Who receives status when taking responsibility for socio-environmental issues—or why we should be interested in “Others”

INTRANSIT hosts assistant professor Nadine Arnold (VU Amsterdam) in our internal seminar series. She will present her work on food waste, organizational status, and responsibility. 

In our paper, we examine the construction of status hierarchies between organisations that take responsibility for socio-environmental issues. Using theoretical insights from sociological and organisational theory on status, we ask how these status hierarchies emerge and who the winners and losers are. Based on the theoretical assumption that organisations derive status from evaluations and relationships, we investigate status hierarchies between organisations proposing different interventions to address the issue of food waste: charities (e.g., food banks), food save businesses, plants and technology companies, alternative food producers and distributors, public sector organizations and interest groups. Using a sequential mixed-methods design, we first use qualitative data to disentangle the evaluative status hierarchy. In a second step, we use information from a survey that included a sociometric module on relationships to trace interorganisational networks and specify the relational status hierarchy. We find that status hierarchies differ and that, paradoxically, the organisations that reduce waste so that it is eaten by humans do not necessarily receive the highest status. Rather, our data show that those organisations (public sector organizations and advocacy groups) that rarely encounter food waste but tell others what they should do best to solve the issue—John W. Meyer (2010) calls them "Others"—are the most admired. These findings contribute to a better understanding of the role of organisations in solving socio-environmental issues and add to the literature on organisational status. Moreover, they invite critical thinking about responsibility and the way we tackle food waste.


Nadine Arnold is an Assistant Professor of Organisational Theory at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Lucerne. She was a research fellow at École Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay, Université Gustave Eiffel, and the University of Uppsala. Her research programme focuses on the nexus between organisation and society, specifically on new forms of organisation (e.g., standards and rankings) and how these shape and are formed by society. She pays particular attention to the organisation of responsibility and how the phenomena of organising and valuing interrelate in the context of sustainability. Theoretically, Nadine bridges insights from institutional and organisational theory as well as economic sociology. Empirically, her research mainly deals with food, and most recently with food that is valued as worthless (food waste). She has conducted research in Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Ghana, Kenya, and Côte d’Ivoire. Her work has appeared in journals such as Organization Studies, Regulation & Governance and Journal of Rural Studies.

Published May 2, 2022 9:13 AM - Last modified May 2, 2022 9:13 AM