Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Ecology and Environmental Sciences


Timothy Waring

Second Committee Member

Caroline Noblet

Third Committee Member

Andrew Crawley

Additional Committee Members

Christine Beitl

Marco Smolla


Organizations are pervasive in modern society and the factors of their evolution are the subject of considerable scholarship. Most literature on organizational evolution focuses on the role of leaders and entrepreneurs, specifically their decision making interacts with market forces. However, the behavior and interactions of regular organization members, such as nonmanagerial employees or club members, is surprisingly overlooked. Specifically, examinations of social dilemmas between co-workers and the role of learning are often discounted in the current literature. This dissertation explores how the dynamics of cooperation and the learning of preferences as cultural traits become consequential in the evolution and longevity of organizations in the case of small food buying clubs. I begin by explicitly defining a model of organizational evolution that draws on the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. I then use a novel dataset to analyze cooperation and reciprocity in a real-world setting, and examine how preferences are interdependent and socially learned. I then use the results of these investigations to test the model of organizational evolution put forth in the first chapter by estimating a survival model of food buying clubs. Results indicate that individuals within these clubs display high amounts of reciprocity, and preferences that shift and diversify over time, both of which may play a role in the survival of these clubs.