My research interests can be summarized along three dimensions:

  1. Theoretically, I study how different perspectives on language as well as social/cognitive psychological principles play a role in interpersonal, organizational, and institutional processes.
  2. Practically, I explore how language influences trust and legitimacy within these interpersonal, organizational, and institutional relationships.
  3. Methodologically, I utilize archival data sets, content analysis, and experiments.

My research has been published in the Academy of Management Review, Strategic Management Journal, and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. These projects, as well as works in progress, are summarized below.


Harmon, D., Green, S., & Goodnight, G. 2015. A Model of Rhetorical Legitimation: The Structure of Communication and Cognition Underlying Institutional Maintenance and Change. Academy of Management Review, 40(1): 76–95. PDF.

Abstract:  We develop a model of rhetorical legitimation that specifies the communicative and cognitive structure underlying the maintenance and change of institutions. To do so we draw on Toulmin (1958) and his idea that social actors can use two structurally distinct forms of rhetoric: intrafield rhetoric and interfield rhetoric. We use this distinction to develop and advance novel arguments about the role of rhetoric in legitimation processes. Specifically, we theorize how the use of intrafield and interfield rhetoric shapes and reflects social actors’ assumptions of legitimacy at two different levels. We then theorize how the use of intrafield rhetoric relates more to institutional maintenance, whereas the use of interfield rhetoric relates more to institutional change.


Harmon, D., Kim, P., & Mayer, K. 2015.  Breaking the Letter vs. Spirit of the Law: How the Interpretation of Contract Violations Affects Trust and the Management of Relationships. Strategic Management Journal, 36(4): 497-517. PDF

Abstract:  Contract violations are ubiquitous. There has been little attention, however, dedicated to understanding the mechanisms involved in making sense of and addressing such occurrences. Two experimental studies investigated how people interpret contract violations and how these interpretations affect trust and the management of relationships. By drawing on the distinction between violations of the letter versus spirit of the law, we show that letter violations are more difficult to overcome than spirit violations, due to higher perceived intentionality. These effects generalized across different populations, levels of contracting experience, types of contracting contexts, levels of ambiguity within the contract, and degrees of contract complexity. The results yield important implications for understanding contract violations, trust, and organizational responses as a relationship management capability.


Kim, P. & Harmon. D. 2014.  Justifying One’s Transgressions: How Rationalizations Based on Equity, Equality, and Need Affect Trust After its Violation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20(4), 365-379. PDF.

Abstract: We investigate how efforts to justify a transgression as an attempt to address matters of equity, equality, or need would affect the implications of an apology for trust after its violation, and how this would depend on the intended beneficiary. To do so, we conducted 2 studies, including a new research design that supplements the rigor of experiments with far greater realism. Although combining a justification with an apology tended to elicit higher trust relative to an apology alone when the violation benefited another party, doing so was ineffective or harmful when the violation benefited the violator. Finer-grained analyses comparing the 3 types of justifications, furthermore, revealed that the addition of equity-based justifications elicited higher trust than the addition of equality- or need-based justifications in general, and that the addition of need-based justifications was particularly harmful when the violation benefited the self. Perceived fairness mediated these effects.



Kim, P., & Harmon, D. 2012. The nature of collective reactions to potential transgressions. In Neale, M.A., & Mannix, E.A. (Eds.), Research on Managing Groups and Teams: Looking Back and Moving Forward (Volume 15). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Abstract: Purpose – To motivate efforts within the ethics, fairness, and justice literatures to address some largely unexamined questions regarding how reactions to potential transgressions might depend on the group context. Design/approach – We draw on prior literature on ethics, fairness, and justice to develop a framework that highlights gaps in the literature. We develop a section on future work that provides suggestions to researchers on how to address these gaps. Findings – Although it is important to understand how to prevent transgressions from being committed, we start from the point of view that they are likely to remain an unfortunate aspect of organizational life. Thus, it is important to consider how people not only interpret transgressions, but also how they might respond after such transgressions occur. Through a review of the prior literature, we highlight the relative lack of research on such responses, particularly at a collective level, by considering (1) the types and implications of attributions made for transgressions in a group context and (2) how collective reactions to potential transgressions may ultimately differ from those of individuals. Originality/value – We attempt to spur greater understanding of how groups understand and collectively react to potential transgressions. By doing so, we motivate greater attention toward an important, though underexplored, area in the literature.



