Research Projects

My research spans four ongoing projects. I collaborate closely with students and colleagues in fields including Anthropology, Architecture, Bioethics, Economics, Engineering, Management, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Psychology, and Sociology.

(1) The U.S. Knowledge Economy (USKE) Project

Young high-technology companies face a pair of strategic dilemmas. They must conform to existing industry models while differentiating themselves from competitors and they must use relationships to signal status while prospecting for novel information. High-tech business models are capital intensive. Thus, young organizations require repeated cash infusions. Their raison d'etre is innovation, but few possess all the capacities necessary to move a new product or service from conception to market. As a result, many high-technology organizations turn to networks to access the resources and information that fuel discovery.

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Garnering public and private equity investments requires that firms signal their membership in established segments of existing industries while also indicating their distinctiveness relative to peers and rivals. Network connections to cohesive clusters of existing partners offer clear indications of membership and status, but far-flung ties to diverse collaborators are the best source of the new ideas. The networks and identities necessary to secure capital and to pursue novelty are contradictory.

This new, NSF-funded research project is designed to determine how organizations at the radical edge of research-intensive industries solve these problems; what their solutions mean for the development and maintenance of characteristic, industry-specific markets for technology, talent, & capital; and whether those differences can account for the sometimes radical innovations that emerge from collaborative research & development efforts at the frontiers of the knowledge-economy.

Collaborators include: Helena Buhr, Natalie Cotton & Russ Funk

Selected Papers:

  • Buhr, Helena & Jason Owen-Smith. 2010. "Networks as Institutional Support: Law Firm and Venture Capitalist Relations and Regional Diversity in High-Technology IPOs." Forthcoming, Research in the Sociology of Work. Vol. 20. [pdf]


(2) Networks, Innovation, Space & Organizations (NISOrg)

Social relationships shape the productivity of organizations, teams and individuals in complicated ways but social scientists are only beginning to systematically explore how the arrangement of physical space influences interactions, the networks that emerge from them. People work and interact in the built environment, thus research that disregards space or that analytically divorces social phenomena from their locations and contexts is likely to result in impoverished theories and invalid findings.

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 This project situates networks in physical space at multiple levels of analysis in order to understand both the evolution of social structures and their effects for innovation in science and engineering fields.  We emphasize the socio-spatial dynamics of innovation at three related levels by focusing on (1) how proximity in the physical layouts of buildings shapes the likelihood and success of scientific collaborations in interdisciplinary research groups; (2) how patterns of collaboration that span universities shape the social and economic impact of their federally funded R&D; and (3) how networks connecting diverse organizations contribute to the success, industrial diversity, and resilience of regional high technology economies.   

Collaborators Include: Woody Powell, Kjersten Whittington, Felix Kabo, Maggie Levenstein, Rick Price, & Jerry Davis

Selected Papers/Reports:

  • Owen-Smith, Jason, Massimo Riccaboni, Fabio Pammolli, & Walter W. Powell (2002). "A Comparison of U.S. and European University-Industry Relations in the Life Sciences." Management Science.  48(1): 24-43. [ pdf ]
  • Owen-Smith, Jason  & Walter W. Powell (2004) "Knowledge Networks as Channels and Conduits: The Effects of Spillovers in the Boston Biotechnology Community."  Organization Science. 15(1):5-21 
    [ pdf ]  
  • Powell, Walter W., Douglas R. White, Kenneth W. Koput & Jason Owen-Smith (2004) "Network Dynamics and  Field Evolution: The Growth of Inter-organizational Collaboration in the Life Sciences."  American Journal of Sociology.  110(4): 1132-1205. [ pdf ]
  • Owen-Smith, Jason & Walter W. Powell (2005) "Accounting for Emergence and Novelty in Boston and Bay Area Biotechnology." in P. Braunerhjelm & M. Feldman (Eds.) Cluster Genesis: The Emergence of Technology Clusters and Their Implications for Government Policy.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [ pdf ]
  • Bunker Whittington, Kjersten, Jason Owen-Smith & Walter W. Powell. 2009. "Networks, Propinquity, and Innovation in Knowledge Intensive Industries." Administrative Science Quarterly. 54(1): 90-122. [pdf]
  • Buhr, Helena & Jason Owen-Smith. 2010. "Networks as Institutional Support: Law Firm and Venture Capitalist Relations and Regional Diversity in High-Technology IPOs." Research in the Sociology of Work. Vol. 20. [pdf]
  • Owen-Smith, Jason, Felichism Kabo, Margaret Levenstein, Richard Price, Gerald F. Davis. 2012. "A Tale of Two Buildings: Socio-Spacial Significance in Innovation." Report, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan [pdf]



(3) Private Rights To Public Knowledge: Commercializing University Science

The last thirty years have witnessed a sea change in U.S. Universities' engagement with commerce. This project draws on qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the various roles that academic institutions play in technological change, industrial growth, regional & national economic development.

