The core goal of the “micro-foundational” agenda appears to be less an institutionalism founded in the micro, or reduced to the micro, and more some form of integrative institutionalism: that is, an institutionalism that does justice to the perpetual, co-constitutive interplay of local activities (the micro) and trans-local patterns (the macro). In this chapter, thus, the authors argue for a conscious, explicit embrace of integrative institutionalism; and of the broader agenda that this terminology opens up. Based on this overdue rewording the authors highlight additional problems and possibilities – providing a constructive reformulation and elaboration of the “micro-foundational” agenda as it currently stands.
Steele, C.W.J., Toubiana, M. and Greenwood, R. (2019), "Why Worry? Celebrating and Reformulating “Integrative Institutionalism”", Haack, P., Sieweke, J. and Wessel, L. (Ed.) Microfoundations of Institutions (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 65B), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 353-369. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0733-558X2019000065B027Download as .RIS
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Intuitively, the foundations of institutions are the more-or-less solid grounds on which institutions rest. Microfoundations, the concern of this volume, would then be such things as day-to-day interactions and practices – concrete patterns of activity on the basis of which institutions are generated, sustained, and transformed (Hallett, Shulman, & Fine, 2009; Hallett & Ventresca, 2006; Lok, Creed, DeJordy, & Voronov, 2017; Smets, Aristidou, & Whittington, 2017). The imagery of microfoundations concerns some macro-institutionalists, who worry that it may give rise to a dogmatic prioritization of individuals, or of the micro-social, obscuring the constitutive and contextualizing powers of macro-institutions (Hwang & Colyvas, 2020; Meyer, 2006). The imagery does indeed seem problematic (Fine, 1991). It seems to us, however, that many apostles of micro-foundationalism are keen not to swing the attentional pendulum to “the micro” at the expense of “the macro.” They wish, rather, to fasten attention on the inseparability of the micro and the macro, and on their co-constitution. Powell and Rerup’s (2017) recent chapter on microfoundations illustrates this approach. Their “central message” is that “institutions are sustained, altered, and extinguished as they are enacted by collections of individuals in everyday situations” (2017, p. 311). In their view, macro-dynamics give meaning to local activities, and make them what they are, even as they are quite literally constituted by those same activities, over time and over space. This co-constitutive conceptualization of the micro and the macro seems to offer little risk of a descent into micro-focal myopia, or naïve individualism.
The core goal of the “micro-foundational” agenda thus appears to be less an institutionalism founded in the micro, or reduced to the micro (a key concern for macro-institutionalists), and more some form of integrative institutionalism: that is, an institutionalism that does justice to the perpetual, co-constitutive interplay of local activities (the micro) and trans-local patterns (the macro). The reciprocal nature of these “foundations” is more suggestive of an M. C. Escher staircase, in which “foundational” causality moves perpetually from level to level, than of any actual foundations we have personally encountered. In this chapter, thus, we argue for a conscious, explicit embrace of integrative institutionalism as a term; and of the broader agenda that this terminology opens up, which we here set out. We believe that this label foregrounds the interweaving of the micro and the macro, without giving priority to either as the sole foundation of the other; and, thus, better captures the guiding spirit of “micro-foundational” work (which the imagery of microfoundations ironically obscures). Moreover, we will suggest that this overdue rewording highlights additional problems and possibilities – permitting a constructive reformulation and elaboration of the “micro-foundational” agenda as it currently stands.
Our overarching argument in this chapter, thus, has three components. First, we contend that there are (really) no such things as micro- (or for that matter) macro-foundations. Indeed, the history of institutional theory and its antecedents strongly suggest an implicit recognition of this: a more integrative and dynamically co-constitutive approach has always been a part of what institutionalists have done and why we have done it. Second, we take as a premise that the micro, macro and meso are different modes of seeing and compartmentalizing the same complex web of intertwined and co-constituting doings, sayings, and beings (Schatzki, 2002). For this reason, prior micro or macro understandings can provide a useful background or context for macro- or micro-focused work; capturing parts of the social webbing that are not in focus for a given study, but are inevitably pertinent (Fine, 1991). Such a mutual contextualization of micro and macro work, however, requires that we dismantle the artificial boundary that is sometimes placed between the two genres of studies, and, ideally, that we develop more theorizations capable of integrating and contextualizing both micro and macro work. So, and this is our third point, there is a need for explicit meta-analyses and overviews aimed at integrating across micro and macro studies – as a means of breaching this boundary, establishing and elaborating integrated theories, and, at the same time, foregrounding the unique contributions that unabashedly micro- and macro-oriented work can offer to institutional scholarship as a whole.
