puzzle for hard core institutiuonalists

Ok, let’s start with the Coleman diagram (or the “bathtub” as they call it in Germany). For institutionlaism, the two “macro” states are culture and isomorphism in an organizational field. That’s what the macro states are in DiMaggio and Powell ’83 or world polity theory.

Now, take your favorite micro sociological theory – maybe you are a Swidlerian toolkit person, or a Goffmanian frame theorist, or a Bourdieu habitus person. Then, complete the Coleman diagram. Except for habitus theory, you’ll notice that a lot of these theories don’t really produce isomorpshism on the macro level.


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Written by fabiorojas

January 25, 2013 at 12:01 am

19 Responses

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  1. Isn’t this why John Meyer and Ron Jepperson wrote a paper doubting Coleman’s boat, and arguing for macro to macro causation with micro linkages?

    “Multiple Levels of Analysis and the Limitations of Methodological Individualism.” Sociological Theory, 2011, 29(1):54-73.


    January 25, 2013 at 12:37 am

  2. Doh, that should be *without* micro linkages.


    January 25, 2013 at 12:38 am

  3. *Swoosh* (goes over my head) – but I will give this a try.

    Does Swidlerian theory fail to produce isomorphism on the macrolevel because the whole toolkit approach inherently stresses variation?

    I know nothing much at all about frame theory

    Andrew B. Lee

    January 25, 2013 at 12:53 am

  4. Yes.


    January 25, 2013 at 1:18 am

  5. So what’s your puzzle – that there may be something wrong with these microfoundations, that an adequate micro-macro link is missing, or that the micro-macro approach in general is flawed?


    January 25, 2013 at 8:18 am

  6. As a hard core institutionalist, but a reformed one, let me just say that I think that Beckert’s argument is basically right, even if I think that it is somewhat underdeveloped.

    Institutional Isomorphism Revisited: Convergence and Divergence in Institutional Change.

    Under the influence of groundbreaking work by John Meyer and Brian Rowen, as well as Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell, over the last 30 years research in the new sociological institutionalism has focused on processes of isomorphism. I argue that this is a one-sided focus that leaves out many insights from other institutional and macrosociological approaches and does not do justice to actual social change because it overlooks the role played by divergent institutional development. While the suggestion of divergent trends is not new, there have been few attempts to integrate divergence into the theoretical premises of the new sociological institutionalism. Based on the typology proposed by DiMaggio and Powell, I show that the mechanisms identified by them as sources of isomorphic change can support processes of divergent change as well. The theoretical challenge is to identify conditions under which these mechanisms push institutional change toward homogenization or divergence.

    Luis Enrique

    January 25, 2013 at 11:02 am

  7. Rense: the puzzle is that many favorite micro theories in soc do not actually imply the conclusions of iron cage style institutionalism.


    January 25, 2013 at 2:13 pm

  8. What’s the Coleman diagram?

    Graham Peterson

    January 25, 2013 at 5:29 pm

  9. See chap 1 of Foundations of social theory:

    Macro 1 —> Macro 2
    | |
    \/ \/
    micro 1 —> micro 2

    In other words, your story of macro change had batter logically match up with your story of micro change.


    January 25, 2013 at 6:48 pm

  10. Will read; I like Coleman’s work (which is surprisingly under assigned and cited in economics despite the fact that Becker’s 1970′s work on methodology and human capital are hot commodities).

    Isn’t there a strong argument that macro-forms can take on a character entirely different from their micro foundations depending on the function that maps micro behaviors to macro outcomes, and back the other direction recursively (Marx, Schelling, etc etc)?

    Graham Peterson

    January 25, 2013 at 6:56 pm

  11. The issue isn’t that there is a simple or linear relationship between micro/macro. Rather, you need *Some* logical explanation that matches micro and macro theory. So yes, macro can look different, but the macro and micro theories must still be logically consistent with each other. Ie, macro may look different, but it has to be derivable in some way from micro foundations.


    January 25, 2013 at 7:49 pm

  12. Many institutionalist predictions really do seem like dead dogma. The whole paradox of embeddedness is premised on a very silly idea that somehow people are stuck with the little theories their parents or co-workers told them. Yeah right. The only thing one takes for granted is that reviewers will hate the manuscript.

    I think Jepperson has a more realistic approach to suggest that what is taken-for-granted is such because when we realize that its arbitrary and try to deviate, someone hits us on the fingers. Like if we dared say that this whole taken-for-grantedness is silly. Micro-level sadism provides a much more plausible story of macro-level persistence than those favored micro theories that Fabio refers to.


    January 25, 2013 at 9:46 pm

  13. henri: The Jepperson explanation only creates isomorphism if you make a big assumption – that deviance is effectively controlled.

    In some cases that is true, but not others. The regularity of social norm enforcement is itself variable and requires explanation. Thus, isomorphism doesn’t always result from a Jepperson style explanation.


    January 25, 2013 at 9:56 pm

  14. A no-single-explanation-for-a-big-social-phenomenon shock, stop the presses! Yes, I agree. :)

    The big thing going for the enforcement argument is that it only assumes that most people like the things the way there are most of the time, while cognitive micro-level argument for institutional persistence assumes that all actors are ignorant all of the time.


    January 25, 2013 at 10:47 pm

  15. I might be misinterpreting the term “enforcement” as it’s being invoked here, but I think the idea that social norms, at any level of organization (from n=2 to n=6million), persist in macro structure because of enforcement is silly. I’m not trying to bring in the economic imperialism with the whole self-reinforcing norms via interdependent utility functions idea (ok fine I am). But the game-theoretic derivation of norms jives right along with the essence of Goffman, and with “toolkit” theories (haven’t read Swidler, but assume this looks something like cognitive heuristic “toolkits” from behavioral econ – see Gigerenzer). All of these derivations underline that institutional norms coordinate people’s expectations of one another and give agents a road map. By definition, then, they produce isomorphism = roughly similar expectations among agents. And I don’t see a lot of empirical support for the idea that institutions slash organizations become more isomorphic over time, but I could be persuaded otherwise I suppose.

    Graham Peterson

    January 26, 2013 at 1:59 am

  16. seems like you are equating dimaggio and powell with mimetic isomorphism. if the top left of the boat is fields rather than culture, then the micro-versions of mimetic (uncertainty reduction), coercive (power), and normative (professional socialization) processes would seem to do the trick. this doesn’t mean it’s a perfect theory, but I do think it passes the coleman test.


    January 30, 2013 at 6:02 pm

  17. Can I invoke “emergence” and all that as a mechanism linking the above microfoundations to institutional isomorphism? Just throwing it out there…

    Andrew B. Lee

    January 31, 2013 at 1:06 am

  18. Hmm, of course, I don’t know *how* isomorphism “emerged,” so the invocation of emergence is basically dart-throwing (and may be worse)

    Andrew B. Lee

    January 31, 2013 at 1:16 am

  19. [...] friends at orgtheory discussed an interesting dilemma on institutional theory last week and this week that might be worth picking up to continue the discussion about institutionalism [...]

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