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Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism ORGANIZATIONAL INSTITUTIONALISM: ANALYSIS ACROSS LEVELS AND DOMAINS



Introducing the essentials of an institutional perspective on organization(s), we emphasize the need for multi-level analysis and stress the co-constitutive character of the macro and the micro levels-or, using a different terminology, of global abstractions and local instantiations of ideas and practices of organization and organizing. Similarly, due to the same co-constitutive dynamics, we call for other multi-dimensional analysis, namely across social domains and historic eras. Building on these emphases on multidimensionality, we identify several emerging themes that we regard as particularly promising to invigorate the future research agenda of (neo-)institutional theory: refined macro-level and contextual analysis, consequences of glocalization for organization(s), issues of multimodality and materiality, and new methodological horizons. ORGANIZATIONAL INSTITUTIONALISM: THE ESSENTIALS Organizational institutionalism highlights the relevance of the institutional context in order to understand and analyze organization, organizations, and processes of organizing. In addition to more traditional views within institutional theory that emphasize the regulative and the normative dimensions of institutions, organizational institutionalism puts to the fore the cultural-cognitive dimension of institutional settings-i.e., the taken-for-granted aspects of the social world.
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
Gili S. Drori
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Peter Walgenbach
Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena
Markus A. Höllerer
UNSW Sydney & WU Vienna University of Economics and Business
To be published in:
Marlis Buchmann (University of Zurich) and Robert Scott (Center for Advanced Study in the
Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University), General Series Editors
Introducing the essentials of an institutional perspective on organization(s), we emphasize the need
for multi-level analysis and stress the co-constitutive character of the macro and the micro levels
or, using a different terminology, of global abstractions and local instantiations of ideas and
practices of organization and organizing. Similarly, due to the same co-constitutive dynamics, we
call for other multi-dimensional analysis, namely across social domains and historic eras. Building
on these emphases on multidimensionality, we identify several emerging themes that we regard as
particularly promising to invigorate the future research agenda of (neo-)institutional theory: refined
macro-level and contextual analysis, consequences of glocalization for organization(s), issues of
multimodality and materiality, and new methodological horizons.
Organizational institutionalism highlights the relevance of the institutional context in order to
understand and analyze organization, organizations, and processes of organizing. In addition to
more traditional views within institutional theory that emphasize the regulative and the normative
dimensions of institutions, organizational institutionalism puts to the fore the cultural-cognitive
dimension of institutional settings – i.e., the taken-for-granted aspects of the social world.
For an overview, see Greenwood, Oliver, Lawrence, & Meyer, 2017; Scott, 2013.
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
Organizational institutionalism has added to prevailing theories of organization the insight that
both technical efficacy and social legitimacy are needed for organizational survival (Meyer & Rowan,
1977). In fact, the strive of social actors for efficacy presupposes the attribution of legitimacy. In
order to be recognized as legitimate, actors embedded in a social field, over time, conform to the
cultural expectations that resemble a “recognized area of institutional life” (DiMaggio & Powell,
1983: 148). In consequence, this leads to isomorphism within, and sometimes across, fields.
Ideas of organization and organizing become taken-for-granted in a process of institutionalization.
As they diffuse, they become imbued with value beyond the technical requirements of the task at
hand. For instance, Höllerer (2013) examines the diffusion of the Anglo-American notion of
‘explicit’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) among publicly listed companies even in empirical
settings where ideas of institutionalized social solidarity have long been firmly established; in fact,
CSR is successfully used by a specific group of adopters to challenge, reinterpret, or explicitly
evoke these autochthonous ideas. Two requirements are central prerequisites for such processes
of diffusion and institutionalization: The focal idea (a) has to be theorized as a typified solution to a
typical organizational problem (i.e., abstracted; Strang & Meyer, 1993); and (b) it needs to be
translated and modified as it is adopted in a specific cultural setting (Czarniawska & Joerges, 1996;
Sahlin-Andersson, 1996). In organizational life, this results in a variety of structures and practices
across contexts, and regularly leads to loose coupling with pre-existing ideas, structures, and practices
of organization and organizing.
