Meet the team: New Co-Director László Polos

Jul 10, 2020 | IAS News, Meet the team, Transformations (Issue 1)

Once upon a time the University of Durham, like many universities based outside large cities, constituted only three Faculties: Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences & Health, and Science. But as the University has grown and changed in the last years, so too the number of its constituent Faculties. Since the summer of 2019 the University has been pleased to add the School of Business Studies ( to the Faculty list, with its Departments of Economics, Business, Marketing, and Accounting and Finance. Now as is well-known, the Durham Institute of Advanced Study is one of very few around the globe which, thanks to its deep interdisciplinary focus, stretches its cognitive interest strategically across all University Faculties, so that our signature themes have always included Science. For the very same reason the IAS is delighted now to welcome Business Studies to the Faculty club, and all the more delighted to greet a very distinguished new Co-Director (Business Studies) to the fold: Professor László Pólos. 

Professor Pólos fits our international and interdisciplinary profile. He graduated in Mathematics and Physics from the Loránd Eötvös University, Budapest in 1980, and in Philosophy in 1982. He was awarded his PhD in 1995 from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Since then he has worked in Stanford, the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, (including the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study), Amsterdam, and Budapest. Here he talks a little about what brought him to Durham and drew him to the IAS. 

‘My background includes Mathematics, Physics, Philosophy, Logic, Linguistics, and Sociology. Currently I am working in the area of Cognitive Sociology, an interdisciplinary field between Cognitive Science, Psychology, Logic, Linguistics and (mostly) Organisational Sociology.  

Interdisciplinary research I found rewarding but often, in some universities, systematically underprivileged. To develop the required extensive network for research collaboration with colleagues across different fields, to develop a common language, to identify shared interests, it all takes valuable time. Worse, the resulting publications, at least initially, sometimes get a cool reception, precisely because they are so innovative beyond the established paradigm. But the rewards ultimately outweigh all that.   

Now generating inspiring ideas, solving hard-to-crack research problems and offering socially beneficial insights in the right supporting environments, whilst valuable as ends in themselves, more often than not also lead to commercial benefits. So, I find it important to encourage interdisciplinary research – but also to mitigate the risks involved. The more serious the challenges our society faces, the more need for studies that help us to respond to these challenges. It would be hard to overestimate the gravity of today’s challenges. And this is where the Durham IAS comes in. 

During my year at Stanford I worked with the Fellows of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and I worked for a year too in the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Science (NIAS). Both of these organisations offered outstanding support and nurtured strong international and interdisciplinary collaborations, with numerous well-recognized, indeed spectacular achievements. In my view the Institute of Advanced Study in Durham offers an excellent opportunity not only to replicate but exceed these successes, and I am fully committed to this goal.  

One way I hope contribute is to organize three specific projects within the IAS:  one to provide  interdisciplinary studies which support solutions to urgent social problems; one which inspires and nurtures applied interdisciplinary research that leads to commercially valuable outcomes; and one which delivers impactful interdisciplinary academic breakthrough for its own autonomous sake. IAS fundraisers would strategically target donors for each these project.’ 

Here is a selection of László’s recent publications: 

Monographs and Collections 

  • Knowledge Representation and Reasoning Under Uncertainty (with Michael Masuch). Springer 1994.  
  • Applied Logic: How What and Why? (with Michael Masuch) Synthese Library, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996. 
  • Arrow Logic and Multi-Modal Logic. (with Maarten Marx and Michael Masuch) FoLLI and CSLI Publications Stanford, 1996. 
  • Logics of Organization Theory. (with Michael T. Hannan and Glenn R. Carroll). Princeton University Press Princeton and Oxford 2007.  
  • Concepts and Categories: Foundations for Sociological and Cultural Analysis (with Michael T. Hannan, Gaël Le Mens, Greta Hsu, Balázs Kovács, Giacomo Negro, Elizabeth G. Pontikes, and Amanda J. Sharkey) Columbia University Press 2019. 

Essays and Articles 

  • Ron Adler, László Pólos, Michael Ryall and Olav Sorenson “The Case for Formal Theory”. In:  Academy of Management Review (2009) 34:2 
  • László Pólos, M. T. Hannan, and G. R. Carroll. “Forms and Populations.” In: Carroll and Hannan: The Demography of Corporations and Industries. Princeton University Press, 2000.
  • László Pólos, Michael T. Hannan, and Glenn R. Carroll: “Foundations of a Theory of Social Forms”. In: Industrial and Corporate Change (2002) 11:1, 85-115  
  • László Pólos and Michael T. Hannan. “Reasoning with Partial Knowledge”. In: Sociological Methodology (2002) 32:1 33-81  
  • Pólos, L., Hannan, M.T. & Hsu, G. “Modalities in Sociological Arguments“    (Journal of Mathematical Sociology). (2010) 34:3. 201-238 
  • Hsu, G., Hannan, M.T. & Pólos, L.  “Typecasting, legitimation, and form emergence: A formal theory.” (Sociological Theory) (2011). 29:2, 97-123 
  • Le Mens, G., Hannan, M.T. & Pólos, L. “Founding Condition, Learning and Organizational Life Chances: Age Dependence Revisited.” (Administrative Science Quarterly) (2011). 56:1 95-126
  • Le Mens, G., Hannan, M. T. & Pólos, L.  “Organizational Obsolescence, Drifting Tastes, and Age-Dependence in Organizational Life Chances: (Organization Science) (2015). 26:2 550-570 
  • Le Mens, G., Hannan, M. T. & Pólos, L. “Age-Related Structural Inertia: A Distance-based Approach.” (Organization Science) (2015). 26:3 756-773


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