywords: qualitative research; ethnography; corporate culture; organizational behavior; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Theory; Working Conditions; Gender Characteristics; Consulting Industry;

  2. Transportation Security Officers’ Work, Motivations, and Practices Study

    Because of its unique history, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a strategic setting to explore employees' possible distinct and evolving relation to their work.  Since its inception in the wake of 9/11, the TSA has hired thousands of individuals, many of which have joined at the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) level. These TSOs comes from a variety of backgrounds. The goal of this study is to better understand the TSOs relation to their work, particularly variations in such relations.
  3. Micro-Institutional Processes of Organizational Isomorphic Change

    Isomorphism has been a focus of organizational research since Meyer and Rowan’s seminal paper (1977). Organizational theory suggests that isomorphism occurs largely because organizations seek legitimacy, and a meta-analysis of neoinstitutional studies shows that adoption of institutionalized practices generally improves organizational performance (Heugens and Lander, 2009). Existing scholarship has considered isomorphism at a macro-level, examining units of analysis such as organizational populations (e.g., Hannan and Freeman, 1977) and fields (e.g., DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). Yet, scholarship has neglected the more micro processes that accompany isomorphism at the individual, group, and intra-organizational levels. Indeed, it may be that these processes explain how the adoption of institutionalized practices can enable (or prevent) beneficial organizational outcomes. What, then, are the micro-processes through which organizational members influence and are influenced by an isomorphic organizational change? Through a qualitative, multi-phase case study of a firm undergoing isomorphic change, I address this question. Through the collection of interviews, participant-observation, and archival material, I aim to build a theoretical model of isomorphic change and its micro-processes. By conducting this study, I potentially contribute to the literatures on neoinstitutionalism, isomorphism, organizational change, organizational and individual identity and image, and culture.