In what follows, we set the scene with a brief historical overview. We suggest that integrative institutionalism (exemplified in much “micro-foundational” work) reaffirms and highlights a core, enduring commitment in institutional theory. We contend that sociological institutionalism has always sought an integrative understanding of the micro and macro. The Chicago institutionalists (e.g., Becker, 1991; Blumer, 1969; Goffman, 1990) pursued work on institutions that focused on broad swathes of social life, specific organizations, and the minutiae of social interactions; addressing these as interdependent or even inseparable themes. The old institutionalists, likewise, sought to theorize this interplay (see Barley, 2017). And the neo-institutionalist project, too, was attentive to both micro and macro in its orientation; despite the accompanying shift in empirical attention to the field (Greenwood, Oliver, Lawrence, & Meyer, 2017; Scott, 1995; 2014). Throughout this history, not every paper or project covered local activities and trans-local patterns in tandem – but institutionalists, as a dispersed collective of researchers, have explored the local, the trans-local, and their interconnection; an ultimately integrative project. This is the orientation we wish to celebrate, reaffirm, and elaborate. We suggest that an explicitly integrative institutionalism (and the micro-foundational agenda, insofar as it is integrative in orientation) reasserts a longstanding institutional agenda; and, thus, offers little cause for fear.
Building outward, in part, from our historical overview, we offer three suggestions for reform, which could transform contemporary micro-foundationalism into a more explicitly and broadly integrative institutionalism. First, we propose an expansion of focus. The micro-foundational movement, it seems to us, has focused on encouraging micro-institutional work, and cross-level projects. We are in favor of both. We think, however, that more attention should also be devoted to the integration of separated streams of micro-institutional and macro-institutional work: that is, to reviews, meta-analyses, and integrative theorizations, which will pull together ideas and insights currently languishing in relative isolation. The “camps” of micro and macro institutionalists need not be dismantled – but trade should be encouraged, bridges built, and “listening posts” established (de la Chaux, Haugh, & Greenwood, 2017). Second, we argue that a part of this integrative agenda should be the creation of classifications and theoretical typologies; that is, that we should highlight and investigate differences in the dynamics and mechanisms that pertain in specific domains of social life, and explore the distinctive types of domain and institution that surround us. Third, finally, and relatedly, we argue that integrative institutionalism, as we envisage it, should remind us of the importance not only of the local, but also of the societal. The impact of society remains neglected, despite Friedland and Alford’s seminal call for its reintroduction (Friedland & Alford, 1991). Accordingly, we call for the incorporation of the “even more macro” in the future pursuit of integration.
An Illustrious Genealogy
Institutionalism, we believe, has always attended to the interplay of micro and macro. Individual papers and projects have sometimes been “micro,” sometimes “macro,” and sometimes cross-level; but their dispersed findings and theorizations have generally been integrated into an ongoing theoretical conversation, concerned with both (a) the situated nature of local action, and (b) the impact of such actions on the emergence and evolution of trans-local regularities (Creed, DeJordy & Lok, 2010; DiMaggio, 1991; Greenwood, Suddaby, & Hinings, 2002; Hoffman, 1999; Lawrence, 2017; Seo & Creed, 2002; Tolbert & Zucker, 1983; Tracey, 2016; Zilber, 2002). In this sense, the micro-foundational agenda has been less a dangerous insurgency, more a valuable reaffirmation of institutionalism’s core commitment to integrative understandings. Here, we flesh out our case by highlighting just a few of the more illustrious ancestors of integrative institutionalism.
