Please join us for the Information Science Colloquium with guest, Todd Schifeling. Todd Schifeling is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Michigan, with affiliations to the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the ICOS Big Data Users Group. He uses computationally-intensive methods to investigate the political and cultural dynamics of change within markets and social movements. He studies the development of new strategies and valuations used by economic and political organizations, and the construction of boundaries between organizations. Empirical subjects include niche proliferation and environmental concerns in consumer markets, category spanning among gourmet food trucks, frame variation in the environmental movement, employment during recessions, and disintegration within the corporate interlock network. This research has led to a solo-authored article in the American Journal of Sociology, which received multiple student paper awards from the American Sociological Association, as well as several working papers.

Title: Categorical Opportunity, Eclectic Authenticity, and Gourmet Food Trucks: Advancing Organizational Research with Data from Social Media

Abstract: This paper has two aims. First, we investigate the potential of social media as a data source for studying organizations in terms of sample breadth and informational depth. Our organizational population of interest, gourmet food trucks, is both a heavy user of social media and difficult to track through conventional means due to the trucks’ small sizes and brief histories. In this portion of the paper, we develop a novel procedure that harvests Twitter data to yield a near population set of cases, and we explore the relative merits of the data in terms of depth. Second, we analyze the self-descriptions and locations of gourmet food trucks and their fans to advance organizational research on category spanning.  This literature has identified the disadvantages to spanning multiple categories as a baseline condition, while also theorizing exceptions where audiences are less attentive to category membership. Using the recent emergence of gourmet food trucks as our case study, we argue for greater attention to the construction of category dynamics in particular social and historical contexts. Inconsistent with prior research on categorical penalties, gourmet trucks emphasize and celebrate their crossing of status and genre categories. We argue that this paradoxical market transformation is fueled by a broad cultural-economic movement that finds authenticity in category crossing. The particular values of this movement and its geographic patterning explain the unexpected success of category crossing among gourmet food trucks, a result we call the “categorical opportunity.”