Originating from this nucleus, the recent decades witnessed several strands of theoretical
contributions under the shared umbrella label of ‘organizational institutionalism’. We here
acknowledge, for instance, themes such as institutional logics (e.g., Thornton, Ocasio, Lounsbury,
2012) and institutional work (e.g., Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006), as well as a focus on micro-
foundations (e.g., Powell & Rerup, 2008), relational dynamics (e.g., Granovetter, 1985), and the
role of communication in institutional processes (e.g., Cornelissen, Durand, Fiss, Lammers, &
Vaara, 2015).
Yet, the focus of the chapter at hand deviates insofar as it analytically describes the character of
the social world as nested entities. Consequently, we emphasize the need for multi-level analysis and
stress the co-constitutive character of global abstraction and local instantiations. Similarly, due to the
same co-constitutive dynamics, we call for other multi-dimensional analyses, such as across social
domains and historic eras, in order to comprehensively understand ideas of organization and
A common misunderstanding within institutional research concerns the loci of institutions, with
institutions conceived as residing at the macro level, while social actors (i.e., nation states,
organizations, or individual actors) merely represent the more micro-level manifestations of such
institutions. Contrarily, following established strands in organizational institutionalism, institutions
are situated on all these analytical levels (i.e., on the micro, meso, and macro level) as they are
instantiated and embodied in a variety of behaviors, practices, and structures of the social world
on both the level of the single entity (e.g., in routinized behavior of a human person, such as a
handshake) and at the collective level (e.g., in the wide-spread existence of human resource
management departments in any sizeable organization; or in the recall of an ambassador to signal
a downgrade in diplomatic relations between nation states).
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
It is for this reason that institutions are to be understood as spanning across levels, domains, and
eras. Drori, Höllerer, and Walgenbach (2014a) conceptualize this as the vertical, horizontal, and
temporal axes of glocalization: the vertical relates across nested entities, such as in global-local
relations (e.g., between supra-national organizations such as the European Union, nation states,
and corporations regulated by them); the horizontal relates across fields and domains (e.g., across
industries, sectors, and locales); and the temporal relates across historic eras, creating continuities,
changes, and ruptures (e.g., contemporary social movements embracing historic events and
traditions). This insight calls for multi-relational (i.e., vertical, horizontal, temporal) analyses, both
conceptually and empirically.
Derived from such multi-relationality is the co-constitutive character of analytical categories. The local
can be defined only in reference to the global; a specific institutional domain, such as an industry
or sector, can only be understood in relation, or in distinction, other such domains; and an era is
defined in retrospect, organized around constitutive events and typical features that demark it from
others. Such notion of co-constitution also resolves the chicken-or-egg dilemma in the social
sciences in terms of point of departure and direction of causality.
Relationality is to be conceived as a process by which ideas of organization and organizing travel
from one entity to another. Such global ‘travel of ideas’ (Czarniawska & Joerges, 1996; Czarniawska
& Sevón, 2005) is facilitated by three key social mechanisms: de-contextualization (i.e., abstraction
and theorization), construction of equivalency, and re-contextualization (i.e., translation and adaptation).
Abstraction, or theorization, is the encapsulation of a typified solution to a typical organizational
problem (Strang & Meyer, 1993). Once abstracted, the idea of organization or organizing can be
made relevant for other entities that are considered equivalent in terms of being exposed to similar
specific structural and cultural contingencies. And, finally, translation is the modification and the
specification of the theorization of a focal idea in the adopting cultural setting (e.g., Sahlin-
Andersson, 1996).
Höllerer, Walgenbach, and Drori (2017) add to this picture as they conceptualize translation as a
two-step process: first, the modification of the fully theorized, globally available template on the meso
level (i.e., field, regional, sectoral, or similar) mainly by knowledge entrepreneurs and first adopters;
and, in a second step, the further adaptation of the localized template on the micro level during
broad-scale diffusion (i.e., by organizational actors as adopters). Building on the two-step
translation and diffusion process, which is usually modelled in a top-down way, the authors further
emphasize reverse ‘bottom-up’ and ‘rebound’ effects: Established local-level practices influence the way
global templates look like.
With such perspective, we offer novel insights and additional focus to the essentials of
organizational institutionalism by emphasizing relationality: One cannot understand a focal social
category without reference to others.
The epistemological, or paradigmatic, shift brought about by the institutional theory of
organizations during the late 1970s and early 1980s has grown into a most prolific conceptual
program, continuously driving an innovative research agenda. In the following section, we propose
four current and emerging themes for organizational institutionalism that currently offer promising
new directions for the theory’s future.