One set of such ancestors is the Chicago school of institutionalists – a loose confederation of scholars, “united” by an intense interest in the interplay of local interactions and broader social orders (Barley, 2017). Of course, the arguments and interests of the group were diverse, but we see in their work four main foci, which cohere within an overarching integrative project. First, a focus on local interactions, as spaces where actions and understandings are negotiated and accomplished (Blumer, 1969; Goffman, 1967). Second, a focus on the chaining together of interactions, over time and over space – giving rise to biographies, organizations, occupations, and societal sectors (Becker, 1991; Goffman, 1991). Third, a focus on these “chains” in their own right – on the ways in which social trajectories and domains take on a life of their own, and the characteristic features that they may share (Becker, 1982; Goffman, 1991). Fourth, and finally, a focus on the ways in which these trans-local dynamics provide the context for local interactions (Becker, 1991; Goffman, 1974). In some texts, analyses explicitly encompass all these elements; in others, certain of these commitments are largely bracketed. Ongoing dialogue and dispute within the group, however, encouraged contextualization of individual texts within a project that was – taken as a whole – integrative in character.
The Chicago school, early as it was in the history of institutionalism, might perhaps be deemed a distant branch of relations, from whom “we” have grown apart (Barley, 1989, 2017). Gouldner and Selznick may be more familiar ancestors. These “old” institutionalists, however, were no less integrative in orientation (Cardinale, 2018). A defining interest in Gouldner’s Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy was articulating the ways in which societal trends, such as bureaucratization, are instantiated in local sites; transformed in their implications by the political context of the organization, the demands of individual authority, and the interaction styles of the folk on the floor (Gouldner, 1954; Hallett & Ventresca, 2006). In this one text, then, Gouldner explores the interconnections of the societal, organizational, and interactional, in an integrative whirl. Selznick, too, was integrative in orientation. In 1996, he suggested that
institutional theory traces the emergence of distinctive forms, processes, strategies, outlooks, and competences as they emerge from patterns of organizational interaction and adaptation. Such patterns must be understood as responses to both internal and external environments. (p. 271)
Of course, we do not claim that every “old” institutional paper ranged across the micro and the macro; just that “old” institutionalism, taken as a whole, certainly did.
Stepping to the side, to view one last branch of our family tree, we might look to Berger and Luckmann (1967), and phenomenological institutionalism. In the Social Construction of Reality, we find the emergence of social order and cognitive typifications, in local interactions, feeding into the formation of communities and societies, and then trickling downward, through the socialization of new generations, to impact far-distant interactions. Here, the component steps of a confident integrative waltz occur within chapters of each other, or even within pages. It would seem, thus, that an integrative orientation informed the founding works and figures of our field – neither the micro nor the macro was, by itself, foundational to institutional theory.
In fact the integrative character of institutionalism was not confined to its early ancestry. It informed the neo-institutional project as well. Meyer and Rowan’s (1977) early work on decoupling focused simultaneously (a) on the production of rationalized myths, which pervade societies, and (b) on the localized management of face within organizations, given the inevitable contrast between these myths and everyday practicalities. Then, when DiMaggio and Powell (1991) wrote their seminal introduction to the “orange book”, they drew from micro-sociology to articulate their ongoing program for neo-institutionalism. Disavowing the notion of the individual as a “cultural dope,” they proposed an embrace of the work of Randall Collins on interaction rituals, the ethnomethodologists, and Bourdieu, among other micro-sociological resources. The harbingers of the turn to the field were, no less than their precursors, interested in the micro-dynamics of institutions, and persuaded of their importance.
Fracture in the Family?
There is a caveat to our cheerful genealogy. Although neo-institutionalism was integrative in orientation, we recognize nonetheless that the rise of this program marked an inflection point in institutionalism, as attention shifted to the “field” as the primary site of social action and analysis (Greenwood, Oliver, Sahlin, & Suddaby, 2008; Scott, 2001; Wooten & Hoffman, 2017; Zietsma, Groenewegen, Logue, & Hinings, 2017). The influence of the field led to a marginalization of micro-institutional work, and to a more marked division between the micro and macro camps; as articulated in the introduction to this volume. Here, it is important to be precise. Certainly, more micro-oriented work did not cease. From Zucker’s (1977) work on the social psychological foundations of institutionalism, to the work on institutional entrepreneurship and social movements that burgeoned following DiMaggio’s call for an account of institutional change (Battilana, Leca, & Boxenbaum, 2009; DiMaggio, 1988; Hardy & Maguire, 2017; Schneiberg & Lounsbury, 2017; Zilber, 2007), relatively micro-oriented work continued, alongside projects of a cross-level orientation. Beyond the confines of North America, for example, Scandinavian institutionalism thrived, and explored how ideas, and practices, as they diffuse across fields, are in fact being translated – altered to suit local conditions, understandings, political circumstances, and the dynamics of already established practices and activities (Czarniawska & Sevon, 1996; Wedlin & Sahlin, 2017). Anecdotally, however, there seems to be a general sense that the integration of scholarship on the micro-institutional and macro-institutional became more fitful, and less focal. The camps become set against each other, perhaps: the concept of institutional entrepreneurship, for example, arose first as a critique of the lack of agency in macro-institutionalism, only to be subjected to critique from macro-institutionalists, for heroizing dis-embedded individuals, and neglecting the macro-institutional context (Delmestri, 2006; Hardy & Maguire, 2017; Meyer, 2006).
