Research

My research projects are broadly driven by a desire to understand the interrelationship between business and social problems, with a focus on inequality. This interest manifests itself in two distinct but related streams of inquiry. Stream one explores how businesses help resolve, or claim to help resolve, social problems via their philanthropy and organizational values. Stream two concerns social networks and inequality within and outside of organizations. My research pipeline includes projects that bridge these two areas. I take a multi-method and multi-level approach in addressing these topics, using large archival data sets, in-depth qualitative interviews, and experiments. A distinctive strength of my scholarship is the rich set of original and difficult-to-obtain data sources that I draw from, allowing me to draw unique conclusions.

I. Business and Social Problems
In my first research track, I focus on business efforts to address social problems through studies of how businesses: 1) fund solutions to inequality via their philanthropy and 2) promote organizational values. Building on the idea that non-market activities may benefit firms, I develop and in-depth understanding of how firms use philanthropy to manage their reputations and when stating formal organizational values backfire. In exploring these areas, I use hard-to-acquire sources including a data set of over 1 million grants made from companies to nonprofits and interviews with gatekeepers who control philanthropy decisions at Fortune 1000 firms.

Pamphile, V., Luo, J., & King, B. “Impression Management Tactics after Reputational Threat.” (stage: data analysis)
In one project, I ask how companies facing reputational threats use their philanthropic resources to redirect stakeholder attention away from controversial issues. Using longitudinal data on philanthropic grants made by Fortune 1000 firms, I find that companies do not readily redirect their non-market resources in response to controversies unless they experience attention from the media. The findings present a paradox of media attention: on the one hand, heightened media attention leads firms to address controversial areas, yet when that publicity is negative, firms use their philanthropy to deflect attention from controversies. In this article, I extend theories of non-market strategy by detailing the mechanisms leading to the use of different impression management tactics to respond to reputational threats.

Pamphile, V. “Corporate Philanthropy as Relational Maintenance.” (stage: writing)
In this paper, I use a qualitative approach to understand how companies decide which particular nonprofits will receive their philanthropic donations. Drawing on 40 in-depth interviews with corporate grantmakers and fieldwork observations of a corporate foundation, I find that the grantmaking process is heavily influenced by relational dynamics. I argue that the annual, ongoing pattern of philanthropic exchange serves as an informal way for firms to manage social relationships with a variety of stakeholders, including the community, employees, consumers, and peer companies. Specifically, gift-giving serves as a relational maintenance tool and helps firms form alliances, socialize their employees, and build the reputational capital needed to resolve local conflicts of interest. While much literature details how firms make decisions about where to allocate resources to maximize profits, I provide a deeper understanding about the internal dynamics that shape how firms allocate philanthropic resources and organize their relationship with society.

Pamphile, V. & Ruttan, R.  “Stated-Lived Value Congruence and Expressive Authenticity.” Reject & Resubmit.
A third project explores the consequences of claiming to hold organizational values without internal implementation. We develop the concept of stated-lived (SL) value congruence, or the congruence between what organizations say they value and what their employees experience in daily organizational life. This provides a novel theoretical contribution to a mature literature on value congruence, advancing the conceptualization of organizational values as multidimensional. Two mix-method studies test whether and why employees view their workplaces more favorably when stated and lived values are congruent. Study 1 employs data from company value statements and the workplace review website Glassdoor.com and Study 2 utilizes an experimental design. Countering the idea that merely stating values is beneficial, we show that incongruence between what organizations say they value and what employees experience leads people to find their employers less authentic. As a result, organizations with SL value incongruence experience lower ratings from employees than organizations with SL congruence. This article helps explain why some organizations’ value claims are viewed as more authentic than others and argues that corporate leaders seeking to use organizational values to build competitive advantage must seriously consider internal implementation of their outward claims.

 

II. Social Networks and Inequality
My secondary research track considers how inequality and organizational settings shape how people build and use their social networks. My findings counter expectations that social support networks are stable; instead showing they are flexible and adaptive to different environments. Moreover, my work in this area resolves a long-standing contradiction in the literature by explaining why people in poor neighborhoods are both distrustful of others while also relying on them. In these studies I employ original qualitative and quantitative data gained from interviews with graduate students and mothers from poor neighborhoods.

Small, M. L., Pamphile, V., Hughes, C., & Parker, J. “Words vs. Actions in the Network Behavior of Low-Income African Americans.” (stage: preparing for submission)
My co-authors and I explore these questions in a project that concerns the extent to which people in poor neighborhoods come to rely on others in their network as they manage poverty (Small, Pamphile, Hughes, & Parker, pre-submission). Based on in-depth interviews and participant observation among low-income mothers in three high-poverty neighborhoods, we document that the same individuals both express distrust of their neighbors and come to rely on their neighbors extensively. We argue that the apparent contradiction reflects that though the mothers’ words are rational, their actions are pragmatic: rather than deliberative and planned, their network behavior is intuitive and creative. We discuss the role that limited resources and organizational expectations play in the creativity that mothers display in their actions and in the prevalence of intuitive decision-making in their network behavior.

Small, Mario L., Pamphile, V., & McMahan, P. 2015. “How Stable Is the Core Discussion Network?” Social Networks 40: 90-102.
In another paper, my co-authors and I address the mechanisms behind social network change (Small, Pamphile, & McMahan, 2015). While social networks scholars theorize the core discussion network to be composed of people’s closest ties and expect it to be largely stable, recent studies show that networks are strongly affected by the contexts in which people interact. Based on original network data, we examine the stability of the core discussion network over the first six and twelve months of graduate students as they enter a new organizational context. We find that the network changes remarkably quickly, with little or no lag, and that it appears to do so because both the obligations that people face and the routine activities they engage in are transformed by new organizational environments. Our findings show that the core discussion network may be less a “core” network than a highly contextual support network in which people are added and dropped as actors shift from environment to environment.

 

III. Future Directions
My research pipeline includes projects that merge and extend my two areas of expertise by exploring the interrelations between social network dynamics, businesses, and social problems. These projects take advantage of unique, longitudinal data sets, including seven years of original data on project teams from a top management consultant agency and a database of over 1 million corporate grants made to specific nonprofits. I look forward to bringing a set of rich, varied data sources to the research that I generate moving forward.

One current project I am excited about examines how involvement in pro bono consulting initiatives shapes the network structure of employees who choose to engage in pro bono work (with C. Bode and M. Rogan). This project uses team data from ~10,000 employees in a large, international management consulting agency over seven years. Our initial findings show that employees who participate in pro bono work enjoy greater network influence over the short term, and enjoy greater brokerage over the long term. My second on-going project uses a social networks lens to understand the dynamic relationship between companies and nonprofits. This project explores brokerage activity among companies and nonprofits, using longitudinal data on over 1 million grants made by large corporations to nonprofits. As organizations focus more than ever on prosocial behavior and as the interrelations between business and society grow, these topics will continue to be theoretically generative and empirically relevant.

 

PEER-REVIEWED PUBLICATIONS
Small, Mario L., Vontrese Pamphile, and Peter McMahan. 2015. “How Stable Is the Core Discussion Network?Social Networks 40: 90-102.

Deeds, Vontrese and Mary Pattillo. 2015. “Organizational failure and institutional pluralism: A case study of an urban school closure.Urban Education 50.4: 474-504.

POLICY BRIEFS
Pamphile, Vontrese. 2014. “How School Closures Can Hurt Students by Disrupting Urban Educational Communities.Scholar Strategy Network. Key Findings Policy Brief.