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
The way ahead: Moving beyond binaries
The success of organizational institutionalism led it to take the form of a ‘big tent’-paradigm:
Resembling an all-encompassing political party, numerous schools of thought in organization
studies ‘huddle up’ to neo-institutional theory, thus linking rather divergent (if not competing)
strands of institutional thinking. This is not necessarily a problematic state of a paradigmatic
progression; it is not necessarily a theoretical or conceptual crisis either. Rather, whereas in
Kuhnian terms this may indicate the (over-)maturity of a paradigm, signaling its nearing demise,
for organizational institutionalism its expansion and diversity have allowed for profusion of
debates – and such debates perform boundary work that seems almost regenerative to the theory
as a whole. In other words, as organizational institutionalism matures (see, Scott, 1987, 2008), the
theory is being enacted along the constituted fault lines of the various debates.
Prime among these intra-institutionalist debates these days is the micro vs. macro debate (see, for
instance, Höllerer, Schneiberg, Thornton, Zietsma, & Wang, 2019a). On the one side of this
debate, some institutionalists call for focusing on the micro-foundations of institutions, namely on
language, cognition, behavior and emotions as generating, maintaining and disrupting institutions
(e.g., Powell & Colyvas, 2008; Voronov & Weber, 2016; Zietsma & Toubiana, 2018). On the other
side, again others call attention to the institutionalist axiom that social entities are imprinted by the
environment in which they are embedded and thus a macro- or supra-level perspective is a defining
element in institutional analysis. Both ‘sides’ of this particular debate use the term ‘foundations’,
wrongfully implying a hierarchy between the micro and macro. The metaphor of ‘foundation’
therefore misdirects the discussion towards restricted opposition (Höllerer et al., 2019a).
Likewise oppositional, the second debate among organizational institutionalists revolves around
the actor-structure ‘fault line’ or otherwise described as the divide among agent, actor, and actorhood
(e.g., Hwang & Colyvas, 2011, 2019; Hwang, Colyvas, & Drori, 2019). In this debate, the fault line
stretches between agentic accounts of institutional processes (recognized in such terms as
‘institutional work’ [e.g., Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006] and ‘institutional entrepreneurship’ [e.g.,
Lawrence, Suddaby, & Leca, 2009, 2011]) and calls to recognize the embedded and constituted
nature of agency and the scripting of such constructed agency (identified in such terms as
‘actorhood’, ‘personhood’, even ‘nation-statehood’ [e.g., Meyer & Jepperson, 2000; Frank &
Meyer, 2002]).
Other likewise debates revolve around global-local, structure-agency, and individual-collective dichotomies.
Alas, all such debates have one important element in common: the debates continuously echo the
chicken-or-egg conundrum. Moreover, the course of these debates resembles the swing of a
pendulum: For example, seeing that institutional theory emerged in the 1970s from a critique of
then-dominant rational and agentic social science theories, it ‘swung the pendulum’ hard to argue
for the irrationality of rationality, for myth and ceremony as organizing principles, and for
legitimacy as a critical social resource; then, in the 2000s institutionalists ‘swing the pendulum’ in
the opposite direction by staking their claim that their contribution is in “bringing the
individual back into institutional theory” (Lawrence et al., 2011: 52). Indeed, many of these
debates erupt under the title “back into …”.
The futility debating these dichotomies drives us to suggest paths for future expansion of
organizational institutionalism that also involve a commentary on the trajectory, or history, of
science. We propose here that the search for the essence of institutions, and importantly the
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
standard of making academic claims of novelty based on discursive distancing, drive the field
further into such futile exchanges.
Advances in organizational institutionalism would emerge from conceptual and epistemological
consistency, recognizing the ontological and cosmological links among such presumably
independent debates. Nevertheless, any further elaboration of organizational
institutionalism would benefit from respecting the complexity of this mature theory and
avoid any oversimplifying matters. In the mode of identifying emerging and fruitful
trends for organizational institutionalism, we argue for recognizing the swing of the
pendulum and leave such historiography to literature review sections.