The divide seems to remain (Zilber, 2013), even as micro-institutional and cross-level work is experiencing a renaissance, led by practice theories of various stripes (Kellogg, 2009; Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006; Lounsbury, 2008; Seo & Creed, 2002; Smets at al., 2017), scholars of institutional work and emotions (Creed et al., 2010; Dacin, Munir, & Tracey, 2010; Lawrence, Suddaby, & Leca, 2009; Lok et al., 2017; Voronov & Vince, 2012; Zietsma & Toubiana, 2018), inhabited institutionalists (Bechky, 2011; Hallett & Ventresca, 2006; Leibel, Hallett, & Bechky, 2018), and institutional logicians (Besharov & Smith, 2014; MacPherson & Sauder, 2013; Ocasio, Thornton, & Lounsbury, 2017; Pache & Santos, 2012; Reay, Goodrick, Waldorff, & Casebeer, 2017; Thornton, Ocasio, & Lounsbury, 2012; Toubiana & Ziestma, 2017; Tracey, 2016). Concerns have arisen that the turn to the micro is neglecting the macro-foundations of local action. Perhaps still more importantly, it has been anecdotally suggested that we are seeing a swinging of the pendulum back from the macro to the micro; a swing that may entail the loss of lessons learned.
We would call for calm. There is no need for an unlearning of the lessons provided by field-level scholarship; nor any obvious mechanism for enforcing such a re-educational agenda. The ancestry of institutionalism paints a brighter picture; providing we are willing to attend to it. In fact, throughout our brief genealogy of our institutional ancestors, we have suggested that institutionalists have traditionally concerned themselves with both the local (micro) and trans-local (macro); but that they often did so across texts and across time. That is, institutionalism was integrative from birth not because early institutionalists performed studies that explored the interplay of the micro and macro – though, indeed, they did – but because they sought to integrate their studies of the local and trans-local into a more general understanding, through the process of discourse and dispute. It seems to us that this process continues, but is in need of strengthening. The current problem is not that macro and micro versions of institutionalism are often undertaken separately – indeed, there may often be merits to compartmentalization of work focused on the micro or macro, insofar as this permits greater attention to specific phenomena and mechanisms, and the use of pertinent conceptual language and short-hand. Nor is the problem the very, very mild acrimony that sometimes arises between these camps; indeed, this may well be generative. The problem is, rather, that there is insufficient integration and synthesis of work with these differing foci. Let the pendulum swing from one focus of attention to another; let the camps continue their intensive investigations of their specific territories, and their squabbles; but let there be trade, lines of communication, and an effort to sustain a collective memory of where we have traveled and why. It seems to us that the core concern of integrative institutionalism should perhaps be the development of more integrative and synthetic efforts to effectively bind together the varied and dispersed activities of institutionalists. 1 In the next section, we explore how this concern might help us constructively elaborate and extend the micro-foundational agenda, as it currently stands.
Argument the First
Cross-level projects – projects that reach the micro and the macro – are wonderful things. To be able to see, within the bounds of one paper, the influence of institutional context on the unfolding of local action, and, in turn, the ways in which local activities sustain, disrupt, even transform their institutional contexts, can be immensely insightful. We are excited by the efforts of many to develop such projects empirically (such as recent efforts by Jakob-Sadeh & Zilber, 2018; Massa, Helms, Voronov, & Wang, 2017; Smets, Morris, & Greenwood, 2012; Toubiana & Zietsma, 2017). But cross-level empirical work is only one aspect of what the integrative project could, and in our view should, ultimately be. If the broader question is one of how to understand the interplay and co-constitution of the local and trans-local, a critical direction is the development of integrative theorizations, reviews, and meta-analyses. That is not to say that we do not have reviews (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006; Lok et al., 2017; Powell & Rerup, 2017; Smets et al., 2017), or efforts at cross-level theorization (Bitektine & Haack, 2015; Creed, Hudson, Okhuysen, & Smith-Crowe, 2014; Hallett & Ventresca, 2006) – but, rather, that they should be more central to the integrative turn; and that they should be supplemented by efforts at qualitative meta-analysis.
