First, thanks to Fabio and others for the introduction. Jason is a tough act to follow….
I’ll take Fabio’s bait on the “Indiana School” of institutionalism (but not on the rankings). There’s no doubt that there was a critical mass of institutionalists here when I started–and I would add Ethan Michelson to the list, whose paper on the translation and indigenization of legal forms is a great example of where diffusion research is heading. We were all well imprinted by the time we arrived in Bloomington, but I do think we pushed each other in useful directions, and will continue to in the coming years.
As the comments to Fabio’s post pointed out, the “Bloomington school” is the more well-known of the Indiana institutionalisms, especially with Lin Ostrom becoming a Nobel Laureate. (I learned that you can’t technically call the Economics prize a “Nobel Prize.”) This raises the question of what the relationship is, or could/should be, between the various institutionalisms.
Lots of others have considered the linkages and disjunctures between organizational neo-institutionalism and rational choice/economic institutionalism much more comprehensively than I can. Suffice it to say that while both are middle-range theories of social order, they differ a lot in epistemologies, assumptions about collective action, orientations to efficiency, etc. Yet perhaps just by virtue of sharing a name, some horse-racing and borrowing occurs across the two literatures. (I made my own foray into this genre here, and some weak ties to the “Bloomington school” led to further engagement.) My guess, however, is that the organizational neo-institutionalists have paid a lot more attention to the rational choice and economic institutionalists than vice versa. (Has anyone tried to document this sort of thing? One great polemical piece by Akos Rona-Tas and Nadav Gabay comes to mind.) Regardless of the reasons for this (of which there could be many) and notable exceptions (of which there are several), the result seems to me to be that organizational neo-institutionalists are pretending to be in a conversation, but there’s no real conversation partner there.
Is it worth continuing that conversation, or should organizational neo-institutionalists focus on the task of developing their own theoretical language and apparatus, where concepts like “field overlap,” “settlement,” and “translation” become more central than “transaction costs” and “second-order collective action problems?” With an onslaught of handbooks of neo-institutionalism and some notable agenda-setting papers of late, it seems to me that sociologists are trending toward playing their own game–that is, carving out a unique space for organizational neo-institutionalism. I think it’s a good move, so long as we don’t wall ourselves off or return to oversocialized conceptions of action or byzantine Parsonian exercises.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll try to share a few ideas about organizations that have come up in my work on regulation, global standards, and “corporate social responsibility” for labor and the environment.