The final chapter by John Meyer makes clear the long trajectory neo-institutional research and theory has taken, from the initial formulations and seminal papers in the late 1970s and early 1980s to our current selection of papers that make up the chapters in this volume. Classical texts focus squarely on the embeddedness of organizations in broader societal environments and analyze these linkages, while focusing less explicitly on the inner side of organizations. This inner side, organizations’ internal differentiation, contradictions, and conflicts as well as the activities and orientations of individual and organizational actors come to the forefront in our book. In addition, Meyer’s chapter makes clear that we need a broader historical perspective in order to take the current organizational forms and the unprecedented rise of organizations in the modern, globalized, and (neo-) liberal era into account. The unquestioned verities of this (modern) era have to be seen as socio-historical constructs that evolved over time and that are increasingly questioned now and, therefore, might look different in the future.
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Silviya Svejenova and José Luis Alvarez
The focus of the chapter by Silviya Svejenova and José Luis Alvarez is on the proliferation of top management positions, the so-called ‘C-Suite’ in business firms. In a neo-institutional vein, the increase in the number of such positions is linked to the broader institutional environments in which business firms are embedded. However, according to the authors the above linkage does not automatically trigger a ‘taken-for-granted’ response by which new chief officer roles come into organizational life. Instead, such roles are actively constructed by strategically operating organizations in response to the institutional complexity that is increasingly characterized by competing and at times conflicting logics.
Markus A. Höllerer, Renate E. Meyer and Michael Lounsbury
Markus Höllerer, Renate Meyer and Michael Lounsbury focus on annual reports of Austrian publicly listed firms and analyze how corporations theorize their social and societal responsibilities. They describe the pattern that they find on the field level as politicization of corporations at the expense of a de-politicization of society: Firms increasingly engage as ‘citizens’ in social policy while, at the same time, power and responsibility are relocated from the sphere of the neo-corporatist state to rather independently operating units such as private sector firms. The chapter not only addresses important conceptual and comparative issues in neo-institutional analysis, but it also speaks to research communities in macro-sociology, political science, and political economy that have not been at the center of attention of our approach so far.
In her contribution, Ann Westenholz explores the similarities and differences of the conventions and institutional logics perspectives in order to create a space for dialogue and mutual learning between the two approaches. Both approaches not only share a similar purpose, that is, helping us to understand indeterminacy and ambiguity, they also identify different social orders that may change over time. Both recognize that actorhood is important for the transformation of social orders, and they have both developed an understanding of how social orders and actorhood are interrelated. Despite these commonalties, the two perspectives have developed in different ways in France and the USA and not much dialogue has taken place between them until recently. Westenholz illustrates that a comparison of the two perspectives is helpful to create a common ground for analyzing and understanding how people coordinate their activities in indeterminate and ambiguous situations.
Mikołaj Pawlak and Adriana Mica
Mikołaj Pawlak and Adriana Mica connect the insights from the traditional sociology of unintended consequences with more recent developments in institutional theory. For the authors, the discussions on institutional work are of particular relevance here. Both individuals and organizations frequently generate unintended consequences as a result of their institutional work. In their stimulating conceptual paper, Pawlak and Mica not only distinguish different types of unintended consequences within a neo-institutional framework, they also identify a variety of coping mechanisms related to unintended consequences that result from different outcomes of institutional work. Interestingly, not only success or failure is discussed as an outcome, but also institutional compromise, institutional mid-course shift, and constant reinstitutionalization.
Gili S. Drori, Achim Oberg and Giuseppe Delmestri
Gili Drori, Achim Oberg, and Giuseppe Delmestri set out to identify historical trends in field-level processes of global world culture in individual organizational artifacts – university emblems. Their innovative methodology allows them to reconstruct and understand broad cultural trends and long historical changes in higher education through small, organizational-level visual icons. In addition, by tracing distributions and developments, they are able to identify period-specific cultural models and locate the individual universities within them. With their longitudinal study they add to the core concerns of institutional theory: the theory of fields, organizational roles and identities, world society theory, and to the visual and material turn in institutional analysis. In particular, they embed ‘strategic’ decisions by individual organizations in cultural and global dynamics of the organizational field, thereby institutionally ‘grounding’ their agency.
Nadine Arnold and Birthe Soppe
The study by Nadine Arnold and Birthe Soppe aims at thoroughly understanding the creation and institutionalization of what are called ‘moral markets’. Arnold and Soppe examine the development of mundane commodities into morally value-laden products, which are culturally supported and demanded in the domain of mass markets. By analyzing a rich set of archival data on the history of fair trade in Switzerland over three decades, they trace the early beginnings, development, and mainstreaming of products that are imported from developing countries and sold at a price premium to guarantee the producers a decent remuneration. In their analysis, they show that the institutionalization of fair trade is the outcome of a valuation process, which is characterized by changes in product-level valuation practices and also by an increase in the blending of moral and economic values. Their contribution provides important implications with regard to the role of values and valuation in institutionalization processes.
Walter W. Powell, Achim Oberg, Valeska Korff, Carrie Oelberger and Karina Kloos
Walter Powell, Achim Oberg, Valeska Korff, Carrie Oelberger and Karina Kloos deal with the processes and mechanisms of organizational change and field transformation. On the one hand, this is a classical topic of neo-institutional theory and research, and the authors make use of an impressive array of knowledge from previous studies here. On the other hand, and based on that ‘intellectual history’ as the authors call it, they conduct a highly innovative study by focusing on new organizational forms and field transformation in the nonprofit sector. To underline innovativeness, the authors have developed a web crawler in order to determine change by analyzing organizations’ websites and their references to other organizations through hyperlinks. By doing so, they identify the diversity and dynamics of organizational fields whose boundaries are becoming increasingly porous.
The chapter by Elke Weik provides an innovative theoretical take on institutional substances as ‘living forms’. Weik draws on a variety of philosophical traditions on substances, essences, and forms, and understands institutional substances as dynamic and active, striving for self-preservation and reproduction, thereby stressing the agency of institutions themselves. This processual and agentic, but ephemeral nature of substances is captured in the grammatical metaphor of the ‘adverb’, since institutions are ways of seeing, thinking, and feeling about things rather than things themselves. To avoid reifying institutions, Weik understands them as ‘events’ and ‘experiences’ with an affective and embodied impact that goes beyond rationalized cognition. She wraps up the chapter with an appeal for methodological approaches to institutions that refrain from claiming mastery over its object, borrowing from Goethe’s idea of ‘delicate empirics’ and Shotter’s concept of ‘with-ness’ thinking to achieve genuine understanding instead of explanation.