In the existent institutionalist corpus to date, several proposals were already made to
account for the complexity of institutional dynamics. Such accounts explore the simultaneous
and co-constitutive character of relationship between what are described as opposites. For
example, in our work on glocalization (Drori et al., 2014a; Drori, Höllerer, & Walgenbach,
2014b; Höllerer et al., 2017), we explore the simultaneous and co-constitutive character of
the global and the local, also arguing that both ‘global’ and ‘local’ are constructed ideal
types, in the Weberian sense, and that the constructed demarcation between them
analytically trace the macro-micro fault line. By considering them as constituted through
referencing the other (meaning, that the global, or the macro-level substance, is constantly
enacted and re-created through local practices and instantiations of the global template;
and vice versa), the co-constitutive nature of their relations becomes evident. Moreover,
these so-called opposites are tied through a sequenced process of abstraction and
theorization, construction of equivalency, and recontextualization, each involving
These discussions suggest that micro vs. macro, agent vs. actor vs. actorhood, are all analytic
categories whose role in theory development and research is only if and when they bring
purchase and value. Most often, though, they can only be employed in a meaningful way
if thought in tandem, in relation to each other. This way, the oppositional discourse is itself
the object of study.
Importantly, setting these paths is not a call for ‘thesis-antithesis-synthesis’. Rather, reflexively
thinking through the character of the prevalent debates in organizational institutionalism, we
identify patterns that themselves are subject to institutional dynamics: the culture of science and
academia, which demands breakthrough from extant and acclaimed knowledge, fuels the debates.
The ‘globally-oriented’ organization: Lessons learned from glocalization
Taking seriously the axiomatic assumptions of organizational institutionalism regarding the
importance of the context, or environment, as well as the importance of embeddedness in and
imprinting by such context, the turn towards global, transnational, and cross-national spheres is most
consequential for the analysis of organizations and institutions. Indeed, the emergence of
organizational institutionalism in the mid-1970s at the Stanford School (e.g., Schoonhoven &
Dobbin, 2010) occurred alongside the first formulation of cross-national analysis (Meyer &
Hannan, 1979). These seeds subsequently bloomed into what has been dubbed as world society theory,
consolidating – with an interest in global and transnational dynamics – the sociological and
phenomenological strands of organizational institutionalism.
Whether described as world society (Meyer, Boli, Thomas, & Ramirez, 1997), world polity (Drori,
Meyer, Ramirez & Schofer, 2003; McNeely, 2012), or more specifically as ‘world culture’ (Boli &
Thomas, 1997), the global sphere forms the social space, or ‘imagined community’, for embedded
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
entities (Cole, 2017). Globalization proceeds through the co-constitution of embedded social entities
(such as, individuals, organizations, nation states, social movements, or other social entities) and
respective institutional formats (such as, policies, rules and standards, or blue-prints). Overall,
world society theory succeeded to widely assert its claims about the global proliferation of the
organization, namely that globally and locally, transnationally and internationally, “they are all
organizations” (Bromley & Meyer, 2017: 939).
Seeing how prolific world society theory has been in bringing forth empirical research on global
organization(s) (Drori, Jang, & Meyer, 2006; Drori, Meyer, & Hwang, 2006), and also by setting
firms ties to other transnational perspectives on organizational institutionalism (e.g., Djelic &
Sahlin-Andersson, 2006; Djelic & Quack, 2010), the academic interest in globalization across
various disciplines and domains of research has led to several new paths for world society
approaches in the research of organizations. In the following, we outline research opportunities
and avenues from the global and transnational perspective. Specifically, we propose that taking
both the organization (as a constituted yet most successful ontological construct worldwide) and
organizational institutionalism seriously (i.e., through the firm grip of such principal concepts as
isomorphism, legitimacy, and decoupling) begs scholars of organization to face the currently
under-problematized definition of international and therefore global organizations i.e.,
multinational corporations (MNCs), intergovernmental organizations, and even civil society
organizations – as unitary and rational economic actors.
We therefore outline the following as promising paths for future research:
In line with previous challenges to the futile and binary approach to diversity vs. similarity
and to global vs. local, and building on our analytic framework for exploring the glocalization
of organization (Drori et al., 2014a, 2014b; Höllerer et al., 2017), we suggest that the notion
of organizational ‘orientation’ affords reexamination of the previously-defined binaries as
a continuum. In other words, seeing the complexity of global organization and governance,
and acknowledging that from the theoretical perspective of world society organizations are
cultural constructs of the environment in which they are embedded, it becomes clear that
such complexities cannot be captured in fixed, absolute, or binary categories. Rather, as
actors embedded in the complex global environment of the world economy, polity, and
society, organizations situate themselves within such complexity along scales of
orientation. Therefore, responding to the recent revisiting of the categorization imperative
(Zuckerman, 2017), we propose to examine scales and orientations. For instance, the
inroad into analyses of the MNC, which have been mired in debates about its ‘zero-sum
game’ relations with the state’s authority, we propose to redefine the MNC as a globally-
oriented organization and investigating its scale of orientation in various spheres or situations.
