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Institutional Isomorphism, Institutional Logics and Organisational Fields: An Institutionalist Perspective on Circular Economy


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Purpose: Academia has so far only sparsely investigated the phenomenon of circular economy with the support of organisational theories. We propose an Institutional Perspective to investigate how the new phenomenon influences different aspects of solution business and explain why circular economy principles are adopted or ignored by manufacturers. Design/Methodology/Approach: In this conceptual study based on a literature review of 55 journal articles, we present and unpack core ideas of Institutional Theory and set each of them in the context of circular economy. Findings: Research in circular economy has so far predominantly used institutional pressures and not developed the theory further. We discuss three major constructs of IT, Institutional Isomorphism, Institutional Logics, and Organisational Fields in the context of circular economy to be used in management research and practice. Originality/Value: Institutional Theory is recently under scrutiny as it has become too vague and used inaccurately as a means to get published in management journals. With our study, we propose a way to refocus Institutional Theory and present operationalizable suggestion for a variety of further research in the field of servitization and business development.
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Institutional Isomorphism, Institutional Logics and Organisational Fields:
An Institutionalist Perspective on Circular Economy
Tobias Widmer, Daniel Prior
Purpose: Academia has so far only sparsely investigated the phenomenon of circular economy with
the support of organisational theories. We propose an Institutional Perspective to investigate how the
new phenomenon influences different aspects of solution business and explain why circular economy
principles are adopted or ignored by manufacturers.
Design/Methodology/Approach: In this conceptual study based on a literature review of 55 journal
articles, we present and unpack core ideas of Institutional Theory and set each of them in the context
of circular economy.
Findings: Research in circular economy has so far predominantly used institutional pressures and not
developed the theory further. We discuss three major constructs of IT, Institutional Isomorphism,
Institutional Logics, and Organisational Fields in the context of circular economy to be used in
management research and practice.
Originality/Value: Institutional Theory is recently under scrutiny as it has become too vague and used
inaccurately as a means to get published in management journals. With our study, we propose a way
to refocus Institutional Theory and present operationalizable suggestion for a variety of further
research in the field of servitization and business development.
KEYWORDS: circular economy, Institutional Theory, industrial marketing, value creation, service-
dominant logic, circular logics
The launch of the report ‘Towards the Circular Economy: Accelerating the scale-up across global supply
chains’ at the WEF2014 in Davos, the EU commission’s 6-billion-euro package to stimulate Europe’s
transition towards a circular economy in 2015, and CE initiatives by major global manufacturers lead
to an enormous interest in circular economy (CE) in academia, industry, and policymaking. The
concept of a CE originates from different and disparate schools of thought and is an ‘umbrella
construct’ to combine otherwise unrelated or different strategies for resource-life extension
(Blomsma and Brennan, 2017). The inconsistencies and variations of definitions (Kirchherr et al., 2017)
and confusion with existing sustainability practice (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017) lead to challenges for
manufacturers. If there is no common understanding within experts, how could regular companies
possibly know how to implement circularity in their offerings? Conceptualisations of CE are simple but
often underestimate the complexity of implementing them. Despite the confusion, experts agree that
following certain principles (Table 1) such as systems thinking, taking on stewardship, or keeping
products at the highest value and utility at all times is required to achieve a CE.
We suggest an institutionalist perspective and aim to provide a basis to understand the phenomenon
of CE better and try to explain the implications on servitization research and practice. CE challenges
the status quo of a linear economic system with one that decouples economic growth and production
from virgin resource consumption and does not create waste in the first place. Economic decoupling
can, however, be potentially conflicting to manufacturing companies’ servitization strategies as a
potential growth opportunity and leads to a variety of obstacles which we argue can be addressed by
using Institutional Theory (IT). We suggest using IT to understand the interplay of organisations and
CE as their social environment. The theory provides an excellent starting point to explore how CE
influences organisations and vice versa. We unpack three major constructs of IT, Institutional
Isomorphism, Institutional Logics, and Organisational Fields to address organisational challenges and
support our claim by giving exemplary accounts to help better understanding how CE influences
manufacturing companies and enables academics in conducting practice-relevant research.
