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Katherine Chen

Faculty and Staff Profiles

Katherine K. Chen

Assistant Professor

NAC 6/133
Phone Number: 

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 most 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. 

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 assistant professor in sociology at The City College of New York and the Graduate Center, the City University of New York.

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)


A.B. and A.M. Stanford University

M.A. and Ph.D. Harvard University

Courses Taught

Work and Family,
Contemporary Issues in the Workplace,
Organizations and Collective Action (Sociology of Organizations)

Research Interests

Work and Occupations
Economic Sociology
Social Movements
Urban Community
Cultural Sociology


Selected publications (for a full listing, see Short Bio's Curriculum Vitae)


Chen, Katherine K. 2009.  Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event.  Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

- Awarded the 2011 Outstanding Book in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research by the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA).

- Awarded Honorable Mention for the 2011 Max Weber Award of the Organizations, Occupations, and Work (OOW) section of the American Sociological Association (ASA).



Peer-reviewed journal articles 

Chen, Katherine K.  2013.  "Storytelling: An Informal Mechanism of Accountability for Voluntary Organizations."  Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 42(5): 902-922. 

Chen, Katherine K., Howard Lune, and Edward L. Queen, II.  2013.  "How Values Shape and are Shaped by Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations: The Current State of the Field."  Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 42(5): 856-885.  

Chen, Katherine K.  2012.  "Charismatizing the Routine: Storytelling for Meaning and Agency in the Burning Man Organization."  Qualitative Sociology 35(3): 311-334. 

Chen, Katherine K. 2012.  "Organizing Creativity: Enabling Creative Output, Process, and Organizing Practices."  Sociology Compass 6(8): 624-643.  

Schmitz, Mieke Fry, Nancy Giunta, Nina S. Parikh, Katherine K. Chen, Marianne C. Fahs, and William T. Gallo.  2012.  "The Association between Neighbourhood Social Cohesion and Hypertension Management Structures in Older Adults."   Age and Ageing 41(3): 388-392.

Chen, Katherine K.  2012.  "Artistic Prosumption: Cocreative Destruction at Burning Man."  American Behavioral Scientist 56(4): 570-595.

Chen, Katherine K.  2012.  "Laboring for the Man: Augmenting Authority in a Voluntary Association."  Research in the Sociology of Organizations 34:135-164.

- Chosen as Outstanding Author Contribution Award Winner at the Literati Network Awards for Excellence, 2013. 

Chen, Katherine K.  2011.  "Lessons for Creative Cites from Burning Man: How Organizations can Sustain and Disseminate a Creative Context."  City, Culture and Society 2(2): 93-100.

Chen, Katherine K. and Siobhán O’Mahony.  2009.  “Differentiating Organizational Boundaries.”  Research in the Sociology of Organizations 26: 183-220.  

- Chosen as Outstanding Author Contribution Award Winner at the Literati Network Awards for Excellence, 2010.

Book chapter

Chen, Katherine K. 2005.  "Incendiary Incentives: How the Burning Man Organization Motivates and Manages Volunteers."  Pp. 109-128 in AfterBurn: Reflections on Burning Man.  Eds. Lee Gilmore and Mark Van Proyen.  Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Selected short articles

Chen, Katherine K.  Accepted for publication.  "Burning Man."  In the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies.  Ed. Daniel T. Cook and J. Michael Ryan.

Chen, Katherine K.  2013.  "Organic and mechanistic forms."  Pp. 519-522 in the Sage Encyclopedia of Management Theory.  Ed. Eric Kessler.  NJ: Sage.

Chen, Katherine K.  2010.  "Burning Man."  Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology.  Ed. George Ritzer.

Chen, Katherine K.  2009.  "Authenticity at Burning Man."  Contexts 8(3): 65-67.

Chen, Katherine K.  2008.  “Bureaucracy” Pp. 99-101 in Encyclopedia of Social Problems.  Ed. Vince Parrillo. NJ: Sage. 

Chen, Katherine K.  2008.  “Oligarchy.”  Pp. 637-638 in Encyclopedia of Social Problems.  Ed. Vince Parrillo. NJ: Sage. 


Regular contributor to, which attracts up to 1,300 visitors per day from 13 countries.

Pending publications under peer review

Chen, Katherine K. "'We Can Network Ourselves': When Can Actors in Strategic Action Fields (SAFs) Coordinate Interorganizational Efforts?"  Revised and resubmit at Organization Studies. Originally submitted Dec. 31, 2012.

Chen, Katherine K."Creating Capitalists: How Organizations Acculturate Consumers of Social Insurance."  Under review at Sociological Forum.  Submitted Oct. 8, 2013.

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