Wakslak, C. & Harmon, D. Dictates of Distance: A Construal Level Theory Approach to the Study of Distance in Organizations (revise & resubmit at the Journal of Management).

Abstract: Although distance plays a widespread and critical role in organizational life, we have a limited understanding of its impact. In this paper, we develop a conceptual model for the study of distance in organizations. To do so, we draw from Construal Level Theory to identify the relationships between different types of distance within organizational contexts. We then advance novel arguments about the impact of these distances on important organizational outcomes within four growing topic areas that span micro and macro literatures (i.e., distributed teams, creativity and innovation, advice-seeking networks, and contracting). In doing so, we challenge the predominant view within organizational scholarship that distance is primarily an obstacle to overcome. We discuss implications and potential directions for future research.


Harmon, D. & Vaara, E. A Configurational Model of Communicative Legitimation (under review at the Academy of Management Review).

Abstract: We unpack the multifaceted and dynamic nature of legitimation processes by developing a configurational model of communicative legitimation. In particular, we theorize how the communication strategies actors use to shape legitimacy judgments are enabled and constrained by the prevailing legitimacy criteria (which define the grounds upon which legitimacy judgments are made) and legitimation spheres (which define the practices, rules and norms for communicating) in which these processes take place. We elaborate on how our model helps to understand the ways in which legitimacy judgments evolve and resist change, the study of field-configuring events, the increasingly central role of media in organizational and institutional studies, and the production and perpetuation of institutional silence.


Glaser, V., Fast, N., Harmon, D., & Green, S. Institutional Frame-switching: Institutional Logics and Individual Action (under review at Research in the Sociology of Organizations).

Abstract: Although scholars increasingly use institutional logics to explain macro-level phenomena, we still know little about the psychological mechanisms by which institutional logics shape individual action. We propose that individuals internalize institutional logics as an associative network of entity schemas (i.e., persons, objects, and places) and event schemas (i.e., stories, histories, and implicit theories). We argue that individuals draw on this associative network of schemas to interpret situational cues and to develop a cognitive frame that provides them with contextual understanding of a situation, shaping their choices and actions. We then argue that one particular associated schema—implicit theory—serves as the primary cognitive frame that shapes individual action in ways that differ from traditional institutional perspectives that rely on mechanisms of normative imitation. Specifically, we hypothesize that exposure to cues associated with a particular logic increases the likelihood that individuals will adopt and act upon the implicit theory associated with that logic. We label this process “institutional frame switching,” and test our hypotheses in two novel experiments. By clarifying how schemas connect institutional logics and individual action, we further develop the psychological underpinnings of the institutional logics perspective that connect macro-level cultural understandings with situational behavior.


woRKING PAPERs and works in progress

Harmon, D.  Federal Reserve Speech Structure and Market Uncertainty (job market paper; stage: finalizing manuscript; target: Administrative Science Quarterly).

Abstract: Prominent actors in organizations and institutions regularly use strategic communication to influence how audiences interpret their activities. Existing research on this topic focuses on the strategic content of communication, or the types of strategic messages these actors use to shape audiences’ evaluations. In contrast, I advance the argument that the latent structure of communication underlying these messages may also produce important and even unexpected effects. To do so, I develop a novel linguistic construct called the argument structure ratio (ASR), which measures the structure of communication by capturing the degree to which the speaker’s message articulates their assumptions within the existing institutional arrangement. Using all public speeches made by the Chairperson of the United States Federal Reserve from 1998 to 2014, I show that the more the Fed articulates their assumptions, the more their speeches produce uncertainty, as measured by market volatility (i.e., the VIX Index). I then examine the conditions under which the Fed can still discuss these assumptions without creating these potentially undesirable market effects. I discuss how these findings change how we think about the role of strategic communication in market contexts. More broadly, I elaborate on how the development of the ASR provides a conceptual and empirical foundation for exploring the implications of communication structure in other organizational contexts.


Harmon, D.  Fedspeak and the Disentangling of Uncertainty and Ambiguity in Markets: A Theory of Strategic Obfuscation (stage: writing; target: Academy of Management Journal).

