institutionalism and its friends
In this post, I want to offer a few thoughts about what institutionalism can gain, or has gained, through its interactions with other areas. Let’s start with what it might gain by looking at our neighbors, the economists. One thing that immediately jumps to mind is that institutionalism gets immediately recast as applied game theory, such as the work of Avner Grief. The idea is that “institution” becomes “norm,” which means that you can ask about the types of incentives that lead to norms being followed or violated. So far, this sort of work is well cited in sociology, but most sociologists are simply not interested in this type of economic modelling. Still, there is probably much to be gained by considering how “taken for grantedness” might be affected by incentives and the structure of interaction.
We might also consider how institutionalism might be impacted by a deeper engagement with other subfields of sociology. One thing that you notice is that institutional scholars routinely cite work in other fields, but don’t apply the ideas. For example, I noticed in grad school that a lot of institutional articles would cite cultural theory, but you don’t see a full blown toolkit style analysis in institutionalism. Rather than ritual citation, it might be good to seriously make institutionalist theories of action meet cultural theories of action (a la Hans Joas or Swidler).
By anchoring itself empirically to organizational studies, economic sociology, and politics, institutionalism has pretty much cut itself off from a whole range of empirical phenomena. Already, by looking at movements (see Brayden’s work or Huggy Rao’s or Sarah Soule’s), org studies has grown tremendously. My own work on universities also focuses on the institutionalism/movements interactions. But why don’t we have “gendered institutionalism” or a theory going after inequality-institution interactions?
So for ambitious students, we have two very interesting possibilities. One is to enrich institutional theory by linking to another area with different methods/behavioral assumptions like economics or anthropology. Another road to take is to look at areas of sociology that have had little contact with institutionalism like gender, race, or demography.