Date of Award

Spring 1999

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michael J Donnelly


This dissertation examines the organizational dynamics of firms operating in the East Coast sea urchin industry. First, I examine the confluence of economic and political conditions under which the industry evolved. As a part of the export driven growth of the past decade in the US the East Coast sea urchin industry benefited from political conditions, which encouraged development of global markets for US products. Along with this, the Japanese have displayed a seemingly insatiable demand for sea urchin roe through the 1990s. In 1971 the governance of the international monetary system changed from a fixed to floating exchange rate. The yen's value began to increase compared to other currencies making export of products to Japan financially viable. These economic and political conditions set the stage for the East Coast sea urchin industry.

To explain how the industry developed I draw on theory and research from Institutional Economics and Economic Sociology to address entrepreneurial processes, labor market processes, and exchange processes. A supply of sea urchins existed on the East Coast as the Japanese demand grew, but the link between supply and demand remained unfilled. Entrepreneurs in the industry established firms to link supply and demand. With a link between supply and demand established, firms were faced with mobilizing a labor force for the new industry. Labor market processes include the recruitment of workers by entrepreneurs and the development of skills and technologies for completing essential activities within the productive system. With the recruitment of labor it becomes necessary to coordinate the essential activities of the productive system. Participants coordinate exchange within a productive system through hierarchies, networks or markets.

As the East Coast sea urchin industry was established and evolved these three processes (entrepreneurial, labor market, and exchange) combined to facilitate establishment and growth of the new industry. The entrepreneurs that moved into the new industry attempted to increase the size of their firms and the amount of production. Existing production arrangements on the working waterfront provided access to the natural resource, flexible technologies, an existing knowledge base, and unique social arrangements that allowed the easy movement of a labor force into the new industry. Finally, a market form of organizing exchange developed with an institutionalized distrust between participants.

The case of the East Coast sea urchin industry provides an opportunity to examine the sociology of economic life. Its position within a global economy, and its economic boom characteristics provide a valuable empirical case study in the growing field of economic sociology. (Abstract shortened by UMI.).