Microfoundations of Institutions: Volume 65B
Table of contents(24 chapters)
Section 4: Communicative Perspective on Microfoundations
Arguments and Institutions
Institutions are built upon language. Although we have a number of linguistic perspectives already in our arsenal, this chapter seeks to convince you of our need for just one more. The primary claim is that because the structure of arguments uniquely maps onto the latent structure of institutions, the use of arguments in institutional analysis may help us gain more traction on three important topics – the nature taken-for-grantedness, the macro-micro divide, and the political dynamics of institutions. This chapter thus offers a starting point for how to use an argumentation perspective when studying institutions.
Particularly in governance and policy processes, critique is embedded in highly institutionalized formats. In this chapter, the authors apply Boltanski’s concept of critical tests to examine accepted forms of expression in the context of an institutionalized policy setting, the annual Conferences of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The authors find that different policy actors’ uses of critique reflect embedded field positions and interests. While marginal actors drew upon existential tests to construct radical critique, the highly ritualized performance of critique called into question its efficacy in promoting change within the overall structure of a highly institutionalized event. The authors discuss inroads to studying the relations between critique, power, and microfoundations of institutions.
Despite research on legitimacy, fairness, and justice, there is a paucity of knowledge of how moral legitimacy becomes institutionally constructed in relation to and between stakeholders – both evaluators and those evaluated, human or non-human, in time and space. To understand the microfoundations of these processes, the authors examine transcripts from Alberta oil sands regulatory review hearings and associated media coverage from the 1960s to present day. The authors find six framings of fairness that respond to broader challenges to the moral legitimacy of this industry, while also dynamically evolving its regulatory framework.
The concept of (self-)identity has become increasingly central to institutional theory’s microfoundations, yet remains relatively underdeveloped. In this chapter, the authors use an autobiographical interview with a gay Protestant minister in the US to explore the role of narrative conventions in the construction of self-identity. The analysis of this chapter offers the basis for a new understanding of the relation between institutions, self-identity, and agency: how we agentically engage institutions depends not only on who we narrate ourselves to be, but also on how we narrate ourselves into being. This suggests that narration as a specific modality of micro-institutional processes has important performative effects.
The authors analyze how conflicting institutional demands become deployed in organizational storytelling in the context of wildlife documentaries. Documentary producers increasingly feel the pressure to entertain the audience, while simultaneously addressing serious environmental issues. Using a mixed-method analysis of BBC wildlife documentaries produced between 2009 and 2017, the authors identify two narrative strategies, alternation and amplification, to balance demands for entertainment and environmental conservation. Alternation switches entertaining and serious content to offset conservation concerns, while amplification uses entertainment to accentuate conservation. Emotions play a significant role in both ways of storytelling. The findings of this chapter contribute to the literatures on institutional microfoundations, storytelling, and emotions.
This chapter argues that the primary reason for the underdeveloped state of microfoundations research in language and communications studies is methodological. It asserts that the long-standing methodological division between micro and macro analyses (traditionally small-scale and large-scale, respectively) has led to their continued theoretical separation. The paper draws from Giddens’ theory of structuration and newly developed computational methods to outline an alternative, mixed-methods framework for discourse analysis that the author calls Recursive Analysis (RA). The author demonstrates the application of the RA framework through a case study of the electric vehicle industry that aligns small-scale and large-scale textual analysis to generate theoretical insights.
Section 5: Behavioural Perspective on Microfoundations
This essay extends a Bourdieusian perspective on the microfoundations of institutions. Drawing on this perspective, the authors argue that the recursive dynamics of institutions and action orient actors toward the maintenance of distinct and contradictory practices within, rather than bridging across, different fields. The authors corroborate our argument with an illustration of how corporate executives strategize within the tax field compared to the philanthropy field. Specifically, the authors show how actors are simultaneously oriented by different capitals toward apparently contradictory strategies. This chapter provides promising avenues for future research on the microfoundations of institutions, inter-field dynamics, and critical accounting and business ethics studies.
