Agents, Actors, Actorhood: Institutional Perspectives on the Nature of Agency, Action, and Authority: Volume 58
Table of contents(15 chapters)
Part I Overview
The social sciences and institutional theory have seen the proliferation of the term actor and the profusion of its meanings. Despite the importance and ubiquity of actor in institutional theory, the term is largely taken-for-granted, which has stunted the development of institutional theories of actors. The authors aspire to spur theorization of actor in institutional theory in the hope of carving out institutional theories of actor in the collective research agenda. The authors first contextualize their interest in actor in institutional theory and discuss the intellectual context within which the authors put this agenda forward. The authors briefly sketch out the main themes that would provide fruitful areas of inquiry in this new agenda and bring together a variety of strands in institutional theory with a clear focus on the relationship between institutions and actors. The authors conclude by discussing the contributions included in the volume.
Part II Construction of Actors
While some institutionalists have highlighted the explanatory power of organizational actors, others stress their social construction. In line with the latter perspective, the author states in the first part that, except from meta-theoretical reflections, the social sciences tend to utilize actor concepts without further reflection. The author also shows how actors are reproduced in social practice, excessively in media semantics and more rigid in legal affairs, and that experts and professional helpers constantly reproduce actor images and identities. The second part focuses on the differences between the three dominant types of actors: states, organizations, and individuals. Although rationalization constructs the three different types of actors, which share much in common as institutionally derived entities, each type – still – has its own distinctive qualities: welfare issues are crucial for states; emotional qualities are a characteristic feature of individuals; and stakeholder sensitivity is paramount for organizational actors.
Ongoing discussions of the paradox of embedded agency may benefit from considering embedded agency from the perspective of the actors themselves. Drawing upon opinions of school principals who are encouraged to take initiative in their spheres of authority and yet still are subject to centralized performance assessments, the author redefines embedded agency as a matter of orientation. Secondly, the author presents a new typology for the notion of embedded agency and the way it is practiced in daily life. Finally, the author considers the tension that is inherent to the modern workplace, which is agentic and yet highly structured. From the perspective of school principals, the author shows how the professional role identity of mid-level managers is scripted and thus dictates the domains in which they can present a sense of agency.
In this chapter, the authors explore the concept of actorial identity through analysing the construction of legal persons as actors, centred on the argument that there is an ontological separation between living men and women and their legal representations. The authors propose an analytical frame based in part on the games studies literature, wherein actorial identities known as ‘Avatars’ are created by performative declarations that articulate Avatars with Players (living persons). The Avatars act within a bounded ‘Matrix’ while being controlled by Players who are outside the Matrix. In applying the frame to the legal Matrix, the authors distinguish between living persons, natural persons and artificial persons, and introduce the concepts of first-order and second-order Avatars. The authors then employ the analytical frame to model the use of legal Avatars by Apple Inc. and illustrate how cryptocurrency technology enables the creation of Avatars that can transact outside legal systems. The frame also helps explain how autonomous systems could acquire actorial identity and then functionally participate in the legal Matrix.
Charities in the United States contribute to the public good by delivering a broad range of services and by promoting civic engagement and social change. Though these dual roles are widely acknowledged, a relatively few studies explore advocacy among service-providing nonprofits. Analyzing a random sample of charities in the San Francisco Bay Area, the authors conceptualize nonprofits as institutionally embedded formal organizations and actors. The authors find that a majority of service providers blend advocacy and service provision. Organizational rationalization constructs nonprofits as goal-oriented actors working to benefit their constituents and society at large, increasing the likelihood that nonprofits will embrace advocacy. Moreover, collaboration embeds nonprofits in networks of mobilization and information for advocacy and facilitates engagement in political and social change activities. By contrast, embeddedness in the market is negatively associated with advocacy. These results reinforce the salient role of service-providing nonprofits in collective civic action and demonstrate how nonprofit embeddedness in multiple institutional influences affects engagement in advocacy.
This chapter focuses on the circumstances under which active clients in universities construct external management consultants as actors. Much research focuses on how consultants legitimize decisions and trends in business organizations, but we know little about how consultants become legitimized as actors in other organizational fields. In the academic field, clients are embedded in a variety of organizational settings embedded in different institutional logics, which determine their sense making. By analyzing how consultants are legitimized, the authors contribute to a better understanding of the organizational preconditions that support the construction of an external expert as an actor. By focusing on IT and strategy consulting in academia, further, the authors discuss the role of competing institutional logics in legitimization processes and the importance of intra-organizational communities.
