Organizational Institutionalism and Sociology: A Reflection
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Tolbert, Pamela S.
[Excerpt] In 1991, DiMaggio and Powell observed: Institutional theory presents a paradox. Institutional analysis is as old as Emile Durkheim's exhortation to study 'social facts as things', yet sufficiently novel to be preceded by new in much of the contemporary literature. (1991: 1) We argue that this paradox is, at least in part, the result of a long-standing tension in sociology between more materialist, interest-driven explanations of behavior and ideational, normative explanations, a tension that has often driven oscillating waves of sociological theorizing. It underlies many classical debates (e.g., between Spencer and Durkheim, Weber and Marx, and even Parsons and Mills), and the waves of theory associated with it have produced a variety of 'neo-isms', including neo-Marxist as well as neo-institutionalist theories. This distinction in explanatory approaches is linked to a more general theoretical problematic for sociologists: how to provide a single, coherent account of both stable, persisting patterns of social behavior, and the breakdown and elimination of what were once deeply-entrenched patterns. In this chapter, we examine the history of these distinctive explanatory approaches in sociology, and locate the origins of contemporary institutional work on organizations within this context. We also consider how more recent organizational analyses in the tradition of institutional theory have been driven by and reflect this basic tension.
organizations; institutionalism; sociology; behavior
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