In organizations that have to meet demands from multiple sponsors, and that mix missions from different spheres, such as “civic,” “market,” “family,” how do participants orient themselves, so they can interact appropriately? Do participants’ practical navigation techniques have unintended consequences? To address these two questions, the authors draw on an ethnography of US youth programs whose sponsors required multiple, conflicting logics, speed, and precise documentation. The authors develop a concept, navigation techniques: participants’ shared unspoken methods of orienting themselves and appearing to meet demands from multiple logics, in institutionally complex projects that require frequent documentation. These techniques’ often have unintended consequences.
Microfoundational research increasingly strives to examine the interlinkages between various higher- and lower-level structures. To better capture microfounded change processes, I develop the multi-dimensional concept of institutional entrepreneurs’ skills that defines actors’ abilities to enhance institutional change. By a systematic literature review on institutional entrepreneurship, I identify seven institutional entrepreneurs’ skill dimensions: (i) analytical skills, (ii) empathic skills, (iii) framing skills, (iv) translational skills, (v) organizational skills, (vi) tactical skills, and (vii) timing skills. The established concept provides opportunities for future microfoundational research by examining the formation and the application of the seven skill dimensions.
Research on institutional logics has highlighted the importance of social situations but has not theorized such situations in a way that takes into account their inherent richness, complexity, and unpredictability. Without a theory of social situations, the connection between logics and people’s everyday life experience is incomplete, resulting in fragile microfoundations. Building on Goffman (1974) and the institutional logics perspective, in this essay I sketch an institutional theory of social situations, distinguishing two components of these situations: situational experience and situated interactions. Situational experience is constituted by situational frames – that is, schemas by which a person can perceive others and interpret the source of their agency in a situation. Multiple situational frames are simultaneously present in any situation, offering various potentials for action. Institutional logics shape the content that situational frames take in different institutional orders, providing rules for interacting appropriately in typified situations. However, the actual interactions unfolding in a given social situation do not necessarily conform to situational frames, but rather can transform those frames in unpredictable ways through interaction rituals and frame keyings. I contrast this situated perspective with the cognitivist notion that people “activate” or re-combine pre-existing aspects of logics depending on the situation. I argue that a situated perspective better accounts for the generative and transformative potential of micro-interactions.
Microfoundations of institutions are central to constructing place – the interplay of location, meaning, and material form. Since only a few institutional studies bring materiality to the fore to examine the processes of place-making, how material forms interact with people to institutionalize or de-institutionalize the meaning of place remains a black box. Through an inductive and historical study of Boston’s North End neighborhood, the authors show how material practices shaped place-making and institutionalized, or de-institutionalized, the meaning of the North End. When material practices symbolically encoded meanings of diverse audiences into the church, it created resonance and enabled the building’s meanings to withstand environmental change and become institutionalized as part of the North End’s meaning as a place. In contrast, when the material practices restricted meaning to a specific audience, it limited resonance when the environment changed, was more likely to be demolished and, thus, erased rather than institutionalized into the meaning of the North End as a place.
In this chapter the authors focus on the role of power associated with microfoundations of organizational hybridity. They develop a framework that illuminates how key sources of power based on Buchanan and Badham (2008) and French and Raven (1959) manifest at the level of everyday work practices. Using this framework, they draw on existing studies concerning hybridity in professional organizations to illustrate how different forms of power come into play when actors guided by different logics engage in day-to-day professional work. Overall, the authors suggest that more attention to how micro-level actors use different forms of power to support, hamper, or alter different mechanisms to manage tensions among competing logics in everyday work is critical to improving our understanding about the microfoundations of institutionalism.
Leaders derive their capacity for driving institutional change from their power over organizations, but prior research says little about how leaders with limited power over a dominant intraorganizational group can acquire such a capacity for institutional action. This chapter develops a multilevel model that helps to understand how leaders of public service organizations were able to introduce “contract organization” form of organizational governance that enabled them to outsource the provision of public services to private firms. By doing so, this chapter adds to existing accounts of how power and political processes can give rise to organizational and institutional change.