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We identified 55 academic articles from engineering, management, and waste management in a
SCOPUS search using the terms ‘institutional’ and ‘circular economy’. Given the novelty of this
perspective, we only found scarce and scattered links between these terms and complemented the
search using ad-hoc searches and the snowballing technique. The majority of the articles we identified
used Institutional Pressures and Scott’s (2003) carrier perspective to identify regulative, normative,
and cultural-cognitive pressures, with the majority just looking at policy regulations.
Institutional pressures in CE research have been for example used to compare and contrast different
institutional settings in different cultures and economies, identify policy barriers and enablers in eco-
industrial parks, and the manufacturing and supply chain of textiles. Studies not directly related to
Institutional Pressures have used Institutional Decoupling, theoretical papers suggested the
compatibility of Institutional Economics and CE and reviewed organisational theories in Industrial
Symbiosis research or used Institutional Logics to explain the concepts that consist of shared beliefs
for the analysis of different concepts for CE.
The studies were predominantly applying, but not further developing IT. We confirm in our literature
review what Alvesson and Spicer (2018) claim that certain studies do not use IT as support to sharpen
their lens and look at clearly defined constructs of IT, but rather use it to integrate management
theories into an existing study. We propose that using existing theories is required to consolidate the
knowledge in CE with academic rigour and not risk letting it evaporate as a buzzword. Using IT as we
suggest it helps to define clear boundary conditions and create greater clarity in describing the
constructs and their relationship to the phenomena of CE. Future research will benefit from building
on IT and help future readers to quickly grasp the researcher's constructs, motivations, and implication
in the causal relationships and distinguish them from every-day noise (Shepherd and Suddaby, 2017).
Companies are increasingly challenged by the public opinion and at risk of scrutiny as technology
enables more transparent supply chains and misconduct can become ‘viral’ with one click. A core tenet
of IT is that organisations not only adapt to technical pressures but as well to what they believe society
expects from them (Boxenbaum and Jonsson, 2017). Organisations conform to rationalised myths
about what constitutes a proper organisation, and the more organisations conform with these myths,
the more they become institutionalised and will subsequently become isomorph (DiMaggio and
Powell, 1983).
A flagship for a circular and against a linear waste economy is the ban of single-use plastics which
poses massive challenges to manufacturers. Statements like ‘by 2050 there will be more plastic than
fish in the ocean’ (EMF, 2016) and pictures of flora and fauna suffocating under mountains of plastic
waste mobilise individuals and governments alike. In autumn 2018 the European Parliament approved
a ban for single-use plastic by the year 2021. In just three years, manufacturers such as TetraPak who
Table 1: BSI (2017) CE Principles
Systems thinking: Organizations take a holistic approach to
understand how individual decisions and activities interact within the
wider systems they are part of.
Stewardship: Organizations manage the direct and
indirect impacts of their decisions and activities
within the wider systems they are part of.
Innovation: Organizations continually innovate to create value by
enabling the sustainable management of resources through the
design of processes, products/services and business models.
Collaboration: Organizations collaborate internally
and externally through formal and/or informal
arrangements to create mutual value.
Transparency: Organizations are open about decisions and activities
that affect their ability to transition to a more circular and
sustainable mode of operation and are willing to communicate these
in a clear, accurate, timely, honest and complete manner
Value optimization: Organizations keep all
products, components and materials at their
highest value and utility at all times.
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spend decades developing their products and were praised for their use of renewable and recyclable
materials are at risk because suddenly recycling alone is no longer an option accepted by society.
DiMaggio and Powell (1983) outlined the coercive, mimetic, and normative institutional pressures
which stem from different sources. Coercive pressures result from power relationships, such as rules
laws and sanctions. Mimetic pressures arise predominantly form uncertainty as organisations under
conditions of uncertainty often imitate their successful or influential peers who are believed to have
authority in the field. The normative pressures pertain what is thought to be the ‘right thing’ and is
often related to professions and credited for example through certification (Scott, 2003).
Institutional Pressures are the most frequently used construct from IT used with CE research, for
example in Ranta et al. (2018) who used Institutional Analysis (Scott, 2003) to identify institutional
enablers and barriers in different geographical markets (Table 2).
Table 2: Institutional Pressures
Coercive pressures suggest
following the regulative rules to
avoid negative sanctions.
