Fligstein and McAdam on Strategic Action Fields
The most recent issue of Sociological Theory features an article by Fligstein and McAdam entitled “Towards a General Theory of Strategic Action Fields.” In this paper F & M, attempt a “grand” conceptual synthesis (and also attempt to draw a systematic outline of the empirical implications of) a series of recent trends towards the integration of organizational, institutional and social movement theories. This is a place where the literature has been kind of awkwardly moving for a while now (e.g. Scheneiberg and Clemens 2006; Armstrong and Bernstein 2008; Rao 2008; Evans and Kay 2008; King and Pearce 2010), but which is finally given a measure of overall conceptual coherence in this piece.
The theoretical motor of the entire paper is very parsimonious version of field theory. This is also a place where the literature had been awkwardly moving, with various people inventing and re-inventing a field perspective using all sorts of different language and terms such as ecologies, and multiple institutional logics (e.g. Abbott 2005; see also here). F & M bring order to what could have been some overwhelmingly complicated proceedings through their economical meta-concept of “strategic action fields” (as well as other secondary and very handy distinctions). This concept is supposed to subsume older versions (including sectors, movement industries, organizational fields and I would add Abbottian ecologies) of the same general thing; essentially SAFs are sites where collective actors struggle for what is at stake (what Bourdieu referred to as “illusio”), taking each other into account while doing so. The general dynamics of SAFs can then be described using the combined resources of “French” field theory (e.g. dominated/dominant, doxa, struggle for recognition, etc.), American reconceptualizations thereof (e.g. Fligstein’s theory of social skill) and standard concepts taken from social movement (incumbent/challenger, contention, mobilization, framing, etc.) and organizational theory (institutional logics).
This paper is an absolute must-read. Easily one of the most important conceptual advances in organizational and social movement theory (in fact one of the ambitious claims of the paper is that these two realms are empirically co-extensive, so there should be brought under a single conceptual framework) in recent memory.