Organization Studies Book Review

Book Review
Book Review
Organization Studies
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© The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0170840612455757
Patricia H.Thornton,William Ocasio and Michael Lounsbury
The Institutional Logic Perspective: A New Approach to Culture, Structure and Process
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 234 pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-960194-3. £19.99 (pbk)
Reviewed by: Sushanta Kumar Sarma, Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA), Gujarat, India
Inspired by a curious inquiry from a graduate student at a research conference at the University of
Arizona in 2008, marking the 25th anniversary of the seminal contributions of DiMaggio and
Powell, this book aims to propose the next stage of development of neo-institutional theory.
Interestingly, the next stage is not an extension of the existing theory but a significant departure
from its present form while trying to further build upon it. This book has its roots in academic
discussions at the Professional Development Workshops held at the Academy of Management in
Chicago (2009), and EGOS, Gothenburg (2011). The foundational contribution on consolidated
work in institutional logic (Thornton & Ocasio, 2008) was aimed at defining institutional logic to
avoid its distortion from other competing constructs and to further elaborate the analysis of institutions through a meta-theoretical approach. In the ensuing four years this stream of scholarship has
marked out its own theoretical grounds and seeks to distinguish itself from the neo-institutional
school by incorporating previously ignored elements such as macro structures, culture and agency
to explain how institutions both enable and limit action.
The book chapter by Thornton and Ocasio (2008) presents an extensive literature review on
the works published before 2008. The present book also takes stock of research on institutional
logic, much of which has appeared since Thornton and Ocasio’s review. The book presents a
wide range of literature through a multi- and cross-level framework connecting institutional
logic at various levels (society, field, etc.), and binding institutional logic to practice, to identity
and to micro-foundations of institutions. While doing so, Thornton, Ocasio and Lounsbury
offer a number of arguments to ascertain that institutional logic is not an extension of the neoinstitutional theory. They note that, unlike neo-institutional theory, institutional logic combines
symbolic and materialistic manifestation of institutions and places more emphasis on cultural
heterogeneity. Apart from the six previously identified institutional orders – family, religion,
state, market, profession and corporation – the authors have added community as the seventh
order. The book argues that, although multiple institutional logics are available to actors, only
some of them are accessible, depending on the situated nature of the actor. It also shows how
institutional logic affects micro-behaviours, and influences the way a ‘cultural entrepreneur’
(DiMaggio, 1982; Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001) blends and segregates categorical elements to
create innovations. One of the key focuses of the book is on creation of and changes in institutional logics and how the two key elements, identity and practices of institutional order, can
generate changes in institutional logic.
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The subject is spread across eight chapters; the first chapter presents a preview, hinting at the
content of succeeding chapters and the rationale that has built up the arguments articulated in the
book. The last chapter, in a similar vein, acts as a summary, presenting a gist of the book along with
various implications of an institutional logic perspective for other disciplines and research domains.
Effectively, these two chapters give the essence of the book in a nutshell and will be useful for
those readers who wish to grasp the content within a short span of time. The initial chapter starts
with four foundational metatheoretical principles contributing to the development of the institutional logic perspective. ‘Theories of isomorphism’ (Meyer & Rowan, 1977; DiMaggio & Powell,
1983), the introduction of ‘institutional entrepreneurs’ (DiMaggio, 1988) to address the issue of
embedded agency, and institutional pillars (Scott, 2008) form the precursor of the institutional
logic perspective. The authors apply two models in the remaining chapters, interinstitutional
systems and cross-level effects, to explain how institutional logic operates at the micro, meso and
macro levels of analysis. The book utilizes a ‘theoretical research programme’ approach (Berger &
Zelditch, 1993) to structure the analysis of the field. The chief characteristic of this approach is that
it allows for progressive changes in theory by setting criteria for theory construction and empirical
research. One can then objectively decide, based on the predefined criteria, if the direction of
theory construction represents advancement or not.
The institutional logic perspective distinguishes itself from other ‘orientating strategies’
(Berger & Zelditch, 1993) of institutional theory by emphasizing the partial autonomy of actors
over social structures. The first chapter attempts to explain that orienting strategies such as theories of isomorphism and ‘duality of social structure and action’ (Giddens, 1984) fail to address
agentive behaviour and the conception of a social system, respectively.It goes on to explain that
the concept of institutional entrepreneur fails to rationalize how individuals discover their ideas
and how they are embedded in the social system. The institutional logic perspective builds its
foundation on these orientating strategies to elaborate the avenues of partial autonomy which, in
turn, illustrates how institutions constrain and enable actors. Apart from the partial autonomy of
actors, the institutional logic perspective as a metatheory is based on three more founding principles: institution as material and symbolic carrier, institution as historically contingent and
institution at multiple levels of analysis.