Let us unpack that. The overarching point is simply that macro work and micro work do not always have to be undertaken in the same paper in order to be synthesized. Three methods of synthesis leap to mind. Integrative theorizations play a particularly critical role. Let us “imagine” that we have a range of empirical findings on the evaluation of organizational legitimacy by individuals, which also addresses how individuals make evaluations differently under differing situational conditions. Let us “imagine” also that we have a range of empirical findings on the consequences of widespread legitimacy judgements on organizational outcomes, and the diffusion of organizational forms within institutional fields. An integrative theorization might then draw these threads together to show how (i) field-level dynamics shape the conditions (ii) under which individual legitimacy evaluations are made regarding specific organizations, which (iii) shape the broader legitimacy of organizational forms, and thus (iv) change the dynamics of the field (related integrations are showcased in Bitektine & Haack, 2015; Tost, 2011). 2 Does this preclude cross-level research? No. But it makes use of a bundle of prior empirical findings that span multiple levels of analysis, which would be unlikely to be drawn out and integrated at length in the context of a cross-level empirical study. It is our passionate belief that more creative and integrative theorizations are needed to help us know what we know; and to make more of the vast reserves of empirics generated by previous work (which is too often allowed to lie fallow). Reviews, too, play a similar role: drawing together multiple streams of research into more integrative understandings; though perhaps with more focus on the articulation of directions for future work, and less on the development of specific models and propositions.
Though integrative theorizations and reviews are familiar, much scope remains for efforts to synthesize micro- and macro-institutional scholarship into models that integrate local and trans-local dynamics; and, also, for efforts to deploy resources from other disciplines, with foci that are yet more “macro,” or yet more “micro” in character. Meta-analyses are perhaps the least common integrative device within institutional theory (Heugens & Lander, 2009, marks a welcome exception); and this would seem to represent a major gap. Like reviews, meta-analyses seek to produce a summary of the state of knowledge within a specific domain of study. They may do so through various means, but for the most part, meta-analytic techniques have evolved to cope with the combination of quantitative studies; developing, for example, estimates of the impact of medical treatments by integrating the results of multiple experimental studies, while adjusting the impact of each study on the overall estimate by taking into account study sizes, designs, and even publication bias. Institutional theory’s predominantly qualitative form makes a direct transposition of these methods difficult. However, methods of qualitative meta-analysis are available. Meta-ethnography, though rarely used, focuses on synthesizing the results of multiple ethnographic works (Hodson, 2004; Noblit & Hare, 1988): thus, for example, one may try to graphically depict findings from multiple ethnographies, and to systematically layer these depictions upon one another, in order to draw out generalities, complementarities, contradictions and possible boundary conditions (Steele & King, 2011). Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) offers another promising direction (Fiss, 2011; Misangyi et al., 2016; Ragin, 1987). This method was developed, in part, in order to allow the systematic comparison of multiple cases, so as to uncover the association between certain outcomes and configurations of necessary, sufficient, unnecessary and insufficient causal conditions. Thus, one can make use of multiple cases (published separately), in which there were different conditions and different outcomes, to work out when particular outcomes arise, and uncover the boundary conditions for the uncovered mechanisms. There is nothing that demands these cases should be freshly gathered. As such, QCA offers a detailed and developed toolkit for understanding what we should already know about the conditions and pathways of institutional outcomes, based upon previously accumulated empirics. In short, methods and opportunities for qualitative meta-analysis abound, and provide an important path by which prior bodies of micro, macro, and cross-level work could be drawn together into integrated understandings.