Summary: In this project, I seek to develop a more sophisticated theory of strategic obfuscation by examining the concept of “Fedspeak.” Fedspeak is complex, abstract, or vague language used by Fed Chairpersons to obfuscate sensitive subjects so as to avoid unnecessary market uncertainty but also potentially create ambiguity. In an interview on September 16, 2007, Alan Greenspan referred explicitly to Fedspeak as an intentional form of “syntax destruction, which sounded as though [he] were answering the question but in fact had not.” This project aims to develop a clearer understanding of the multiple mechanisms, as well as differential effects, of Fedspeak as a unique form of strategic obfuscation.


Etchanchu, H. & Harmon, D. A Dialogical Theory of Legitimation Contests: Evidence from the French Shale Gas Debate (stage: writing; target: Administrative Science Quarterly).

Summary: In this project, we examine the French shale gas debate in an attempt to develop a dialogical theory of legitimation crises. Many prominent public debates exist but we know little about the interaction dynamics of these contests, why actors use the strategies they do, and how these strategies successfully convince their opponents or interested third parties. Using a rich qualitative data set on the debate over the use of shale gas in France, we develop a theory of public legitimation crises based on the communicative principle of dialogism. We conceptualize public debates as inherently dialogic, whereby actors are always in dialogue with each other, even when such dialogue is not explicit. We then develop a typology of dialogic principles that guide actors’ strategic decisions to raise certain issues when they do and explain how and why they achieve successful outcomes at critical points in a debate. 


Harmon, D. & Mariani, M. A Cross-national Study of Central Bank Communications and Market Reactions: Comparing the Fed and the ECB (stage: data collection; target: Academy of Management Journal).

Summary: In this project, we extend my job market paper (see above), which examines how the structure of speeches from the Chairperson of the United States Federal Reserve (Fed) influence market uncertainty in the US stock market. To do so, we conduct a cross-national comparative study between the public communications coming out of the Fed and the European Central Bank (ECB). Specifically, we explore how the structure and content of Fed vs. ECB public speeches influence the US and European markets differently. We develop a model and theoretical account to explain and generalize these differences.


Rhee, E. & Harmon, D. Compensatory Reframing and Stock Market Reaction: A Case of Failed M&A Attempts (stage: data collection; target: Academy of Management Journal).

Summary: In this project, we examine the strategic framing organizations use in press releases after a failed merger or acquisition attempt. Failure to execute a merger or acquisition after claiming that such actions are the best direction for the organization leaves top executives in a precarious situation. How do these executives account for this turn of events and redirect shareholders’ attention? In this paper, we develop the concept of compensatory reframing to explain this phenomenon, whereby executives reframe shareholders’ attention of the failed merger or acquisition by providing compensating attributes of the organization. By doing so, we argue that organizations can effectively shift shareholders’ attention away from negative events and reorient them towards more relevant and timely considerations.


Newman, D., Fast, N., & Harmon, D.  The Future of Justice: Social Judgments of Decisions Made by Algorithm vs. Humans (stage: data collection; target: Academy of Management Journal).

Summary: In this project, we look at how organizational members judge the use of algorithms in decision-making processes. Specifically, we are interested in how organizational-level decisions regarding HR practices (e.g., hiring, promotion, etc.) influence micro-level perceptions (e.g., fairness, morality) and behaviors (e.g., turnover, employee commitment). Preliminary findings suggest that people view the use of algorithms as less fair than human-made decisions because they believe that algorithms are unable to capture non-quantifiable information that is still relevant for such decisions.


Harmon, D.  Entrepreneurial Rhetoric and Resource Acquisition (stage: research design; target: Strategic Management Journal).

Summary: In this project, I examine the rhetoric used in IPO prospectuses by entrepreneurs who are trying to raise capital. Still in its early development, this paper seeks to examine the relationship between the argument structure ratio of entrepreneurial rhetoric and the organization’s success in raising capital when going public. Under certain conditions, portraying an organization with a high degree of interfield rhetoric may create uncertainty and be viewed by investors as too risky. Under other conditions, high levels of interfield rhetoric may actually indicate flexibility in the organization’s capabilities and suggest a strong investment opportunity. This paper seeks to make a contribution to our understanding of what “strategic communication” means by conceptualizing, measuring, and empirically demonstrating the consequences of the communication structure.



A copy of the Argument Structure Ratio (ASR) Coding Manual can be downloaded here.