Recent research develops theory and evidence to understand how organizations come to be seen as “actors” with specified features and properties, a core concern for phenomenological institutionalism. The authors use evidence from changes in research designs in the organizational study of institutional logics as an empirical strategy to add fresh evidence to the debates about the institutional construction of organizations as actors. The case is the research literature on the institutional logics perspective, a literature in which organizational and institutional theorists grapple with long-time social theory questions about nature and context of action and more contemporary debates about the dynamics of social orders. With rapid growth since the early 1990s, this research program has elaborated and proliferated in ways meant to advance the study of societal orders, frames, and practices in diverse inter- and intra-organizational contexts. The study identifies two substantive trends over the observation period: A shift in research design from field-level studies to organization-specific contexts, where conflicts are prominent in the organization, and a shift in the conception of logic transitions, originally from one dominant logic to another, then more attention to co-existence or blending of logics. Based on this evidence, the authors identify a typology of four available research genres that mark a changed conception of organizations as actors. The case of institutional logics makes visible the link between research designs and research outcomes, and it provides new evidence for the institutional processes that construct organizational actorhood.
Part III Work of Actors
The emergence of an evidence-based medicine logic represents a major change in the large and complex field of American healthcare. In this analytical case study, the authors show that the intellectual school of evidence-based medicine became an important meso-structure that facilitated the growth of the new logic in American healthcare. The new intellectual school was a community of scholars who generated shared rules and resources through intergenerational mentoring. The school engaged in advocacy to advance new intellectual paradigms for conceptualizing healthcare quality that, when connected with material practices in the field of American healthcare, came to form a new institutional logic.
In this chapter, the author draws on a historical case study of the Australian wine industry to explore variations in collective agency. The inductively derived process model illustrates the emergence of a new profession of scientific winemaking, which unfolds in three phases. Each phase is characterized by a distinct form of agency: distributed agency during the earliest phase, coordinated agency during later phases, and orchestrated agency during consolidation. In addition to exploring the temporal shifts in agency, the study includes a detailed analysis of the early stages of distributed agency, examining how collective agency is achieved in the absence of shared intentions.
This study examines the legal codification of nascent markets, specifically, the process of defining and incorporating Islamic banking and organic agriculture within the legal system in Turkey. I find that actors’ priorities differ significantly with respect to formal codification and that the existing legal order and socio-political and economic contexts shape how state and non-state actors influence legislative and regulative action. This study contributes to our understanding of how actors and their ideological commitments and relational concerns affect the legal formulation of new industries.
This chapter bridges two theoretical concerns: making sense of emancipatory processes within institutional work on the one hand and providing a more nuanced understanding of actorhood on the other hand. The authors develop the notion of ‘institutional co-appropriation work’ to characterise an emancipatory process whereby an institutionalised actor in a subaltern position manages to emancipate by appropriating some founding features of the elites position. The authors build on a case study focussing on the ‘Everest brawl’, an altercation high up on the mountain that revealed a critical evolution of sherpa actorhood. The authors analyse the struggles in the Nepalese mountaineering industry and show how sherpa actorhood is currently being reconfigured by the action of a few individuals willing to be recognised for their climbing abilities, and not their role as porters. This case epitomises the emergence of two distinct phenomena, explaining the magnitude of the event: the emergence of an empowered ‘new sherpa’ revealing heterogeneity of sherpa actorhood, in contrast to the accepted representations and the institutional work blurring the underlying rules and institutionalised roles of the mountaineering industry in Nepal. The implications for institutional work literature are twofold. First, the study of emancipatory processes benefits from more nuanced cases, where the actor in the subaltern position does not simply try to remove the dominant actor. Second, the notion of ‘actor’ within this stream of literature should not be taken-for-granted as is often the case.
The authors set out to study institutional work under complexity building on the struggle for legitimacy of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community in Israel as their case study. The authors took a discursive approach and were interested in what actors claim they do. The findings suggest that actors manipulate the intentions and outcomes of their acts, thereby claiming for actorhood or negating it. These differential constructions are not random but echo the norms of the discursive spaces within which they are presented and interact with other actors’ work. Overall, the authors argue that actorhood is not a pre-condition for institutional work, nor is it its outcome, but rather an integral part thereof.
Part IV Afterword
Widespread forces of cultural rationalization have combined with parallel expansions in the legitimated actorhood of human persons. The result has been an explosion of formalized organization. Empowered organizations, filled with empowered actors, rise and expand in every social sector and every society. The expanded cultural principles involved lead many actors to play roles as “others,” helping individual and organizational actors to fill their often implausibly expanded roles. The chapters of this volume reflect the processes involved.
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- Research in the Sociology of Organizations
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- Emerald Publishing Limited
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