Sarah Soule Appointed as Next CASBS Director

CASBS at Stanford Univ.
8 min readFeb 3, 2023
Photo of Sarah Soule by Elena Zhukova

Stanford University scholar Sarah A. Soule has accepted an appointment as the next director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford. Soule takes a position endowed in 2015 by Sara Miller McCune, the philanthropist and founder of SAGE Publishing, and will hold the title of Sara Miller McCune Director.

“Sarah is a dynamic educator and leader who will bring visionary ideas to the CASBS community of scholars,” said Kathryn “Kam” Moler, vice provost and dean of research, to whom Soule will report. “We are fortunate to have attracted Sarah to this role. Given her stellar track record and reputation at Stanford, I am confident she will guide the Center into the next stage of impact in knowledge creation through its distinguished fellowships and programming.”

Soule will begin the CASBS leadership role on September 1, 2023. She succeeds Walter W. “Woody” Powell, another Stanford scholar, who has been serving as CASBS interim director. Powell succeeded Margaret Levi, who served as CASBS director for more than eight years.

“I have long admired the Center, both for its contributions to the social sciences and to Stanford University and am honored to help continue its tradition of excellence,” said Soule. “It is a thrill to follow Margaret Levi, whose vision helped guide the Center to where it is today, and Woody Powell, a longtime collaborator and friend whose contributions to the Center have been enormous, especially during this year of transition. I hold both in such high regard and am honored to be part of this esteemed institution.”

Soule joined the Stanford University faculty in 2008 after serving as a professor in the sociology department at Cornell University. She began her professional academic career as an assistant professor, then a tenured associate professor, at the University of Arizona. Trained as a sociologist, Soule completed her master’s and PhD degrees at Cornell University. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Vermont and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Soule has held the title of Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior at GSB since 2009. She has served as GSB’s Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs since 2016. Soule is also a Professor of Sociology (by courtesy) in the university’s School of Humanities and Sciences.

“The Center is exceedingly fortunate to have Sarah Soule as its next director,” said CASBS interim director Woody Powell. “She brings a formidable intellect, enormous energy, and a remarkable record of administrative accomplishments, tackling some of the most challenging issues in the academy today. Personally, Sarah has been a dear friend for years, and we have taught together in many programs. I have always been impressed by her thoughtfulness. I am sure CASBS will thrive under her leadership.”

Soule teaches courses on social movements; diversity, equity, and inclusion; organizational strategy and design; and design thinking. Her research draws on organizational theory, social movements, and political sociology and applies these to questions of organizational and policy change. The cross-disciplinary nature of her research fits well with the Center’s nearly seven-decade ethos and track record of interdisciplinary interactions in service of advancing understanding on questions and challenges of major societal consequence. More specifically, Soule’s research builds on foundational scholarship in the field of organization studies conducted at the Center by CASBS fellows. This includes both 20th-century field-building work as well as 21st-century field-revitalizing work taking place within the Center’s summer institute on Organizations and Their Effectiveness, co-directed by Powell.

“The board looks forward to working with Sarah as she leads CASBS in this time of momentous challenges to human flourishing,” commented Abby Smith Rumsey, chair of the CASBS board of directors. “She brings a wealth of expertise and experience in the dynamics of organizations. She understands the Center’s unique ability to bring together scholars of different disciplines, career stages, and demographics. Above all, she is passionate about extending the reach of the Center’s scholarship beyond CASBS and the academy.”

Soule is the author of the book Contention and Corporate Social Responsibility (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009), coauthor of A Primer on Social Movements (W.W. Norton and Co., 2010) and Diffusion and Social Movements (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011), and co-editor of The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements (Blackwell Publishers, 2004; revised edition 2018). She is the author or coauthor of more than 50 peer reviewed articles, some appearing in prominent journals such as the American Journal of Sociology, Administrative Science Quarterly, the American Sociological Review, Organizational Studies, the Strategic Management Journal, and the Annual Review of Sociology. Her articles oriented toward a practitioner audience have appeared in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, the MIT Sloan Review, and the California Management Review.

Soule’s scholarship and teaching have been recognized by numerous honors and awards. For example, she received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award (1999) to investigate the diffusion of collective protest over a two-decade period in the U.S. She is an elected member of the Sociological Research Association. At Stanford, she has received multiple fellowships and grants from the Graduate School of Business (including a recent award from the Business, Government, and Society Research Fund), and the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research. She also has won several teaching awards in her career.