Mimetic pressures suggest
that taken-for-granted
common share beliefs exist
Organisations give in to the
pressure of fear to be legally
sanctioned and adhere to
appropriate protocols and standard
operating procedures.
Organisations adapt mimetic
pressures to be culturally
supported and get certainty
for their behaviour.
Example of
drivers for
Mandates for producer
Landfilling is limited heavily
through regulatory measures
Stakeholder pressure
towards sustainable
resource consumption in
privately held firms
Central role of circular
economy is acknowledged
Example of
barriers for
Regulatory support towards
increasing reuse activities is low
Inconsistent regulation and its
enforcement in different
countries and on different levels
Customers prefer new
Low perceived role in
activities of reuse and
Each of the three sources of institutional pressure on its own can be a basis of legitimacy to be socially
acceptable and credible. Legitimacy is a generalised perception or assumption that the actions of an
organisation are aligned with the socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs (Deephouse et
al., 2017; Suchman, 1995). Organisations exposed to institutional pressures face two problems,
aligning with the institutional pressures may not comprise an efficient solution for the organisation,
and different competing institutional pressures may exist simultaneously which leads to tensions for
the organisation to decide for one or the other. When the adaption to Institutional Pressures
contradicts with the organisation's internal efficiency needs, the organisations might claim that they
have adapted but in reality decouple their action from the institutional structure to preserve
organisational efficiency (Boxenbaum and Jonsson, 2017). This active decoupling of ‘talk’ and ‘action’
enables organisations to seek legitimacy that adapting to institutional pressures provides, while still
engaging in the ‘business as usual’.
An exemplary account of this interplay of legitimacy and decoupling is given in Stål and Corvellec
(2018) using the case of take-back-system as a servitized business model implementation in the
Swedish textile industry. The authors identified a variety of institutional processes such as the
formation of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, changes in policy to handle textile, and the launch of
industry-specific and European initiatives. However, what the authors found was that the take back
systems had little invasion on key linear activities and value creation of the companies. The lack of CE
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standards and strict monitoring of the firms unveiled that circularity clearly shows that considerable
leeway remains and means-end decoupling is present which indicates the need for more rigorous
definitions and rules for CE.
Manufacturers have to decide whether they want to adapt to the institutionally defined norms for CE
or choose noncompliance to maintain discretion or autonomy over decision making but be at risk of
sanctions. In the end, it is the consumer that decides which business is going to be successful and
receives increased prestige, stability, legitimacy, social support, and invulnerability to questioning.
Companies and entire industries are at risk as their way of doing business-as-usual can be challenged
almost overnight as a recent article by The Guardian (Vidal and Watts, 2019) unveiled. The article put
the concrete industry at scrutiny, claiming that concrete is said to be responsible for 4-8% of the
world’s CO2 which puts it right behind coal, oil and gas in greenhouse contribution. Although a reliable
material for millennia, the increased public awareness now challenges the industry’s legitimacy.
We suggest that using IT is useful for manufacturers to identify the sources of legitimacy to transform
their operations to avoid questioning proactively. Research in this domain would argue that
organisations and individuals are not simply rational economic actors but respond to social and
symbolic pressures towards the choice of circular value propositions.
We support our claim for circular value propositions with Vargo and Lusch (2016) who suggest that
value co-creation is uniquely and phenomenologically determined and coordinated through actor-
generated institutions and institutional arrangements. We argue that the transition from a linear to a
CE is a change in the institutional environment and therefore the co-created value is affected by this
transition. Taking the perspective that value in a circular economy differs from a linear economy
means that the transition influences as well the value-in-use, the customer-perceived consequences
arising from the solution that facilitate or hinder achievement of the customer’s goals (Macdonald et
al., 2016). We deem this realisation important because using means-end-chains as described by
Macdonald et al. (2016) assists to assess the attributes of solutions on their circularity and allows to
link value-in-use with circularity.
CE is a means to shift towards a waste-free society and a more resilient, fair, and growing economic
system. The concept originates from different schools of thoughts such as Industrial Ecology, Cradle
to Cradle, Natural Capital which leads to inconsistencies and differences in current definitions
(Kirchherr et al., 2017). This lack of common understanding of what exactly constitutes a CE is a barrier
to manufacturers willing to transform business models and operations to be more circular.