Drawing on a case study of the adoption of an American organizational form – the “Academic Health Science Centre” (or “AHSC”) – in English healthcare, the authors develop a model of the “translation work” required to translate an organizational form from one organizational field to another. The findings contribute to the literature on translation and shed light on the microfoundations of institutions by examining the complex relationship among agency, meaning, institutions, and temporality that underpin the translation of a contested organizational form. The authors also show the important, but limited, role of agency when translation occurs at the broad field level and argue that the translation of organization forms can, in at least some situations, best be understood as a “garbage can” rather than the linear and agentic view usually described in the translation literature.
Section 6: Reflections on Microfoundations
The relationship between individuals and institutions is a core feature of the microfoundations of institutional theory. This chapter analyzes the role of conceptual metaphors, a standard ingredient of theory building, in shaping how we theorize this relationship. Using illustrations from the emergent literature on emotions in institutional theory, the author shows the significance of conceptual metaphors for theory building and argues for selecting conceptual metaphors that help craft a dynamic, recursive relationship between individuals and institutions, respecting core premises of institutional theory and offering new creative insights into this relationship.
The “micro” turn in institutional research is a welcome development in a field that has commonly adopted a macro approach to the study of institutions. Nevertheless, research in the emergent “microinstitutional” tradition often ignores a fundamental social form: social interaction. The goal of this chapter is to bring this form of society back into institutional analysis, as a key mesocomponent of an “inhabited institutional” approach. The authors argue that social interactions are vital to the understandings of institutions, how they operate, and their impact on society. The authors advance inhabited institutionalism as a mesosociological approach that is consistent with key premises of institutional theory.
The growing interest in the microfoundations of institutions is a significant, yet surprising development given that the theoretical tradition’s original insight was to account for macro, institutional influences on lower-level units. The call for microfoundations has gone on without really clarifying what institutionalists mean by microfoundations. Some reflections on the usefulness or purpose of establishing the microfoundations of institutional theory are in order. The authors advocate for treating the micro as part of pluralistic and multi-level accounts of institutional processes. Central is the conceptualization of actors as more or less institutionalized identities and roles.
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.
In this chapter, the authors weave together a set of ideas that lead us closer to a more general institutional theory – one that embraces multiple levels of analysis, including the micro-level. The authors build on the roots of micro-institutional thought – including phenomenological and ethnomethodological underpinnings – as well as very active, social-psychological research areas that address key mechanisms in institutionalization. Among these, the authors discuss the important roles of legitimacy, trust, social influence, and routines. There is great promise for micro-institutional inquiry to make an integral contribution to institutional theory by bringing processes and people back in.
Section 7: Epilogues
The authors discuss the microfoundations of institutional theory, specifically as microfoundations are manifested in this volume of Research in the Sociology of Organizations. The authors argue that the main interest seems to be in better understanding macrofoundations: top-down forces from institutions to actors. Furthermore, throughout the volume institutions themselves are definitionally layered – in problematic ways – with a large array of other macroconstructs, including fields, logics, practices, habitus, situations, routines, and so forth. The authors argue that there is an opportunity to more carefully delineate microfoundations for institutional theory, by focusing on lower-level heterogeneity, agency, as well as the aggregate and emergent social processes that animate microfoundational explanation.
The studies in this book usefully address the micro-social processes involved in the construction of modern institutionalized organization. They do not reach to the explanation of the foundations of this institutional system. Rather, they reflect now-global institutionalized foundations: the empowered, highly schooled, and professionalized individual engaged in highly legitimated and often scripted social action.
Institutions on the Ground
Knowledge of how institutions “work on the ground” is central to understanding how macro-pressures shape organizations and their participants. Four examples of the interplay between micro and macro are provided to give a richer account of institutions, both as process and outcome. One, as wider trends diffuse, they are pulled down locally, but the scripts are utilized in divergent ways. Two, as organizations make sense of social forces, these movements are received differentially, with micro-practices and macro-influences becoming entangled. Three, trends can be opaque to those who seek to follow them, resulting in unintended forms of implementation. Four, sociological miniaturism illustrates how the micro captures the macro as lived experience.
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