stages of institutionalist experience
Brayden wrote a very perceptive post about institutional theory’s displacement of resource dependency theory. That post inspired me to think about the history of institutional theory as it is practiced in soc, o.b., and management:
- Paleo or “old” institutionalism: I think this was hatched by various folks like Sumner, Selznick, Merton, and others. Idea was simple. Communities have social practices or mores that shape social change. Selznick famously worked on the co-optation side of the story.
- Proto institutionalism: Somewhere between Parsons, definitely in the old or “paleo” camp, and the DiMaggio/Powell/Meyer/Rowan spectrum, were people shifting from local social processes to global forces. Stinchcombe definitely fits, as does the work that grapples with org structrures and resource flows, even when it is not overtly focused on environments.
- The New Institutionalism: The institutionalism we all know and love. Probably the big dispute was over the sources of structure – rational response to task completion or legitimacy signal? This move completed the switch from local community to polity/field/sector as the source of legitimacy. Rather quickly, this became the “go to” theory for a generation of sociologists who needed to justify their own studies of the social sources of org behavior.
- Disputed Institutionalism: Starting in the late 1990s, perhaps with Davis and Thompson’s work on shareholder revolts or Clemens’ book on lobbying, people started linking conflict with institutions. This blew up with the work of Soule, Schneiberg, and Bartley. I’d also put myself in this camp because I view institutions and new org forms as long term consequences of political mobilization. The focus is still on non-local environments, but conflict revolves around cultural scripts, which is then filtered through statute and custom.
- The New Micro-institutionalism: For a while, I thought that institutionalism was played out. Once you admit people could argue with institutions, there wasn’t much left to say. But then I read the stuff on institutional work by Suddaby & Lawrence. A simple point, we need a better account of the things that are done to create/defend/destroy institutions. My most very recent work employs these ideas.
So what’s next for institutional theory? Every time you think we’re done, some pushes it in a new direction.