The term CE has not only a descriptive but as well a linguistic meaning as an antonym of a linear
economy. The term linear economy was made popular by CE advocates to define an economy which
converts natural resources into waste via production, depletion of natural capital and virgin resources,
and the reduction of natural capital through waste and pollution (Murray et al., 2017). We use the
term linear logic to describe the traditional way of how 20th-century economics worked and contrast
it to circular logic for the days ahead in Table 3.
We address the issue of a lack of a unified understanding by theorising CE principles as a change in
Institutional Logics and defining them as a moral rule or code of conduct governing behaviour and
decision making in the chain of reasoning with the aim to stepwise transform from a linear to a CE. A
CE is a free, industrial system, designed to maintain, protect and restore environmental quality,
increase the economic prosperity and guarantee social equality to the benefit of current and future
generations with the aim of accomplishing sustainable development (Widmer et al., 2018). We suggest
using the British Standardisation Institutes six principles (Table 1) as they are explicitly developed for
practitioners to identify and lead the transition to more circular business (BSI, 2017). We regard CE
principles as a component of institutional logics and suggest researchers should use this construct to
guide future research in circular economy.
Institutional logics are the broader belief system that shapes the behaviour of actors and determines
their decision making and underlie the regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive pillars of IT (Scott,
2003). The logics are the socially constructed values by which individuals put meaning to their social
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reality and explore the interrelations between individuals, organisations, and society. We argue that
following CE principles as Institutional Logics is crucial as this allows companies to predict individual’s
behaviour which is determined by the complicated, experientially constructed, and thereby
contingent set of rules, premiums, and sanctions that the individual deems to be ‘the right thing’. We
suggest this link to offer precision in understanding how the individual agency and organisational
behaviour is located in the socially constructed institutional practices and is coordinated by circular
economy principles (Thornton et al., 2012).
The transformation towards CE is a change in the community of organisations that partake of a
common meaning system and whose participants interact more frequently and fatefully with one
another than with actors outside the field (Scott, 2003). Defining CE as an Organisational Field offers
help in identifying how social choices are shaped, mediated, and channelled by the institutional
environment (Wooten and Hoffman, 2017). CE as a field creates a social space for organisations and
individuals with the same belief system of an urgency to accomplish sustainable development.
DeAngelis (2018) described the CE field in the UK and identified new waste hierarchy policies, landfill
taxes, producer responsibility, waste prevention, the support of several privately initiated projects as
well as legislative and financial instruments as drivers fostering the formation of a CE field.
Governmental levers encourage the private sector, and the public procurement buying standards have
also been adjusted to encourage reuse of furniture or the purchase of refurbished or easy to reuse
Table 3: Linear versus Circular Logics
Linear Logics: Take, make, dispose
Circular Logics: Make, use, return
Continuous economic growth predicated upon
intensive energy and resource consumption.
Growth is independent of finite stocks of resources,
eliminates waste, reduces the flow of material through
the economic system and virgin-material consumption.
The flaw
Assumes an unlimited amount of resources and a
planet with a limitless capacity to assimilate waste
created by production and consumption.
Arguably the laws of thermodynamics, a full circular
economy is technically not feasible.
A linear economy flows like a river, turning natural
resources into base materials and products for
sale through a series of value-adding steps.
The world is a machine with parts. Humans can
understand, predict, and control. The individual is
the centre of the world and can work
instrumentally to achieve ever greater results.
A circular economy is like a lake. The reprocessing of
goods and materials generates jobs and saves energy
while reducing resource consumption and waste.
The world is a living system with a metabolism where
we have complex relationships in which we are
participants, have influence and limited opportunity to
understand, therefore we need to review frequently.
No concerns over resource security and consume
as them continually for their own profit and
externalise true costs.
Based on the principles of Systems thinking, Innovation,
Stewardship, Collaboration Value optimization, and
Transparency to preserve resources.
Prices reflect only the company’s private costs of
production, distribution, sales and externalise
costs in search of production cost reduction
Prices reflect the full cost aided by the reduction of
externalised costs and internalise costs in search for
quality service, performance, and low risk.
