The hallmark of “Indiana institutionalism” is an emphasis on struggle and conflict. Rather than assume the influence of macro-social processes, the scholars around here tend to focus on social movements, legal challenge, and contention. I’d like to draw your attention to a nice paper by my friend and colleague Tim Hallett. The Myth Incarnate is all about coupling processes in organizations, and brings an brings an important psychological dimension to institutional theory.
His question is simple: What happens to an organization when somebody tries to make you actually do the mission statement? In institutional lingo, this is “recoupling.” His example is accountability standards in schools. He has a nice ethnographic study of school where a new principle tried to enforce new accountability procedures. The result? People freaked out:
Turmoil is foremost a state of epistemic distress, but it has another social-psychological component. Epistemic distress involves a collapse of meaning, but eventually teachers responded by reconstructing meanings in ways that defined emergent battle lines. When teachers talked to each other and to me about the past, they were not just describing their experience; they were infusing it withmeaning. ‘‘Turmoil’’was their term, and it is not a neutral one. Talk is a basic element in the politics of signification (Benford and Snow 2000; Hall 1972), and teachers’ ‘‘turmoil talk’’ had political aspects (Emerson and Messinger 1977). Teachers had no formal authority to fight recoupling, but they did have the informal symbolic power (Hallett 2003) to shape meanings. Turmoil has a negative connotation, and teachers used their version of events to construct the recoupling negatively.
I liked this study as an example of where macro-political processes hit the ground and institutions create conflict, rather than resolve them. “Must read” for folks interested in institutional work and organizational conflict.