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am particularly concerned with the effects that increasing research commercialization is wreaking upon institutional arrangements that support academic scholarship. Treating universities as sources of valuable intellectual property, anchors for regional economic development & and seedbeds for entrepreneurship has had salutary effects on campus and off. Nevertheless, increased commercialization comes at the cost of significant and dangerous unintended consequences. My research considers the opportunities and the pitfalls associated with deeper commercial engagements. I examine shifting faculty attitudes and careers, the daily work-practices of university technology transfer offices, and changes in to the status hierarchies that govern academic life as a means to understand this complex institutional transformation at multiple time scales and levels of analysis.

Collaborators include: Jeannette Colyvas & Woody Powell

Selected papers:

  • Owen-Smith, Jason & Walter W. Powell. 2001. “Careers and Contradictions: Faculty Responses to the Transformation of Knowledge and its Uses in the Life Sciences.” Research in the Sociology of Work. 10: 109-140. [ pdf ]
  • Owen-Smith, Jason. 2003. “From Separate Systems to a Hybrid Order: Accumulative Advantage Across Public and Private Science at Research One Universities." Research Policy. 32(6):1081-1104. [ pdf ]
  • Owen-Smith, Jason. 2005. “Dockets, Deals, and Sagas: Commensuration and the Rationalization of Experience in University Licensing." Social Studies of Science. 35(1):69-97.
    [ pdf ]
  • Owen-Smith, Jason. 2011. "The Institutionalization of Expertise in University Licensing." Theory & Society. Forthcoming. [pdf]


(4) Policy & Controversy in Human Stem Cell Research

In 1998, a University of Wisconsin scientist, James Thomson, successfully cultured human embryonic stem cells (hESC). Stem cells are pluripotent, blank “templates” that can be stimulated to develop into specific cells such as those found in the brain or heart. As a result, the therapeutic potential of hESC research has raised hopes about cures for currently incurable diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's & Diabetes.

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This research has proven controversial as it requires materials (cell lines) derived from human embryos, which the process destroys.  Consequently, the scientific & clinical potential of hESC research has come into conflict with strongly held legal & moral convictions regarding human life. Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in ongoing debates about whether and how federal research and development funds should be used to support hESC research. Stem cell science offers a strategic site for sociological analysis of interactions among politics, science, religion, & the public good.

Collaborators include: Mariana Craciun, Jennifer McCormick & Christopher Scott

Selected papers:

  • Owen-Smith, Jason & Jennifer McCormick. 2006. "An International Gap in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research." Nature Biotechnology. 24(4):391-392. [ pdf ]
  • McCormick, Jennifer, Jason Owen-Smith, & Christopher T. Scott. 2009. "Distribution of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Lines: Who, When, and Where." Cell Stem Cell. 4:107-110. [pdf]
  • Scott, Christopher T., Jennifer McCormick, & Jason Owen-Smith. 2009. "And then there were two: Use of hESC lines." Nature Biotechnology. 27(8):696-697. [pdf]
  • Scott, Christopher T., Jennifer McCormick, & Jason Owen-Smith. 2010. "Federal policy and the use of pluripotent stem cells." Nature Methods. 11: 866-867. [pdf]
  • Scott, Christopher T., Jennifer McCormick, Mindy DeRouen, & Jason Owen-Smith. 2011. "Democracy Derived: New Trajectories in Pluripotent Stem Cell Research." Cell. 145(6): 820-826. [pdf]
  • Owen-Smith, Jason, Christopher Thomas Scott & Jennifer B. McCormick. 2012. "Expand and Regularize Funding for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research." Journal of Policy Analysis & Management. 31(1):714-729. [pdf]

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