Point of sale ends most responsibility and forces
possession and consumption, turnover is
encouraged through planned obsolescence.
Service business models extend responsibility and
service becomes the point of sale for users seeking a
trouble-free service and access over ownership.
Promotes global scale production to secure low
costs and the market position and ensure
economic growth to meet interest payments.
Regional and local scales are feasible as value and
growth is measured more sophistically in the service
provided rather than in the selling of goods.
transforms natural and social capital into financial
capital via a short-term preference.
Rebuilds and regenerates natural and social capital on
a long-term for the benefit of future financial capital.
The system encourages standardisation to add to
efficiency and ease of consumption.
The system encourages standardisation of components
and protocols to encourage repair, recovery, and reuse.
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items. Further, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 multi-stakeholder platform, the British
Standardisation Institution with their guidelines on CE, and different Universities that engage in
research and teaching as institutions in the UK CE field as inhibitors of normative institutions. These
institutions guide the behaviour of organisations and determine appropriate action. Incorporating the
structures, practices, and elements from the institutional environment imbue an organisation with
legitimacy which leads to the organisation’s survival in the field (Scott, 2003; Wooten and Hoffman,
Fields are created and transformed by institutional entrepreneurs, individuals, organisations,
professions, associations, or social movements with sufficient resources that have an interest in
particular institutional arrangements and in creating new or transforming existing institutions
(DiMaggio, 1988; Hardy and Maguire, 2017). These actors often collaborate with other actors to
increase their bargaining power and mobilise resources as a lever against other actors to create new
and change existing institutions.
The Institutional Entrepreneurs construct narratives how their interests are solutions to current
problems and suggested changes in practices addressing current problems along with legitimating
accounts as a rationale to support their projects. Different rationales for participating in the
institutional project may be developed to convince the different actors in the field (Hardy and
Maguire, 2017) which can be seen with The Ellen MacArthur Foundation as a showcase of institutional
entrepreneurship considering how the organisation mobilises resources, constructs rationales for
institutional change, and forges new inter-actor relationships (DeAngelis, 2018; Hardy and Maguire,
CE encourages long term partnerships which is in line with a general trend towards competition
between networks and supply chains, rather than between individual firms. Resource integration in
these networks between customer and provider in the value creation is of increasing importance to
manufacturers of servitized goods in order to get access to external resources. The service system is
embedded in a functional social system that is characterised by having social structures with a clear
purpose, role clarity, and transparency (Edvardsson et al., 2011). The authors argue, that all activities,
including value creation and the actors’ perception of value and behaviour in utilising operand (static
and physical, such as raw material or physical products) and operant (dynamic and intangible, such as
skills and competencies, knowledge of customers, markets, and employees, and technology)
resources, are determined by the boundaries of the social system in which they are operating and,
and therefore determined by their circularity.
Both the activities in the resource integration process and the behaviours of creating, maintaining,
and changing institutions relate to practice theory because they are the routinised behaviours
encapsulated in practice by practitioners (Suddaby et al., 2013). Practice Theory in servitization
research is a crucial element to understand how value in B2B markets is created. The practice of co-
production and co-creation of value in the form of activities, routines, concepts, tools, and technology
(Kohtamäki and Rajala, 2016) are all influenced by new, circular Institutional Logics. We argue that
Institutional Logics are essential to the servitization community, as it is the Institutional Logics that
shape the actors’ roles, activities, and interactions when integrating operand and operant resources
during the value creation process (Edvardsson et al., 2014).
One company that we work with is a manufacturer of e-mobility solutions for last mile delivery such
as post and parcel services who offers vehicles, service contracts and an inhouse developed fleet
management system. Because of a repurchase agreement with a major customer, they will receive
dozens of vehicles which they are going to refurbish to then explore how an advanced service on a
pay-per-mile base for smaller customers can give their products a feasible second life. This example
proves that taking servitization efforts a step further makes CE no longer an issue of just sustainability,
but actively changes the value proposition development and opens up new business opportunities.
Every actor in a service-ecosystem can take on agency and be an advocate for CE (Fligstein, 2013).
