the indiana institutionalists

Indiana is known for a lot of things, like social psychology or education. It’s not known for its recent strength in institutional theory, but it should be. From around 2000 to the present, Indiana has had an unusual concentration of people working on a distinctive strand of institutional research, often merging cultural and political processes. Such people would include Tim Bartley, Tim Hallett, Elizabeth Armstrong, Brian Steensland, Melissa Wilde, and myself.

What are common themes among this group?

The bottom line of the Indiana institutionalists? You might call it the “power and culture” approach to organizations and institutions. (a) Culture, power, and institutions are endogenous. Institutions assign power but power can be made by making/unmaking institutions. (b) Institutions must be enacted and can’t always be taken for granted (contra Zucker and ’83 D&P). (c) Doing what institutions demand can lead to their modifcation and erosion. (d) Institutions are not the same as culture. Culture is weilded and deployed to form groups that can be mobilized to create/attack institutions.

Written by fabiorojas

February 2, 2010 at 12:59 am

4 Responses

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  1. More broadly you also have some impressive institutional economics folks like Elinor Ostrom! I am currently in the middle of reading “Governing the Commons” and I was interested to see Coleman get a play in there.



    February 2, 2010 at 3:46 am

  2. I agree that Indiana has had some excellent and unique institutional theorists over the last several years. I wonder to what extent the strand of institutional theory you talk about in your post is unique to Indiana or how much of it represents a shift in institutional theorizing. I’m thinking of Arizona, where I was trained. They seemed to have a lot of people who were working at a similar crossroad, examining the political/cultural mechanisms underlying institutional change. At Arizona we also added a generous portion of network analysis.



    February 2, 2010 at 4:03 pm

  3. Sam: Ostrom is crucial. The neat thing is the contrast. “Bloomington school” institutionalism still works in a neo-classical framework, while “Indiana” institutionalism is about symbolic and cognitive processes.

    Brayden: Very, true. None of it was hatched at Indiana, a lot was imported. Bartley is very “Arizona.” Hallett is a hardcore interactionist. Melissa and Elizabeth are Berkeley culture types. The cool part was the massive convergence.



    February 2, 2010 at 7:28 pm

  4. […] hallmark of “Indiana institutionalism” is an emphasis on struggle and conflict. Rather than assume the influence of macro-social […]


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