Exploring the Institutional Logics Literature

I am overdue with an idea paper. On October 24, I wrote about Top Management Teams. I should have had an update on October 31. No excuses. I missed the deadline. So, even if it is late, this is my latest research idea.

Friedland and Alford’s seminal essay paved the way for an emergent field of research focused on institutional logics. Institutional logics builds on, but fundamentally departs from neoinstitutional theory (Thornton & Ocasio, 2008). While institutional logics is concerned with how culture and rules shape organizations, the focus is on how different institutional logics impact individuals and organizations (Thornton & Ocasio, 2008). Jackall initially described logics as “the way a particular social world works” (Jackall, 1988). Later, building on Jackall’s and Friedland and Alford’s arguments, Thornton and Ocasio expanded this concept to define institutional logics as “the socially constructed, historical pattern of material practices, assumptions, values, beliefs, and rules by which individuals produce and reproduce their material substance, organize time and space, and provide meaning to their social reality” (Thornton & Ocasio, 1999).

I explored the literature of competing logics in my summer paper. However, my discussion of the gaps was not clear enough.

Institutional logics has been studied at the field level (Lounsbury, 2002, 2007; Marquis & Lounsbury, 2007; Reay & Hinings, 2009), industry level (Greenwood, Díaz, Li, & Lorente, 2010; Thornton, Jones, & Kury, 2005; Thornton & Ocasio, 1999; Thornton, 2002) , and organizational level (Battilana & Dorado, 2010). A recent paper by Besharov and Smith (Besharov & Smith, 2014) details a framework that explains how field, organizational and individual factors influence logic compatibility and centrality.

I would like to explore more about the individual factors. In particular since I have not paid much attention to this aspect of the literature. It is my impression that individuals are seen as drawing from the institutional logics present in their environment. For example, Thorton discussed how the organization and society specify constraints and opportunities for individual action (Thornton, 2002). In a different paper Thornton and Ocasio (1999) showed how institutional logics focused the attention of actors when making executive succession decisions in the publishing industry. When the editorial logic was dominant, executive attention revolved around author-editor relationships and so the determinants of executive succession were based on organization size. On the other hand, when the market logic was dominant, executive attention was directed at resource acquisition, and determinants of succession were based on the product market.

I am curious to investigate the extent to which individuals who embody competing logics impact the organization. This could be in terms of how the organization manages the conflict, for instance, the increase or decrease in conflict. Or this could also be studied on the decisions the organization makes as reflections of the logic that prevailed at that time.

My summer paper built arguments around hybrid organizations and competing logics. However, the research gap was not clearly articulated.

Organizations that adopt multiple, distinct logics internally are often referred to as hybrid organizations (Battilana & Dorado, 2010). Most commonly, however, this definition is applied to social enterprises. These are organizations that combine social welfare and commercial logics (Battilana & Dorado, 2010; Pache & Santos, 2013). In my summer paper, my argument revolved around unpacking how the tensions within an organization were impacted by the adoption of the benefit corporation legal form.

A different question emerged that looks outside the organization to understand how this legal form came about. The social movements literature could be used to understand this process. Many researchers have already discussed the rise of a new logic.  Traditionally, the focus of institutional logics research has been on how an industry achieves a dominant logic. The dominant institutional logics are also referred to as prevailing logics, and are the widely accepted institutional logics in a particular industry (Dunn & Jones, 2005; Thornton & Ocasio, 1999). Following this tradition, institutional logics researchers have studied how different institutional environments, with distinct logics, lead organizations to change and adopt different practices (Haveman & Rao, 1997; Lounsbury, 2001).

The emergence of a hybrid logic, however, might be different than the process of one logic emerging as dominant. The process for these two separate logics to become so intertwined as to have legitimacy in the legal system is interesting. However, I need to create a good research question.

Some preliminary research questions revolving institutional logics include:

  • •Competing logics:
    • To what extent do individuals that embody two competing logics, and have their identity formed around both logics, help or hinder the organization?
    • Do organizations working in an environment where competing logics exist perform better when their leaders (top management or CEO) embody both logics?
  • Emerging logics:
    • The emergence of a hybrid logic. Individuals, organizations, and society are nested levels, and each of those was impacted in order to bring out legal change.

These questions are contingent on a closer and more detailed examination of the literature.

Battilana, J., & Dorado, S. (2010). Building sustainable hybrid organizations: The case of commercial microfinance organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 53(6), 1419–1440.

Besharov, M., & Smith, W. (2014). Multiple institutional logics in organizations: Explaining their varied nature and implications. Academy of Management Review.

Greenwood, R., Díaz, A. M., Li, S. X., & Lorente, J. C. (2010). The multiplicity of institutional logics and the heterogeneity of organizational responses. Organization Science, 21(2), 521–539.

Jackall, R. (1988). Moral mazes: The world of corporate managers. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 1(4), 598–614.

Lounsbury, M. (2002). Institutional transformation and status mobility: The professionalization of the field of finance. Academy of Management Journal, 45(1), 255–266.

Lounsbury, M. (2007). A tale of two cities: Competing logics and practice variation in the professionalizing of mutual funds. Academy of Management Journal, 50(2), 289–307.

Marquis, C., & Lounsbury, M. (2007). Vive la résistance: Competing logics and the consolidation of US community banking. Academy of Management Journal, 50(4), 799–820.

Pache, A.-C., & Santos, F. (2013). Inside the Hybrid Organization: Selective Coupling as a Response to Competing Institutional Logics. Academy of Management Journal, 56(4), 972–1001.

Reay, T., & Hinings, C. R. (2009). Managing the rivalry of competing institutional logics. Organization Studies, 30(6), 629–652.

Thornton, P. H. (2002). The rise of the corporation in a craft industry: Conflict and conformity in institutional logics. Academy of Management Journal, 45(1), 81–101.

Thornton, P. H., Jones, C., & Kury, K. (2005). Institutional logics and institutional change in organizations: Transformation in accounting, architecture, and publishing. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 23, 125–170.

Thornton, P. H., & Ocasio, W. (1999). Institutional logics and the historical contingency of power in organizations: Executive succession in the higher education publishing industry, 1958-1990 1. American Journal of Sociology, 105(3), 801–843.

Thornton, P. H., & Ocasio, W. (2008). Institutional logics. The Sage Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism, 840.


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