These salient actors use, depending on who the recipient is, different narratives to mobilise resources
to make CE as institutional logics the prevalent belief (Hardy and Maguire, 2017). In the case of the e-
mobility provider, it is now a case of integrating the battery manufacturer into the refurbishment
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process to make sure that these crucial components of the vehicle can be easily refurbished as well.
The implementation of CE (Lieder and Rashid, 2016) is proposed to be driven both top-down (national
efforts, changes in society, legislation, and policies) from outside the organisation as well as bottom-
up from within (individual company’s effort, profitability, competitiveness, and changes in the
manufacturing industries). At the collective nexus of these top-down and bottom-up efforts lies a CE
which is environmentally and economically regenerative. IT lends itself to explore this nexus as many
of the top-down ‘efforts’ can be positioned within the three institutional pillars, whereas the bottom-
up ‘efforts’ may be regarded as organisations or institutional entrepreneurs.
In his study, we made a case that using constructs from IT can help us understanding CE better and
linking CE to value-in-use and resource integration practice (Table 4). Our theorising is triggered by
the struggle within the scholarly world that attempts to describe the phenomenon of CE in the
empirical world (Shepherd and Suddaby, 2017) but has struggled to come to a unified description. We
encourage researchers to use IT to explore CE but share Alvesson and Spicer’s (2018) concern that
studies use IT as a ‘tick box’ to get into management journals, without further developing the theory.
We argue that it is vital to business developers to have circularity informed value propositions in
solutions to create and sustain benefits in the market. We propose that the emergence of CE is a
change in the institutional logics, and the principles for a CE are the beliefs and rules that guide actors’
behaviour and sensemaking. With this starting position, we can learn from IT how to better
understand the nature and mechanisms of why and how servitizing firms should adapt to the CE field.
DiMaggio and Powell (1983) suggest that for a field to be recognised it requires increased interaction
of the organisations in the field which we can observe in both academic literature and media. How
organisations react to changes in their institutional environment, in reality, may vary broadly. Studies
on CE predominantly tend to be biased and portray success stories. It would be interesting to learn
more about organisations defying CE or failing to incorporate CE and continue business as usual.
We encourage research that does not treat organisations and fields as two separate, but integrated
entities, which lead to a more bidirectional understanding and linkages between organisational fields,
culture, and societal institutions and link the micro activities within the organisations to the macro
environment as suggested by Edvardsson et al. (2014) and Suddaby, Seidel and Le (2013).
With the argument of using an institutionalist perspective to CE, we offer a broad variety of possible
future research in circularity informed servitization research of which we suggest some in table 4. Our
suggestions follow two general trends in management research. First, integrating IT and Practice
Theory follows a practice turn in understanding the broader social context that shapes and is shaped
by observable activity with a more processual understanding of organisations to create more
managerially relevant research (Suddaby et al., 2013). We articulate the second trend of embedded
agency as a ‘circular paradox’ which puzzles that if actors are embedded and locked in a linear
institutional field and subject to its regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive pressures that
structure their cognition in the institutional environment they are embedded in, how do institutional
entrepreneurs envision and adopt new circular practices (Garud et al., 2007; Hardy and Maguire,
Although CE is a hot topic, especially given its novelty in management research, we agree with
Korhonen et al. (2018) that reality is far away from a real Kuhnian paradigm shift. For a paradigm shift
to occur, the paradigm must be embedded in every days life, which one cannot perceive today but
might will in the future. We believe that we set a stage for a variety of research in the servitization
community with the propositions we presented. Knowing about socially constructed institutions that
determine what customers value is indispensable for business developers and marketers alike to be
taken into consideration when developing customer solutions. Thinking about and spotting CE
opportunities today, rather than tomorrow, will help solution provider to be ready for the market once
CE has diffused in wider parts of society. We have chosen this conference as an output for our agency
in the suggestion to form of a circular solution business’ field within the servitization community
because the stakes for continuing in a linear economy are too high.
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The study is delimited in its search terms and is meant to be an initial piece of work with a limited
page count. We see the limitations of this study in the exclusion of research in the sustainability and
environmentalism domain, in which IT has been used. We decided to do so based on an argument
started by Geissdörfer et al. (2017) who regard sustainability as reactive to environmental
degradation, whereas CE is proactive in reducing resource consumption which results in different
institutional logics. Furthermore, other theories that cover individual agency and change in social
structures such as Giddens’ (1984) Structuration Theory offer promising research avenues for CE.