Soule currently serves the profession as deputy editor of Sociological Science and as a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Organizational Studies, Mobilization, the Cambridge University Press Series on Contentious Politics, and the Stanford University Press business series. She formerly served as editor in chief of the Cambridge University Press Series on Contentious Politics, associate editor of Social Problems, consulting editor of the American Journal of Sociology, and a member of the editorial boards of Research in Political Sociology, the American Sociological Review, and Sociological Perspectives.

In terms of university administrative service and leadership, as GSB’s Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Soule oversaw the school’s executive education unit as well several academic areas within the school. She is perhaps best known as the leader of the GSB’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, where she launched the school’s annual DEI Report, and created research-based programs and initiatives to increase diversity of the GSB faculty, staff, and student populations. The results Soule achieved are encouraging. GSB has measurably increased its percentage of students who are people of color or otherwise underrepresented over just a few cohorts, and the school has moved the needle noticeably in terms of faculty diversity.

“But the progress lies not only in the statistics,” noted Soule. “We have also worked hard to promote a culture of inclusion and psychological safety in order to promote an environment of learning and respect. I intend to bring the same level of energy, attention, and deep resolve to the CASBS community. We all have a lot more work to do — not just at Stanford, but as a society and global community.”

Beyond GSB, Soule serves on the Faculty Advisory Board of Stanford’s VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and the Faculty Council of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (Stanford d.School). She is a Knight-Hennessy Faculty Fellow and serves on the Faculty Advisory Board of the Stanford Impact Labs. Previously, Soule served on Provost Persis Drell’s university-wide Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in a Learning Environment (IDEAL) initiative and the Faculty Diversity Council. She also has served as co-director of Stanford’s branch of the Scandinavian Consortium of Organizational Research (SCANCOR), co-director of the Stanford Center for Social Innovation, co-director of the Stanford Leadership Academy, a member of the Provost’s Panel on Faculty Equity and Quality of Life, and a member of Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing. Away from Stanford, Soule serves on the International Advisory Board to the president of the Stockholm School of Economics.

Advancing the Center’s Model of Excellence

As the Center’s next director, Soule will build on a rich legacy and expanding portfolio of activities. CASBS nurtures pioneering research and exploration of societal questions and challenges in key interrelated ways. Its world renowned residential fellows program features about 40 distinguished thinkers each year from across the social and other human sciences. Since the Center’s launch in 1954, nearly 2,700 fellows have flourished on the Center’s hilltop campus, among them 30 Nobel Prize winners, hundreds of elected members of various national academies, and scores of luminary figures in the nation’s public and intellectual life. Kenneth Arrow, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Lani Guinier, Daniel Kahneman, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Robert Merton, John Rawls, and Edward Said are but a few examples.

As contemporary challenges increasingly require diverse perspectives and tools, the Center also is the epicenter for multi-year research programs, projects, training institutes, and networks. Each creates complementarities and synergy with the fellowship program but also attracts other scholars (within Stanford and beyond), industry leaders, policy makers, and analysts from the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. Among current examples are the flagship Creating a New Moral Political Economy program, which recently launched a new project aimed at accelerating greater diversity and inclusion in economics education; the Towards a Theory of AI Practice project, which recently published a paradigm-shifting white paper on hybrid intelligence; its role in coordinating and implementing Stanford’s Ethics and Society Review process; and an Institute on Diversity that will convene its first cohort in summer 2023.

CASBS as a convergence point enables it to serve as an accelerator or incubator of ideas and leverage its extensive field-building and field-advancing experience and expertise. Throughout its history, CASBS has hosted cross-disciplinary interactions that have been instrumental in launching or advancing major lines of research or even entire sub-disciplines. CASBS has shaped fields such as behavioral economics, comparative politics, evolutionary psychology, gender and language studies, organization studies, and cultural psychology; and lines of research including positive political theory, stereotype threat, and causal modeling in cognitive sciences. During 2013–17, the Center incubated a prominent group of mindset scholars that propelled mindset science forward.

Soule herself has published within a notable line of research advanced in part at CASBS. One of her early-career research collaborations (1997–99), a National Science Foundation-supported project on the dynamics of collective protest, was undertaken with co-principal investigator Doug McAdam, now the Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at Stanford University. During his second CASBS fellowship (1997–98), McAdam co-led a project (with Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow, one of Soule’s mentors at Cornell) and later a CASBS summer institute (2000, with Charles Tilly) on the “contentious politics” line of research and literature — well known in social science circles — that Soule has contributed to. (McAdam went on to serve as CASBS director from 2001–05.)

Written by Mike Gaetani

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CASBS at Stanford Univ.

Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University casbs.stanford.edu