Following the call to problematize binarities, we previously offered to think of global
organizational features as an array of similarity-cum-variation rather than as dynamics of
convergence or divergence (e.g., Drori, 2016; Walgenbach, Drori, & Höllerer, 2017).
Therefore, while social sciences are geared ontologically to explain differences or
similarities, opening this new path for research on the pattern of similarity-cum-variation
should spur analyses of not only when and how glocal organizations differ or are similar, but
rather to examine the institutional features and dynamics that allow for similarity-cum-
variation to develop as it does.
The methodology for investigating glocal organization(s) and organizing should likewise
account for their complexity. In the light of the recent ‘material and multimodal turn’ in
organization studies, we also suggest the path for investigating organizational phenomena
must not be confined to the discursive and operational dimensions of glocal
organization(s) and organizing, but also to expand into the material, spatial, visual and
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
multimodal. In a similar move, the study of glocal organization(s) and organizing should
encompass various dimensions: Höllerer et al. (2017), echoing Lefebvre’s (1991) analytic
framework, recently suggested the modes of the conceived, the perceived, and the lived as basis
for the comprehensive and analytic description of specific organizations, of the specific
settings and environments in which they are embedded, and of the dynamics by which
social actors and matter are co-constituted.
Multimodality and materiality: Exploring new forms of discursive traces
A prominent stream of research in organizational institutionalism stresses the crucial importance of
communication and discourse in the emergence, stabilization, maintenance, and change of institutional
arrangements (Cornelissen et al., 2015; Green, Li, & Nohria, 2009; Phillips, Lawrence, & Hardy,
2004). It is therefore unsurprising that institutional research has focused on a variety of discursive
traces to study institutional dynamics, such as the process of institutionalization (e.g., Sillince &
Barker, 2012), theorization (e.g., Strang & Meyer, 1993; Ocasio & Joseph, 2005), translation (e.g.,
Boxenbaum, 2006; Meyer & Höllerer, 2010, 2016), legitimation (e.g., Lefsrud & Meyer, 2012), or
de-institutionalization (e.g., Maguire & Hardy, 2006, 2010).
However, despite broad acknowledgment that the discourses which underlie institutional
arrangements and dynamics encompass a variety of symbolic cues (e.g., Phillips et al., 2004), both
theoretical and empirical research in organizational institutionalism has, until recently, focused
rather exclusively on language and verbal discursive traces, such as spoken and/or written text. An
emerging stream of literature challenges such restricted focus, and argues that institutional realities
are constituted by multiple ‘modes of communication’ (e.g., Höllerer, Daudigeos, & Jancsary, 2018) as
well as their interrelationships. Such work develops theory and methodology which allows
institutional research to broaden our understanding of discursive traces to include visual and
material (e.g., Meyer, Höllerer, Jancsary, & van Leeuwen, 2013; Jones, Meyer, Jancsary, & Höllerer,
2017) and, more generally, multimodal cues (e.g., Höllerer, van Leeuwen, Jancsary, Meyer,
Andersen, & Vaara, 2019b). It therefore builds on – and extends – the broader ‘material and visual
turn’ in organization and management research (e.g., Bell, Warren, & Schroeder, 2014;
Boxenbaum, Jones, Meyer, & Svejenova, 2018).