A broader point awaits. As a research program, institutionalism is characterized by both centrifugal forces (creating diverse camps as researchers specialize, and adopt pertinent languages and methods), and centripetal forces (as reviews, integrative theorizations, and occasional meta-analyses help bind this diversity together into a common discourse). It seems to us that an integrative institutionalism’s central concern should be the reflective, conscious, collective management of these forces. There exist a range of theoretical and empirical resources, from institutional theory, organization theory, and social theory more broadly, that could aid us in this endeavor. The work of the Carnegie school, for example, suggests that complex problems are most effectively managed through their compartmentalization: that information gathering and problem solving should be dispersed across dedicated groups, with their own concerns (and methods), and then integrated through abstraction and categorization (Gavetti, Levinthal, & Ocasio, 2007; March & Simon, 1993). Lawrence and Lorsch made a similar claim – that complex problems call for a careful balancing of differentiation and integration (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967) – and pointed, in the process, to the need for “integrative devices”; a call that resonates immediately with our arguments above. Students of boundary objects provide theory and research regarding the production, uses, and impacts of such integrative devices (Carlile, 2004; Star & Griesemer, 1989). Scholars of distributed cognition offer us a further array of integrative devices to contemplate, to spur our ambition and creativity (Hutchins, 1995). Work on memory systems – to continue a whirlwind listing of resources – offers us insights that could help us in our efforts to integrate past empirical work (Bowker, 2008; Ren & Argote, 2011). The history, philosophy, and sociology of science await as well. What can we learn from such resources? How, in short, can institutional scholarship guide the thoughtful, collective reform of its own institutions?
Argument the Second
One path – and only one of many – that integrations might follow, is the creation of classifications and theoretical typologies. It seems to us that there is much discussion of institutions (and of institutional logics) that supposes they are largely identical or homogenous “things” – different in detail rather than in type. Yet we know, from the “dusty books” (Hinings, Greenwood, & Meyer, 2018) of our discipline, that institutions vary substantially in their features and their internal dynamics. Classification of institutional types, we believe, may not only provide a useful trajectory for integration of empirical studies, and comparisons across empirical projects, but also strengthen our capacity to develop theoretical descriptions, explanations, and predictions, by refining our capacity for the crafting of meaningful and practicable distinctions (Tsoukas, 2009).
Let us consider Erving Goffman’s (1991) total institutions. Without delving into the distinctions he makes between different types of institutions, it is clear that total institutions differ fundamentally from other kinds of institutions (NB: here, in line with Goffman’s thinking, we temporarily adopt a restrictive definition of “institution,” taking it to denote a stable and recognizable social space that one might inhabit, such as an organization, community, or country). Most social institutions permit individuals to “sleep, play, and work in different places, with different co-participants, under different authorities, and without an overall rational plan” (Goffman, 1991, p. 17). Thus, on leaving a bar, the bartender and bouncers do not claim the right to determine where and when you sleep, when you go to work, and with whom you socialize; their sphere of authority, as well as their personal interest, is clearly delimited. In contrast, within an army barracks, a monastery, a prison, or a boarding school, a single authority is very likely to claim the right – and even have the obligation – to govern when, where, and with whom you work, sleep, and play. As Goffman puts it, all aspects of participants’ lives take place in the same place, under the same authorities, in the company of a homogenized group of co-participants, who are treated alike, and organized according to the same strict schedule; all in order to fulfill some overarching institutional objective (Goffman, 1991, p. 17). Such total institutions seek to achieve a rigid order, encompassing the whole social life of their inmates; often with the goal of systematically reconfiguring each inmate’s sense of self, and their behavior. To recognize the total institution as a type of institution draws our attention to the similarities and differences that characterize an array of institutions, helping us notice regular patterns of behavior, of emotional expression and suppression, of thought, that predominate in some institutions, and are less likely elsewhere. 3 It opens up the possibility of studying the genealogies and co-evolutions of institutional types and configurations (Foucault, 1998, 2002, 2004). And it opens up the possibility of early recognition of deviations and novel institutions.
