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Prof. dr. R. P. M. (Rafael) Wittek, Coordinating researcher

Core group

Summary of research

Rafael Wittek is a theoretical sociologist and the PI of the SCOOP program. His research interests are in the fields of cooperation science, organization studies, economic sociology and social network research. His research spans the three levels at the core of the SCOOP program: individual decision making, group structures and dynamics, and institutional arrangements at the level of society.

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.

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. 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 framework 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. Under Wittek’s leadership, in 2017 the SCOOP team was awarded a ten year grant (18.8 M€) in the context of the Dutch government’s prestigious Gravitation Program  for its trans-disciplinary and inter-university research and training program Sustainable Cooperation – Roadmaps to Resilient Societies.

Wittek holds a PhD (cum laude) in Behavioural and Social Sciences (University of Groningen, 1999), and an M.A. (cum laude) in Sociology and Cultural Anthropology (University of Tübingen, 1991). Since 2001, he is a full professor of Theoretical Sociology at the Department of Sociology (University of Groningen), which he chaired until 2014. He held teaching appointments at Cornell University (U.S.A.), the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich (Switzerland), the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany), and the Università della Svizzera Italiana (Lugano, Switzerland).

He has successfully supervised 21 PhD students and is involved in 7 ongoing PhD projects. He has (co-) authored more than 100 scientific articles and book chapters, and (co-)edited four Handbooks. Recent contributions appeared in Network Science, European Societies, Disasters, and Public Administration Review.

International visibility, activities, prizes, scholarships etc.

Wittek’s work has attracted multiple awards, including best journal paper (GOM, 2012), and best conference paper (LAEMOS conference 2012). He was lead editor of the interdisciplinary Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research (Stanford University Press, 2013). This project was supported by a generous Russell Sage Foundation grant, which allowed him to bring together an interdisciplinary group of top scholars. The Handbook received the American Association of Sociology best book award (2014), and the Outstanding Academic Title Award (Choice Magazine). 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 (Oxford University Press in 2019), jointly edited with Francesca Giardini.

Rafael Wittek has 20 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). He was elected section chair and board member of the Rationality and Society Section of the American Sociological Association (2012-2013), and of the Rational Choice Section of the International Sociological Association (2003-2006), and is an elected member of the European Academy of Sociology (EAS, since 2010).

5 key publications

Giardini, F., & Wittek, R. 2019. Gossip, Reputation and Sustainable Cooperation: Sociological Foundations. In F. Giardini & R. Wittek (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Gossip and Reputation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Silitonga, M. S., van Duijn, M., Heyse, L., & Wittek, R. 2019. Setting a Good Example? The Effect of Leader and Peer Behavior on Corruption among Indonesian Senior Civil ServantsPublic Administration Review79(4), 565-579.

Van Veen, K., & Wittek, R. 2016. Relational signaling and the rise of CEO compensation. Long Range Planning. Long Range Planning 49(4): 477-490.

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 (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.

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(3): 735–754. This paper received the best conference paper award at the European Group for Organization Studies LAEMOS conference (2012).

Personal website


4.5 Sustainable Labor Market Integration of First Generation Migrant Groups: The Quest for the ‘Migrant-Organization Fit’

5.6 Urban Collective Living Arrangements: Golden Key to Sustainable Communities?

6.5 Informal Social Networks and Organizational Inclusion: The Invisible Minority’s Dilemma

7.5 Urban Collective Living Arrangements – Golden Key to Sustainable Communities?

7.6 Informal Social Networks and Organizational Inclusion: The Invisible Minority’s Dilemma

7.7 Sustainable Labor Market Integration of First Generation Migrant Groups: The Quest for the ‘Migrant-Organization Fit’

7.8 Sustainable collaborative networks. Design, dynamics, and decay of cooperation in a multilevel organizational field

7.9 Cross-border network governance for sustainable training in health care

8.2 Flexible Employment in 21st Century Workplaces: The Co-Evolution of Inter-Organizational Employment Networks, Flexible Employment Practices, and Workplace Cooperative Performance

9.1 The CEO and the Employee: A Widening Gap?

11.3 Identity Signaling and Sustainable Cooperation

11.4 and 11.5 Resilience at a Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Coping with Social Devaluation (shared postdoc position)

12.2 Degrees of Moral Responsibility

12. PD Addressing Intergroup Inequality by Invoking the Moral Responsibility of the Powerful: Co-option and Sus-tainable Cooperation in Response to Collective Action