1977 – org theory’s best year


2007 is the 30th anniversary of what may be organizational theory’s most impressive year. In 1977, some of the field’s most influential works were published. Based on our definition of “classic” as a piece of literature that not only is innovative and groundbreaking but also heavily influences a generation of scholars, perhaps more classics were published in 1977 than any other year. Here’s my list of classic 1977 org theory publications:

  • John Meyer and Brian Rowan. Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83: 333-363.
  • Michael Hannan and John Freeman. The population ecology of organizations. American Journal of Sociology, 82: 929-64.
  • Oliver Williamson. Transaction-cost economics: The governance of contractual relations. Journal of Law and Economics, 22: 233-261.
  • Rosabeth Moss Kanter. Men and Women of the Corporation, New York: Basic Books.
  • Alfred D. Chandler. The Visible Hand. Cambridge: Harvard Press.

Every one of the publications on this list has had a major impact on the discipline, although in different ways. The M&R and H&F articles both established new theoretical perspectives – some would say the two most dominant perspectives of the last thirty years. The Williamson article was seminal in bringing his TCE perspective to an organizational theory crowd. The Kanter and Chandler books were both included on the most influential books list of the Organizations, Occupations, and Work ASA section. Kanter’s book may be the most influential organizational theory book ever written, as it is read by both scholars and practitioners. Almost making the list, Pfeffer and Salancik were just a few months away from publishing their classic resource dependence theory book.

No other year had as many major contributions to org theory than 1977. While most of today’s work is clearly in the realm of incremental contributions, 1977 presented radical theoretical innovation. What was going on in 1977 that brought all of these works to fruition at roughly the same time?

Written by brayden king

January 4, 2007 at 4:43 pm

Posted in brayden, just theory

11 Responses

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  1. This is indeed quite impressive. It also suggests that we are at the end of things. After 30 years, we’ve probably all absrobed the lessons of these different areas (neo-I, pop ecol, TCE) and are definitely at the normal science stage of things. The hard question: what is next? I don’t think anyone has a clue!


    Fabio Rojas

    January 4, 2007 at 6:00 pm

  2. 1977 and the publication of John McCarthy & Mayer Zald’s pivotal statement of Resource Mobilization Theory marked a sea change in social movement research as its attention shifted from individual to organizational behavior.



    January 4, 2007 at 7:10 pm

  3. That’s right, Jeff. McCarthy and Zald is another classic that deserves mention. Jenkins and Perrow (1977) analysis of the farmworker movement is also one of the most important early pieces published on political opportunity structure.



    January 4, 2007 at 7:20 pm

  4. Sorry for being pedantic, but the Williamson article was actually published in 1979. Still, an impressive list.


    Peter Klein

    January 5, 2007 at 4:37 pm

  5. Whoops, thanks for the correction Peter.



    January 5, 2007 at 5:15 pm

  6. Other 1977 notables (only tangetially connected to org theory but I will attempt to make the case):

    Pierre Bourdieu. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice (English Translation). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Uber-text of practice theory. If we believe DiMaggio and Powell (1991) practice theory (along with ethnomethodology, social constructionism and who knows what else) lie at the microfoundations of institutional theory.

    Peter Blau. 1977. Inequality and Heterogeneity: A Primitive Theory of Social Structure (Never translated into English). New York: Free Press.

    Uber-text of network structuralistas. First wide-ranging formulation of social structure as a “multidimensional space” with social categories and social ranks as its axes. McPherson (1983) would later use this imagery in his own conceptualization of the niche of organizations as a multidimensional space of individual socio-demographic characteristics. This would later come to influence (Hannan, Carroll and Polos [2003]) the ecological conception of the organizational niche.



    January 5, 2007 at 7:11 pm

  7. I began attending primary school in 1977. So it was a pretty big year for me, too.



    January 5, 2007 at 9:35 pm

  8. My reading of the whole field of sociology (including org studies) in the 1960’s/1970’s was that it was stuck a post-Parsons funk. Then there was a generation of folks who just totally broke out and created the sociology we know today:

    Org theory – institutionalism and ecology were both hatched in the 1970s/early 1980s

    Stratification – the Wisconsin model came out of this period

    Interatcionism – Bourdieu, Goffman both came out of this period.

    Networks – White, Freeman & other made their big splash in this era

    Basically, there’s a lot to be said for the idea that American sociology from 1980+ has just been working out the ideas of the generation that came of age in the 1970s.


    Fabio Rojas

    January 5, 2007 at 10:11 pm

  9. The decade of the 1970s was also huge for organizational economics. Check out this list:

    Alchian, Armen A. and Harold Demsetz. 1972. “Production, Information Costs, and Economic Organization,” Amer. Econ. Rev., 62, pp. 772-795.

    Arrow, Kenneth J. 1974. The Limits of Organization. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

    Holmström, Bengt. 1979. “Moral Hazard and Observability,” Bell Journal of Economics 10, pp. 74-91.

    Hurwicz, Leonid. 1972. “On Informationally Decentralized Systems,” in Decision and Organization. Charles B. McGuire and Roy Radner, eds. Amsterdam: North-Holland, pp. 297-33.

    Jensen, Michael C. and William Meckling 1976. “The Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure,” Journal of Financial Economics, 3, pp. 305-360.

    Klein, Benjamin, Robert G. Crawford, and Armen A. Alchian. 1978. “Vertical Integration, Appropriable Rents, and the Competitive Contracting Process,” Journal of Law and Economics, 21, pp. 297-326.

    Marschak, Jacob, and Roy Radner. 1972. Economic Theory of Teams. New Haven: Cowles Foundation and Yale University Press, 1972.

    Nelson, Richard R. and Sidney G. Winter. 1973. “Toward an Evolutionary View of Eco-nomic Capabilities,” American Economic Review, 63, 440-449.

    Richardson, George B. 1972. “The Organisation of Industry,” Econ. J., 82, pp. 883-96.

    Ross, Stephen A. 1973. “The Economic Theory of Agency: The Principal’s Problem,” Amer. Econ. Rev., 63, pp.134-139.

    Williamson, Oliver E. 1970. Corporate Control and Business Behavior. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

    Williamson, Oliver E. 1971. “The Vertical Integration of Production: Market Failure Considerations,” American Economic Review, 61, pp. 112-123.

    Williamson, Oliver E. 1973. ”Markets and Hierarchies: Some Elementary Considerations,” American Economic Review, 63, pp. 316-325.

    Williamson, Oliver E. 1975. Markets and Hierarchies. New York: Free Press.

    Williamson, Oliver E. 1979. “Transaction Cost Economics: The Governance of Contractual Relations,” Journal of Law and Economics, 22, 233-261.


    Peter Klein

    January 6, 2007 at 4:50 am

  10. Peter – an impressive list.

    Brayden – given your lack of economics training – Peter’s list might be a good place for you to start. ;)



    January 6, 2007 at 5:25 am

  11. […] friends at are discussing the year 1977, in which several classic works in organization theory were published. […]


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