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Interest plurality and institutional work: An ethnography of rural community organizing

Brett Crawford (Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA)
John Branch (Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 9 March 2015




The institutional work literature has paid little attention to cognition and interests in the creation, maintenance, and disruption of institutions. The purpose of this paper is to explore the construct of interests as it relates to institutional work projects. The authors frame interests as recognitions situated within broader institutional meaning systems, with a specific focus on interest plurality.


The authors conducted an 18-month ethnography exploring institutional work projects within a rural chamber of commerce. The authors aimed to understand how projects contributed to community survival on a micro-level and institutional change on a macro-level. Rural chambers of commerce represent a unique example of emergent public-private partnerships, challenging traditional commercial logics of chambers of commerce. The research design included qualitative data collection, coding, and analysis of field notes, interviews, and archival sources.


Purposive action was grounded in the community inhabited by the rural chamber of commerce and not the institution itself. Recognized interests enabled nontraditional workers – public employees with newly founded and legitimate roles within the chamber – to pursue community-focussed projects. Change across the institution of chambers of commerce occurred because of the separated and aggregate projects spanning across rural communities.


Recognized interests are a social, plural, and malleable phenomenon supporting situated agency and the co-creation activities embodied in institutional work projects. The authors contribute to the institutional work literature by introducing the idea of interest plurality and illustrating how the work of rural chambers of commerce captures contemporary forms of community organizing.



The authors thank Mike Rowe, two anonymous reviewers, Roy Suddaby, Peer Hull Kristensen, John Meyer, Haldor Byrkjeflot, and Ann Westenholz for constructive and insightful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


Crawford, B. and Branch, J. (2015), "Interest plurality and institutional work: An ethnography of rural community organizing", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 98-116.



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