Once again, we have useful resources with which to work. Configuration theory (Miller, 2018) provides a toolkit with which to identify types of institutions – institutions characterized by similar clusters of features, similar internal dynamics, or similar effects (Miller, 1986; Short, Payne, & Ketchen, 2008; Soda & Furnari, 2012). Charles Ragin’s pioneering work on set theory and QCA once again provides a useful point of entry (Misangyi et al., 2016; Ragin, 1987, 2008). Ragin’s argument is that most outcomes are decided not by one single causal factor, but by many interacting causes. QCA is designed, in part, to identify which causes are necessary and sufficient to explain an outcome, necessary and insufficient, sufficient but unnecessary, or neither sufficient nor necessary. Moreover, it can identify how these causes cluster into common or significant configurations, and what configurations fail to arise (e.g., Fiss, 2011; Ragin & Fiss, 2016). We believe there is scope for institutionalists, using such tools, to identify sets of features or dynamics (“causes”) that define common institutional configurations, or types; and, further, to identify the outcomes that specific types of institution – or specific sets of institutional features and dynamics – tend to foster. This might permit us to further explore the impact that institutions have on various outcomes of interest; not least social inequality and inclusion (Amis, Munir, Lawrence, Hirsch, & McGahan, 2018; Amis, Munir, & Mair, 2017; Davis, 2017). This is not the only path forward; plenty of other methods and uses of classification can be envisaged! But it illustrates the how this particular path opens up exciting possibilities.
Argument the Third
Our third suggestion is that integrative institutionalism should extend the cross-level reach of current work. The well-known call to “bring society back in” to institutional theory (Friedland & Alford, 1991) prompted a few efforts to do so (Greenwood, Diaz, Li, & Lorente, 2009; Mutch, 2018; Ocasio, Mauskapf, & Steele, 2016) – but it seems to us that great potential awaits. Attention to societal institutions, including societal logics, opens up the possibility of observing the historical tectonics of institutions, over centuries and underneath societies. We might uncover the genealogies or “legacies” (Raynard, Lounsbury, & Greenwood, 2013) of organizational forms, logics, categories, and modes of action – not only casting light on how they came to be, but also revealing through historical contrast how features that have become familiar to analysts, as well as practitioners, are in fact historically contingent, and could be radically otherwise (Foucault, 1998, 2004). By this means, we might uncover the extent to which our own theories and mechanisms are historically and culturally situated (Foucault, 2002). We might explore how our societies shape the fundamentals of life in organizations – including our sense of the proper demands of business and of organizations over individuals, the shifting forms of power that have been permissible and feasible, and the gendering of organizational experiences (Bevan & Learmonth, 2012; Clegg, Courpasson, & Phillips, 2006; Perrow, 2014). And on the basis of such investigations, we might become better able to speak to the possibility of societal reform.
An important point remains to be made, however. We are enthusiastic about extending the reach of organizational institutionalism further into the details of the micro-sociological – into the analysis of conversations (e.g., Goffman, 1981; Heritage & Clayman, 2010; Sacks, Schlegoff, & Jefferson, 1974) as well as broadening its focus to encompass societal tectonics. Indeed, we see these moves as complementary. Where are trans-local effects – the imprintings of society and history – at their most visible? Perhaps in the details of the local (Fine, 2012). Certainly, it seems to us that extensive biographies offer an almost unique degree of insight into the impact of societal and historical conditions on the thoughts and behaviors of individuals, and a wonderful opportunity to explore how individual understandings of the macro-social are both constrained and unconstrained by the macro-context (Holroyd, 2005; Jenkins, 2001). 4 And in board-rooms, editorial offices, war-rooms – and perhaps the underground chambers of the notorious lizard people – micro-interactions and conversations reverberate across the web of societal interactions, to remarkable distances (Callon & Latour, 1981; Gibson, 2012). Thus, we call for an integrative institutionalism that incorporates the “much more macro”; but does so, in part, by going “still more micro.”
Our starting point for this chapter was a call for calm. Some institutionalists worry that the micro-foundational agenda heralds a descent into the micro-sociological, or the psychological, from which institutionalists shall never return. Or, at least, they have worries a bit like that. We have suggested that these worries are misplaced. Based on the aspirations expressed by micro-foundational scholars, we proposed that micro-foundationalism is not particularly focused on the “micro,” or on the distracting and endless search for “foundations.” Its guiding spirit is, rather, a quest for an integrative understanding of institutional dynamics; across levels of analysis (or levels of abstraction). We have proposed a more explicit, conscious embrace of this integrative agenda. In our view, the label of integrative institutionalism better captures the core commitments of micro-foundational work within institutional theory. Further, it articulates a core and enduring commitment within institutional theory more broadly. And perhaps yet more importantly, it focuses attention on a still more fundamental challenge: the production and exploration of integrative understandings of institutions; whether across levels, or across other divides. We believe a focus on this broader challenge should elaborate and extend what is currently called the “micro-foundational” agenda. More specifically, we have pointed to three themes that might define and motivate an explicitly integrative institutionalism; and we have sought to articulate the potential that this reformulated agenda could, and should, open up. An integrative institutionalism will be hard work. But for that, we would be enthusiastic partisans.