Such multimodal advances in organizational institutionalism have far-reaching consequences for
how the discipline understands institutions and institutional dynamics. It has been suggested that
institutions need to be understood as inherently ‘multimodal accomplishments’ (Jancsary, Meyer,
Höllerer, & Boxenbaum, 2018). Genuine appreciation and cultivation of the material, visual, and
multimodal aspects of institutions require researchers to develop novel literacies, extend their
methodological toolbox, and revise and augment their theories. Recent studies have shown how a
multimodal approach may substantially contribute to a better understanding of institutional
Processes of institutionalization may draw on the strengths of multiple modes of
communication for different purposes and at different stages (e.g., Meyer, Jancsary,
Höllerer, & Boxenbaum, 2018). Disentangling the specific affordances (e.g., Gibson, 1986)
of distinct communicative modes enables a deeper understanding of institutional
Multimodal research provides further insights into how institutions and institutional
domains manifest both symbolically and materially (e.g., Friedland & Alford, 1991). If
institutions are characterized by specific symbolic registers that is, distinct adaptations of
meaning-making resources adapted to the institutional context (e.g., Matthiessen, 2015) –
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
then these registers likely manifest as ‘amalgams’ of multiple modes (Jancsary et al, 2018).
Also, institutions are ‘materialized’ as physical objects (e.g., Boxenbaum et al., 2018;
Forgues & May, 2018).
Discursive processes and mechanisms that impact institutional arrangements in various
ways draw on multiple communicative modes and combine them in complex ways. Actors
use multimodal compositions to legitimate themselves and de-legitimate others (e.g., Lefsrud,
Graves, & Phillips, 2019; Puyou & Quattrone, 2018). Multimodal discourse supports
sense-making and sense-giving regarding novel global categories (e.g., Höllerer et al., 2018),
but combinations of visual and verbal cues also facilitate the translation of global concepts
into local contexts (e.g., Höllerer, Jancsary, Meyer & Vettori, 2013). Material and
multimodal resources have also been found to support issue framing (e.g., Christiansen,
2018) and institutional maintenance (e.g., Stowell & Warren, 2018).
Finally, taking multimodality seriously also prompts novel investigations into the stocks of
knowledge at the core of institutions (e.g., Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Multimodal
perspectives on organizations and institutions allow for the study of more ‘elusive’ (e.g.,
Toraldo, Islam, & Mangia, 2018) and ‘aesthetic’ knowledges (e.g., Stigliani & Ravasi, 2018).
Summing up, the ‘visual and material turn’ in organizational institutionalism promises to address
a gap in institutional theory that has existed since the original claim of Berger and Luckmann
(1966) that (verbal) language is the dominant sign system of human society. Recent advancements
show that, while this may very well still be the case, in an era of increasing visualization,
digitalization, and democratization of access to media and technology, the social construction of
realities is by no means only verbal in nature. We therefore expect the coming years to witness an
increasing quantity, sophistication, and normalization of the use and analysis of visual, material,
and multimodal discursive traces in institutional research.
Machine-aided detection of meaning structures: Novel methodical tools
With the availability of ‘big data’, new methods – often based on machine-learning – have found
their way into institutional analysis (e.g., Powell, Oberg, Korff, Oelberger, & Kloos, 2017;
Goldenstein & Poschmann, 2019). Such a refitted methodical ‘toolbox’ allows to study both traditional
and more recent concepts within organizational institutionalism – including fields, isomorphism,
institutional change, meaning, frames, institutional logics, emotionality, visuality and
multimodality, or globalization and glocalization – on a larger and more comprehensive scale
(DiMaggio, Nag, & Blei, 2013; Mohr & Bogdanov, 2013; Mohr, Wagner-Pacifici, Breiger, &
Bogdanov, 2013; DiMaggio, 2015; Powell, Horvath, & Brandtner, 2016; Goldenstein, Poschmann,
Händschke, & Walgenbach, 2019).
For instance, the notion of ‘field’ is a key unit of analysis in organizational institutionalism,
conceptualized as consisting of different groups of actors embedded in an institutional order and
a shared system of meaning that defines the legitimate ideas and practices (DiMaggio & Powell,
1983; Zietsma, Groenewegen, Logue, & Hinings, 2017). For the emergence and change of shared
meanings in a focal field, processes such as framing and the mobilization of logics and emotionality
are central. However, institutional theory has been criticized for its scarceness of comprehensive
and longitudinal analyses of the emergence and change of shared meanings in fields (Suddaby,
2010; Suddaby, Elsbach, Greenwood, Meyer, & Zilber, 2010). In the past, such studies (e.g.,
Colyvas & Powell, 2006; Meyer & Höllerer, 2010, 2016; Bromley, Meyer, & Ramirez, 2011) were
inevitably limited as they were primarily based on manual coding and analysis of text, requiring an
enormous amount of effort and time.
