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Rafael Wittek

Coordinating researcher

Prof. dr. R.P.M. (Rafael) Wittek

Brief Summary of Research over Last 5 Years

Rafael Wittek is a theoretical sociologist. As an expert on cooperation in work organizations, he considers the evolution of social networks and cooperative relations in organizations and institutions in different countries. These include (oppositional) solidarity at work, friendship, and trust; advice and knowledge sharing in firms; social support in families; employee voice; and corruption networks in developing countries. Rather than considering selfish gain seeking as the default motivation for humans, Wittek examines this as a possible outcome of salient goals of the self and others and relations between them - which may require institutional support. A PhD thesis testing Wittek’s hypothesis in an international and comparative study received the Erasmus Dissertation Award (Nieto Morales, 2016).

Wittek’s characteristic empirical strategy is to use interdisciplinary method designs that combine ethnographic techniques with longitudinal sociometric panel data, while also including lab experiments, text analysis, and analysis of large scale (archival) datasets. With his team, Wittek pioneered a content coding system for newspaper articles to reconstruct kinship, friendship, and work networks implicated in corrupt transactions of Indonesian government officials.

In 2011 Wittek initiated SCOOP. He set this up as a multidisciplinary network with the explicit aim of developing solutions for cooperation challenges in society. With his vision and enthusiasm, he succeeded in convincing top scholars from different disciplines and universities in the Netherlands that they needed to engage in interdisciplinary multi-method research to move forward existing insights on cooperation sustainability. Despite the challenges of multiple commitments and the long-term perspective needed to make progress in such a complex endeavor, Wittek has successfully consolidated his consortium and expanded its activities. This initiative was praised as an “example of cross-pollination between disciplines” in the 2025 Vision for Science of the Dutch Ministry of Education (2014, p. 19). During the past years, Wittek and his SCOOP team developed a joint model combining insights from history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology into a multi-level analysis of cooperation sustainability. He convinced the participating universities to invest in this research topic, group of scholars, and approach. Since 2014, Groningen and Utrecht actively recruited prominent consortium members into their scientific staff, invested in new data structures to facilitate this research, and dedicated funds to joint PhD projects. The first PhD, an experimental study on Identity Signaling and Sustainable Cooperation co-supervised by social psychologist Spears and sociologist Flache, will be completed in 2017. Under Wittek’s leadership, the SCOOP team organized a conference in collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) to illuminate how their approach can inform contemporary societal problems.This attracted representatives from key societal stakeholders (e.g. Association of Dutch municipalities, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Council for Health and Society), policymakers, and scientists.

International visibility, activities, prizes, scholarships etc. 

Rafael Wittek has published 50 journal articles, 25 book chapters, and (co-)edited four books. His publications have appeared in top journals in the fields of sociology (Social Networks), psychology (Journal of Applied Psychology), organization science (Long Range Planning), and public administration (Journal of Public Administration Research andTheory). He has guided fourteen PhD-students to the successful completion of their projects and currently supervises twelve ongoing PhD projects.

His scholarly excellence is reflected in his achievements. After being appointed full professor and Head of the Department of Sociology in 2001 (at the age of 35), he succeeded in steadily improving the Department’s research performance, which now is at the top in research assessment of Dutch Universities (together with Utrecht University). He has held guest appointments at Cornell University (1998), ETH Zurich (2008) and USI Lugano (2009-2014). In 2011, the Rector of the University of Groningen selected him to develop and lead the interfaculty Strategic Theme Sustainable Society.

Wittek was chosen by his international peers to play a pivotal role in setting the research agenda in the field. He was elected section chair and board member of the American Sociological Association (2012-2013), and the International Sociological Association (2003-2006), and is an elected member of the European Academy of Sociology (EAS, since 2010). His work has attracted awards for best journal paper (GOM, 2012), best conference paper (LAEMOS conference 2012), and best student paper (INSNA, 2011). He was lead editor of the interdisciplinary Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research (Stanford University Press, 2013), which received the American Association of Sociology best book award (2014), and Outstanding Academic Title Award (Choice Magazine).

Wittek has acquired more than 7 ME in competitive grants, including an NWO VIDI, NWO Graduate Program, and an ESF grant. He obtained a Russell Sage Foundation grant, allowing him to bring together an interdisciplinary group of top scholars to work on a Handbook project (2006). His seminal work on gossip and reputation was awarded a competitive NIAS-Lorentz grant (2012, together with Francesca Giardini) and enabled him to unite a multidisciplinary group of leading scientists to follow up on his pioneering studies. This initiative resulted in the Oxford Handbook of Gossip and Reputation to appear with Oxford University Press in 2017.

Rafael Wittek has more than 15 years of experience initiating and guiding interdisciplinary research groups, including eight years as scientific director and chair of the Interuniversity Center for Social Science Theory and Methodology (ICS). His research spans the three levels at the core of this proposed program: individual decision making, group structures and dynamics, and institutional arrangements at the level of society. One of Wittek’s gifts as a leader is his ability to create synergies, find common ground between disciplines, and elicit the best scholarship from his peers.

5 key publications

  1. Van Veen, K., & Wittek, R. (2016). Relational signaling and the rise of CEO compensation. Long Range Planning (in press, doi:10.1016/j.lrp.2015.12.009).
  2. Wittek, R., & Van Witteloostuijn, A. (2013). Rational choice and organizational change. In: R. Wittek, T.A.B. Snijders, & V. Nee (Eds.) The Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research (Pp. 556-588). Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. This Handbook received the Bi-Annual James Coleman Best Book Award of the American Sociological Association, Rationality and Society Section; and the Outstanding Academic Title Award by the journal Choice.
  3. Nieto Morales, F., Wittek, R., & Heyse, L. (2013). After the reform: Change in Dutch public and private organizations. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 23, 735–754.
    This paper received the best conference paper award at the European Group for Organization Studies LAEMOS conference (2012).
  4. Wittek, R., M. van Duijn, and Snijders, T.A.B. (2003). Frame Decay, Informal Power, and the Escalation of Social Control in a Management Team: A Relational Signaling Perspective. Research in the Sociology of Organizations 20, 355-380.
  5. Wittek, R. (2001). Mimetic Trust and Intra-Organizational Network Dynamics. Journal of Mathematical Sociology 25 (1), 109-138.