Katherine K. Chen’s research specialty is the study of organizations; her other research interests include work and occupations, economic sociology, social movements, urban community, and cultural sociology. Her ethnographic studies include research on the growing organization behind the annual Burning Man event. Her award-winning book, Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event, shows how an enabling organization can support members’ efforts without succumbing to either under-organizing’s insufficient structure and coordination or over-organizing’s excessive structure and coercive control.
Prof. Chen's recent research examines how organizations in an organizational field collectively manage uncertainty wrought by policy changes, fiscal crisis, and unexpected exogenous shocks such as natural disasters. To understand how organizations collectively innovate (or maintain the status quo), Prof. Chen is studying the coordination efforts of organizations undertaking a not-yet-familiar mission of helping older adults "age in place" in their homes rather than moving to retirement homes or nursing facilities. This project also includes in-depth ethnographic research of innovative organizations that attempt to change images of aging and strengthen neighborly bonds.
Currently, Prof. Chen is an undertaking an ethnography of how a growing organization, which originated out of the democratic free school movement, communicates its unfamiliar mission and practices to contemporary generations of prospective and current stakeholders.
Prof. Chen received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology from Harvard University and an A.M. in Sociology and an A.B. in Human Biology from Stanford University. She is associate professor in sociology at The City College of New York and the Graduate Center, the City University of New York.