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
Recent advancements in machine-aided methods allow for the analysis of meaning to be radically
scaled-up as well as improved by increasingly sophisticated machine-learning tools. The application
of natural language processing tools such as grammatical parsers, named entity recognizers,
sentiment analysis, and topic modeling appears particularly promising to address some of the
identified shortcomings of institutional analysis:
Grammatical parsers analyze the communication structure of sentences; communication
structures can be operationalized as semantic triplets of subjects, verbs, and objects (e.g.,
Franzosi, 1989; Roberts, 1989; Goldenstein, et al., 2019; Goldenstein & Poschmann, 2019).
Named entity recognizers identify labels of entities in texts and classify them according to
predefined categories such as ‘person’ or ‘organization’ (e.g., Finkel, Grenager, & Manning
2005; Florian, Ittycheriah, Jing, & Zhang, 2003).
Sentiment analysis measures emotional moods in texts (e.g., Liu, 2015; Büchel, Hahn,
Goldenstein, Händschke, & Walgenbach, 2016) and is based on a classifier that determines
the likelihood that a given passage belongs to a certain mood category; it can also identify
direction of a focal emotion on a spectrum that ranges from negative via neutral to positive.
Topic modeling is suited for capturing the latent semantic structures in texts (Kirchner &
Mohr, 2010; Wagner-Pacifici, Mohr, & Breiger, 2015; Goldenstein & Poschmann, 2019;
Hannigan, Haans, Vakili, Tchalian, Glaser, Wang, Kaplan, & Jennings, 2019) and enables
researchers to take into account that the meaning of words and complex communication
depends on the semantic structures in which they are embedded.
Overall, the application of natural language processing seems much in line with the very
foundations of organizational institutionalism in which language is conceptualized as the key
system of signification through which the social world is typified and objectified, for instance in
the form of ‘accounts’ or used ‘vocabularies’ (e.g., Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Importantly, the
methodical toolbox can potentially be expanded to other modes of text such as visual or
multimodal texts (e.g., Höllerer et al., 2019b; Drori, Delmestri, & Oberg, 2016).
In this regard we expect, for the years to come, a significant increase in the number of studies in
which the machine-aided detection of meaning structures is applied – not to fully replace but to
complement existing methodologies in increasingly mixed-methods designs.
The aim of this short commentary has been to identify emerging trends within organizational
institutionalism as the currently leading theoretical orientation in organization studies.
Upon a succinct review of the principal tenets of organizational institutionalism, we turned to identify
four emerging themes that hold significant promise for fruitful future research: (a) to overcome a
decade or more of pulls-and-tags between micro-foundations and macro-foundations of
institutions by moving beyond binaries (and by the partial revival of macro-institutionalist
perspectives); (b) to favor a glocalization-perspective onto organization(s) and organizing, thus
acknowledging complexity and multi-dimensionality through ‘scales’ of orientation; (c) to follow
the ‘material and multimodal turn’ in organization studies by expanding our analysis on the
multiple discursive formats through which organizations and their members communicate,
structure, experience, and enact organizational life; and (d) to take advantage of novel, machine-
aided methods to enhance the extant research agenda with larger amount of potentially more
Drori, Walgenbach and Höllerer; Emerging Trends in Organizational Institutionalism
precise data analysis, as well as to learn from newly-fashioned machine-learning tools to come up
with new questions and avenues to examine organizations and processes of organizing.
Importantly, these four emerging trends identified here, while seemingly independent, are
intertwined: they each enhance the scope of the other, all expanding the iron cage of
institutionalization of theory and knowledge. Therefore, while fortunate to have been both prolific
and successful so far, a continuously innovative theoretical research program (Berger & Zelditch,
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... Despite a growing number of studies that address the adoption of such concepts and practices in universities (Fay and Zavattaro 2016), the question of factors that influence the adoption and help to explain differences in the likelihood of adoption among universities has received considerably less attention. Moreover, work in this area generally focuses on a specific country and usually lacks large-scale cross-national comparisons (for exceptions, see Christensen et al. 2020;Delmestri et al. 2015)-which are, however, essential to better understand how global institutional expectations are translated and adopted in local contexts (Christensen et al. 2020;Delmestri et al. 2015;Drori, et al. 2023;Mizrahi-Shtelman and Drori 2021). ...
