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Revisiting the Foundations of Institutional Analysis: A Phenomenological Perspective

Macrofoundations: Exploring the Institutionally Situated Nature of Activity

ISBN: 978-1-83909-160-5, eISBN: 978-1-83909-159-9

ISSN: 0733-558X

Publication date: 26 November 2020


The concept of institution has been used by scholars from across a number of disciplines to explain a wide variety of phenomena. However, the philosophical roots of this concept have not been well examined, nor have implications for contemporary institutional analysis been fully appreciated. Returning to the works of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty reveals a depth of thinking that has otherwise been overlooked by institutional theorists. In particular, the author’s analysis reveals two critical insights. First, whereas organizational scholars have closely linked the concepts of institution and taken-for-grantedness, these two concepts were originally understood to be phenomenologically distinct. Second, a detailed examination of Merleau-Ponty’s later work poses the concept of flesh – the twining of the visible and the invisible – as the basis for the interplay of institutions. In turn, the idea of flesh as the foundation of institution invites a more radical reimagining of the growing bifurcation between microfoundations and macrofoundations.




The author is indebted to Len Lawlor, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University, for introducing him to contemporary philosophy during doctoral seminars in 2008 and 2009. In addition to a methodical reading of Husserl’s The Crisis, Lawlor’s courses interrogated selected texts by Bergson, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Freud, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and others. More recently, during the author’s 2018–2019 sabbatical, Marie-Eve Morin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alberta, was kind enough to let him join her seminar on Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. The author also thanks Chris Steele for his editorial guidance, Jochem Kroezen and Monika Zebrowska for their friendly but constructive feedback on an earlier draft, and an anonymous reviewer for providing generous and actionable comments. Any errors in understanding are the author’s.


Gehman, J. (2020), "Revisiting the Foundations of Institutional Analysis: A Phenomenological Perspective", Steele, C.W.J., Hannigan, T.R., Glaser, V.L., Toubiana, M. and Gehman, J. (Ed.) Macrofoundations: Exploring the Institutionally Situated Nature of Activity (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 68), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 235-259.



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