This prompts an important clarification. The objective of integrative institutionalism should not, we think, be the development of a single “institutional theory.” Integration, as we envisage it, involves the creation of a space for dispute more than the creation of a singular synthesis. The integrative space should be where debates over meta-theory and axioms are fought out, and where incompatibilities across meta-theories and methods are tested (rather than asserted/assumed). Proponents of multiple meta-theories could, indeed, produce competing syntheses – differing interpretations of the empirical results that they and their opponents have produced (all empirics show something!). Integration, in the sense intended, should thus extend the empirical basis of meta-theories, establish their compatibilities and complementarities, and define spaces of ongoing contestation.
Sometimes, of course, a body of micro or macro work may reveal fundamental flaws or lacunae in its counterpart literature. Even then, however, the damaged literature has something to say; if not what the authors thought ….
We might also explore similarities and differences across these types: for example, several scholars have pointed out important similarities between total institutions and evolving organizations and forms of work (Clegg, 2006; Shenkar, 1996; Toubiana, 2014) – an insight that typographical scholarship might further elaborate.
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We would like to thank Tammar Zilber and the organizers and participants of the EGOS sub-theme on “Institutional theory: taking stock and retooling” for sowing the seeds that inspired this chapter. We would also like to express our appreciation for the constructive suggestions of Patrick Haack, and our anonymous reviewer.
- Section 4: Communicative Perspective on Microfoundations
- Chapter 1: Arguments and Institutions
- Chapter 2: Rituals of Critique and Institutional Maintenance at the United Nations Climate Change Summits
- Chapter 3: Framing Fairness: Microfoundations of the Moral Legitimacy of Alberta’s Oil Sands
- Chapter 4: From Cruise Director to Rabbi: Authoring the Agentic Self through Conventions of Narrative Necessity
- Chapter 5: Melting Icebergs vs. Spectacularization: Storytelling of Conflicting Institutional Demands in Wildlife Documentaries
- Chapter 6: Microfoundations and Recursive Analysis: A Mixed-Methods Framework for Language-Based Research, Computational Methods, and Theory Development
- Section 5: Behavioural Perspective on Microfoundations
- Chapter 7: Practicing Capitals Across Fields: Extending Bourdieu to Study Inter-Field Dynamics
- Chapter 8: “Navigation Techniques”: How Ordinary Participants Orient Themselves in Scrambled Institutions
- Chapter 9: Institutional Entrepreneurs’ Skills: A Multi-Dimensional Concept
- Chapter 10: Situating Frames and Institutional Logics: The Social Situation as a Key Institutional MicroFoundation
- Chapter 11: Institutionalizing Place: Materiality and Meaning in Boston’s North End
- Chapter 12: Hybridity and Power in the MicroFoundations of Professional Work
- Chapter 13: Outsourcing Public Services: A Multilevel Model of Leadership-Driven Gradual Institutional Change of Public Services Provision
- Chapter 14: Creating the British Academic Health Science Centres: Understanding the Microfoundations of the Translation of Organizational Forms
- Section 6: Reflections on Microfoundations
- Chapter 15: Conceptual Metaphors in MicroFoundations of Institutional Theory
- Chapter 16: Bringing Society Back in Again: The Importance of Social Interaction in an Inhabited Institutionalism
- Chapter 17: What Do We Talk about When We Talk about Microfoundations? Conceptualizations of Actor and Multi-Level Accounts of the Micro in Institutional Processes
- Chapter 18: Why Worry? Celebrating and Reformulating “Integrative Institutionalism”
- Chapter 19: Towards a Theory of Micro-Institutional Processes: Forgotten Roots, Links to Social-Psychological Research, and New Ideas
- Section 7: Epilogues
- Chapter 20: Microfoundations for Institutional Theory?
- Chapter 21: The Social Construction of the “Micro-Social”
- Chapter 22: Institutions on the Ground