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Papers in the Annals That Speak to the Institutional Perspective

Volumes 1 to 11

Virtual Collection Editor: Royston Greenwood, Alberta School of Business, University of Alberta

Institutional theory is one of the primary perspectives within organization theory. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Annals includes contributions that elaborate on some of the primary themes and emerging conversations within that perspective. Some papers explicitly focus upon institutional theory whereas others have a broader concern but have relevance for that theory.

A central idea of institutionalism is that organizations conform to social-cultural prescriptions in order to acquire social endorsement—"legitimacy"—from audiences that control or influence the distribution of resources. Suddaby, Bitektine and Haack (Volume 11) provide a timely clarification of this core concept. They argue that use of the term has become so layered that it has a surplus of meanings and is misused "in many ways." The authors seek to provide construct clarity and impose some theoretical discipline. In its original formal, institutional theory predicted that the pursuit of legitimacy would lead to the convergence of organizations around particular behaviors—but later studies found that organizations might vary in their responses to institutional pressures. One such response, "decoupling," is revisited by Bromley and Powell (Volume 6) who suggest that the original formulation (that decoupling is a separation of apparent policy and actual practice) is incomplete and obscured an equally important other gap—between means and ends—that has important implications.

Another core concept of the legitimacy perspective is "organizational field," which is a popular level of empirical analysis. Three papers explicitly reflect upon this concept. Zietsma, Groenewegan, Logue and Hinings (Volume 11) provide a typology based upon the relative maturity of a field's institutional infrastructure and the degree to which there is an agreed-upon ordering of institutional logics. The implications of the typology are then explored—especially for field-level change. Battilana, Lee and Boxenbaum (Volume 3) also address institutional change and give especial attention to "institutional entrepreneurship" —i.e., deliberate efforts to introduce change. The third paper exploring the concept of field is Leibel, Hallett and Betchky (Volume 11), who examine how discourse, rhetoric, and framing have been theorized as mechanisms of change. They argue that these mechanisms are "echoes" of "prior social interactions," but that these are often missed in empirical studies. A very different approach to institutional change (without using the term!) is offered by Marquis and Raynard (Volume 9) who examine strategies by which organizations might leverage and shape socio-political and cultural institutions in order to gain competitive advantage in "emerging market contexts characterized by weak capital markets and regulatory infrastructures and fast-paced turbulent change."

The importance of language and discourse is developed in different ways in three papers. Phillips and Oswick (Volume 6) provide a comprehensive account of the discourse theme and its application within organization theory to issues such as identity, strategy and organizational change, but in doing so emphasize the connection of discourse to processes of social construction, which underpin the institutional perspective. A complementary paper by Loewenstein, Ocasio and Jones (Volume 6) links "vocabularies and vocabulary structure" to the development of "meaningful categories." Again, the authors' focus is wider than institutional theory, but institutional scholars will find the application of these ideas to the concept of institutional logic particularly informative. Meyer, Hollerer, Janscary, and Van Leeuwen (Volume7) elaborate upon the "visual dimension of discourse and meaning construction." They pull together studies in other disciplines—including psychology, sociology, anthropology, art history, and media studies—and show how they could inform organization theory, which has traditionally ignored the visual. The relevance for institutional theory is pointed out and compelling.

The concept of institutional logics has captured much attention and generated "a veritable flood of articles in the 2010's" (Reay and Jones, 2016: 441). Two Annals papers explicitly focus upon the concept. Greenwood et al. (Volumes 5) review how organizations might respond to the challenge of coping with multiple logics that prescribe different and sometimes conflicting socio-cultural expectations—i.e., circumstances of "institutional complexity." The emphasis in this paper is upon relationships with the field and the organization. Battilana and Lee (Volume 8), in comparison, attend more explicitly to the organization, using "social enterprises" (organizations that seek to reconcile commercial and welfare logics) as a particular form of hybrid organization. Both of these papers are heavily cited.

Finally, it is worth noting three papers in the Annals that connect institutional theory to other perspectives. Marquis and Tilcsik's (Volume 7) overview of "imprinting" discusses how institutional processes influence organizational collectives, individual organizations, and individuals. Cornelissen and Werner (Volume 8) review the concept of "framing" and include a discussion of its contribution to "the institutionalization of enduring meaning structures" and how it provides a macro-structural underpinning for micro level understandings and processes. Tracey (Volume 6) reviews the study of religion in an array of disciplines, laments that it has received only modest attention in organization studies, and suggests that perhaps "the most exciting opportunity to extend institutional analysis involves a focus on the logic of religion."

So, that's eleven contributions from the first eleven volumes. Given the status and richness of the institutional perspective, more is to come. Watch this space.

Battilana, J., Leca, B., & Boxenbaum, E. How actors change institutions: Towards a theory of institutional entrepreneurship. Academy of Management Annals, Volume 3: 65-108.
Battilana, J., & Lee, M.Advancing research on hybrid organizing—Insights from the study of social enterprises. Academy of Management Annals, Volume 8: 397–442.
Bromly, P., & Powell, W.W. From smoke and mirrors to walking the talk: Decoupling in the contemporary world. Academy of Management Annals, Volume 6: 483–530.
Cornelissen, J.P., & Werner, M.D. Putting framing in perspective: A review of framing and frame analysis across the management and organizational literature. Academy of Management Annals, Volume 8: 181–236.
Greenwood, R., Raynard, M., Kodeih, F., Micelotta, E.R., & Lounsbury, M. Institutional complexity and organizational responses. Academy of Management Annals, Volume 5: 317–372.
Loewenstein, J., Ocasio, W., & Jones, C. Vocabularies and vocabulary structure: A new approach linking categories, practices and institutions. Academy of Management Annals,Volume 6: 41–86.
Marquis, C., & Tilcsik,A. Imprinting: towards a multilevel theory. Academy of Management Annals,Volume 7: 195–246.
Marquis, C., & Raynard, M. Institutional strategies in emerging markets. Academy of Management Annals,Volume 9: 291–335.
Meyer, R.E., Hollerer, M.A., Janscary, D., & Van Leeuwen, T. The visual dimension in organizing, organization, and organization research: Core ideas, current developments, and promising avenues. Academy of Management Annals,Volume 7: 489–556.
Phillips, N., & Oswick, W. Organizational discourse: Domains, debates and directions. Academy of Management Annals,Volume 6: 435–482.
Tracey, P. Religion and organizations: A critical review of current trends and future directions. Academy of Management Annals,Volume 6: 87–134.

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