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We analyze the role of institutional founding conditions and institutional legacy for universities’ self-representation in terms of diversity. Based on 374 universities located in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, we can differentiate between a more idealistic understanding (logic of inclusion and equality) and a more market-oriented understanding (market logic) of diversity. Our findings show that the founding phase has no significant effect on the likelihood of a university focusing on a market-oriented understanding of diversity—however, we observe an imprinting effect with respect to the adoption of a diversity statement in general and an equity-oriented statement. Moreover, our findings show that there is a socialistic heritage for universities in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries that is at work and still influences universities’ understandings of diversity today.
... To track meaning structures in this context, we drew upon recent methodological text analysis efforts using topic modeling (Blei, 2012). This is an approach seeing increasing interest in organizational studies (Drori, Walgenbach, & Höllerer, 2020;Hannigan et al., 2019). As a computational text analysis technique, topic modeling simplifies a corpus of texts into distribution of weights representing the probabilities that each document is made up of a set of topics. ...
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Field emergence poses an intriguing problem for institutional theorists. New issue fields often arise at the intersection of different sectors, amidst extant structures of meanings and actors. Such nascent fields are fragmented and lack clear guides for action; making it unclear how they ever coalesce. The authors propose that provisional social structures provide actors with macrosocial presuppositions that shape ongoing field-configuration; bootstrapping the field. The authors explore this empirically in the context of social impact investing in the UK, 2000−2013, a period in which this field moved from clear fragmentation to relative alignment. The authors combine different computational text analysis methods, and data from an extensive field-level study, to uncover meaningful patterns of interaction and structuration. Our results show that across various periods, different types of actors were linked together in discourse through “actor–meaning couplets.” These emergent couplings of actors and meanings provided actors with social cues, or macrofoundations, which guided their local activities. The authors, thus, theorize a recursive, co-constitutive process: as punctuated moments of interaction generate provisional structures of actor–meaning couplets, which then cue actors as they navigate and constitute the emerging field. Our model re-energizes the core tenets of new structuralism and contributes to current debates about institutional emergence and change.
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Social scientists recently started discussing the utilization of text-mining tools as being fruitful for scaling inductively grounded close reading. We aim to progress in this direction and provide a contemporary contribution to the literature. By focusing on map analysis, we demonstrate the potential of text-mining tools for text analysis that approaches inductive but still formal in-depth analysis. We propose that the combination of text-mining tools addressing different layers of meaning facilitates a closer analysis of the dynamics of manifest and latent meanings than contemporarily acknowledged. To illustrate our approach, we combine grammatical parsing and topic modeling to operationalize communication structures within sentences and the semantic surroundings of these communication structures. We use a reliable and downloadable software application to analyze the dynamic interlacement of two layers of meaning over time. We do so by analyzing 15,371 newspaper articles on corporate responsibility published in the United States from 1950 to 2013.
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Increasingly, management researchers are using topic modeling, a new method borrowed from computer science, to reveal phenomenon-based constructs and grounded conceptual relationships in textual data. By conceptualizing topic modeling as the process of rendering constructs and conceptual relationships from textual data, we demonstrate how this new method can advance management scholarship without turning topic modeling into a black box of complex computer-driven algorithms. We begin by comparing features of topic modeling to related techniques (content analysis, grounded theorizing, and natural language processing). We then walk through the steps of rendering with topic modeling and apply rendering to management articles that draw on topic modeling. Doing so enables us to identify and discuss how topic modeling has advanced management theory in five areas: detecting novelty and emergence, developing inductive classification systems, understanding online audiences and products, analyzing frames and social movements, and understanding cultural dynamics. We conclude with a review of new topic modeling trends and revisit the role of researcher interpretation in a world of computer-driven textual analysis.
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Organizations need to appear legitimate to access resources. Thus, actors often carry out legitimacy work to shape others’ evaluation of something as “desirable, proper or appropriate.” Such research has tended to focus on the cognitive appeal of words. Recently, research has also emerged on the persuasiveness of images, especially for creating emotional appeals. We develop a process model to explain the role of multimodal messages—combining words and images—in legitimacy work. With this model, we aim to answer: Why do certain combinations of multimodal messages (words and images) more forcefully evoke emotion and more reliably capture recipients’ attention, motivate them to process those messages, and (re)evaluate the legitimacy of an organization, its activities, and/or its industry? We conclude by discussing theoretical extensions and connections to other methods such as institutional work and values work.