Alvesson, M., Spicer, A., 2018. Neo-Institutional Theory and Organization Studies: A Mid-Life Crisis?
Organ. Stud.
Blomsma, F., Brennan, G., 2017. The Emergence of Circular Economy: A New Framing Around
Prolonging Resource Productivity. J. Ind. Ecol. 21, 603614.
Boxenbaum, E., Jonsson, S., 2017. Isomorphism, Diffusion and Decoupling: Concept Evolution and
Theoretical Challenges.The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism
BSI, 2017. Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations
DeAngelis, R., 2018. Business models in the circular economy: Concepts, examples and theory.
Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Deephouse, D.L., Bundy, J., Plunkett Tost, L., Suchman, M., 2017. Organizational legitimacy: Six key
questions. In: The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism
DiMaggio, P., 1988. Interest and agency in institutional theory. In: Zucker, L.G. (Ed.), Research on
Institutional Patterns. Ballinger Publishing Co., Cambridge.
DiMaggio, P.J., Powell, W.W., 1983. The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective
Rationality in Organizational Fields. Am. Sociol. Rev. 48, 147.
Edvardsson, B., Kleinaltenkamp, M., Tronvoll, B., McHugh, P., Windahl, C., 2014. Institutional logics
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Edvardsson, B., Tronvoll, B., Gruber, T., 2011. Expanding understanding of service exchange and value
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Table 4: Future research
Current research problems
Possible research questions
We do not yet fully understand the
sources of CE and why firms should
engage in circularity. Given the lack
of understanding the source of
legitimacy, CE is at risk to be the
new form of ‘greenwashing’. It is
unclear how customers evaluate
solutions based on circularity.
Who inhabits the mix of circular institutions?
What are the institutional processes leading to CE?
What are the mechanisms for granting circular legitimacy?
How does customer value differ from linear to circular?
What are the attributes of circular solutions?
Is what a customer considers circular the same as what the
attributes the supplier provides?
There is no unified understanding
of what CE is. Research so far has
focused on the institutional
entrepreneurs but not the
processes of institutionalisation.
Who are the actors and how do they generate circular logics?
How does the change in the institutional environment
influences resource integration practice?
What are the existing institutional barriers and challenges the
entrepreneurs face when creating circular logics?
Institutional fields are
predominantly looked at as things,
rather than processes. We don’t
know how mature the field of CE is.
The interactions in the field which
define and signal who is in the field
and who is out are not sufficiently
What are the dominating patterns of coalitions, interactions
and interpretations that define the CE field?
How do firms in the CE field balance between organisational
efficiency and institutional legitimacy?
What best practices support resource integration for CE?
How are operand and operant resources appraised in a CE
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EMF, 2016. The new plastics economy.
Fligstein, N., 2013. Understanding stability and change in fields. Res. Organ. Behav. 33, 3951.
Garud, R., Hardy, C., Maguire, S., 2007. Institutional entrepreneurship as embedded agency: An
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This research is part of the Circular European Economy Innovative Training Network, Circ€uit, an
action funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska Curie Action
2016 (Grant Agreement number 721909). For more information visit
Tobias Widmer
Cranfield School of Management, MK43 0AL, UK
+44 (0) 7454560841,
Prof. Daniel Prior
Cranfield School of Management, MK43 0AL, UK
+44 (0) 1234 754467,
Widmer, Prior
Proceedings of the Spring Servitization Conference (SSC2019)
Please cite as:
Widmer, T. B., & Prior, D. D. (2019). Institutional Isomorphism, Institutional Logics, and
Organisational Fields: An Institutional Perspective on circular economy. In T. S. Baines
(Ed.), Proceedings of the Spring Servitization Conference 2019 (pp. 19). Aston
... Assuming the positive intention of environmental and social pressures, institutional changes are slow to come about due to, for example, the circumstances noted by [44] that prevent institutional pressures from working well. These circumstances are (1) little regulation regarding reuse and its inconsistent application in different countries; (2) the lack of legal indications beyond recycling, such as for reuse; (3) the lack of a reuse culture and people's preference for new products. ...
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