The second chapter defines what institutional logic is and how an institutional logic perspective grew within the context of neo-institutional theory. As the authors examined the origin of the
institutional theory perspective, they looked into the nature of growth through inter-theory relations (elaboration, proliferation, variants, competitors and integrations) following the analytical
framework of a theoretical research programme. The institutional logic perspective is shown as a
proliferation of variants of isomorphism (Meyer & Rowan, 1977; DiMaggio & Powell, 1983) and
legitimacy theories (Scott, 2008). Since variants of isomorphism theories focus on cultural isomorphism and structural isomorphism, the institutional logic perspective extended this duality of
technical and institutional environment to a contradiction of logics between interinstitutional
systems. The institutional logic perspective as a proliferation of legitimacy theories is established
from the proposition that an institutional logic perspective considers legitimacy as only one
element of culture and not necessarily the dominant one.
Chapter 3 deals with one of the central innovations of the institutional logic perspective: the
interinstitutional system. The authors added a new institutional order, community logic, to the
already existing model of an interinstitutional system developed by Thornton (2004), which in
turn is based on the work of Friedland and Alford (1991). The authors cited recent work on community and its significance in studies of organizations to conceptualize community as an institutional order on a par with market, profession, corporation, etc. The construction of society as an
Book Review
interinstitutional system enables the institutional logic perspective to be structured like a
meta-theory capable of integrating analysis at multiple levels and incorporating materialistic and
symbolic aspects of institutions. With this multi-level XY matrix approach and decomposable
interinstitutional system, the institutional logic perspective can now approach the problem of
embedded agency. Thus, the interinstitutional system becomes useful in defining the institutional
field beyond the concepts of structuration and institutional order, resulting in a marriage of material
practices and symbolic meanings.
A model of the microfoundation of institutional logic is developed and discussed in the fourth
chapter to explain how macro-level institutional logics are available and accessible to individuals
and organizations. According to this model, situated identities, goals and action schemas of actors
shape social interaction, resulting in social practices and structures such as organizations, and
institutional work. These practices are selected and retained through the process of cultural evolution and later these processes become the source of institutional logic at the level of society, the
institutional field and the organization. Based on the situated nature of an actor, the model allows
for differentiation in existing logics within any organization. As a result, the same set of social
actors may be guided by different logics in different social interactions, thereby enabling different
sets of practices in organizations, and finally leading to institutional complexity. Through this
model of microfoundation, we are also shown the impact of social interaction and the role of
vocabularies in reproducing and transforming organizational practices and institutional logic.
The fifth chapter builds on the theoretical model of interinstitutional system elaborated in the
third chapter. It uses the model of microfoundation to develop a theory of cultural entrepreneurship. This chapter brings in the fourth foundational principle of institutional logic perspective –
historical contingency of institutional order – and exemplifies the stability and change in the
interinstitutional system through three empirical case narratives of J. C. Penny, John Sperling
and Richard Prentice Ettinger as cultural entrepreneurs. Cultural entrepreneurs’ vertical specialization within and horizontal generalization across institutional order affects the availability and
accessibility of logic. Thus, cultural entrepreneurs segregate and blend categorical elements (the
X and Y axes) of institutional order to build innovations, making it evident that the theory of
cultural entrepreneurship has a wider application in explaining recombination of logic. Chapter
6 is about two process models developed to demonstrate how institutional logic influences the
interaction of practices and identities across and within organizations. The chapter acts as a link
to bring together various literatures on institutional logic, practices and organizational identity.
It creates scope for further research by exploring how social interactions such as decisionmaking, sense-making and collective mobilization can moderate the effect of practice variation,
and how organizational identity and practice can act as a conceptual link between institutional
logic and interinstitutional system.
The seventh chapter deals with the interplay of symbolic representations such as theories,
frames and narratives, and material practices in the emergence of field-level logics. The model of
emergence of field-level logics includes interplay of various components: societal and external
logics; resource environments; theories, frames and narratives; practices; vocabulary of practices;
and field-level logics. This model maintains that institutional logic has a dual focus on symbols
and practices. In various literatures, theories and frames are often characterized as logics; if theory is not constituted in practice or if practice is not expressed in symbols, then it is not logic. The
authors also develop a typology of changes in institutional logics – three forms of transformation
in institutional logics and four forms of developmental change in institutional logics are identified. The model on emergence of institutional logics at field level and the typologies of change in
institutional logic set the stage for further research. A detailed discussion on the implication of
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institutional logic for various research domains is elaborated in the last chapter of the book.
Implications for ten different research domains including institutional complexity and organizational identityhighlight the scope for future research.
The book offers fundamentally new insights into the domain of institutional logic and should be
an excellent read for scholars interested in the institutional logic perspective and related research
domains. However, the book is not aimed at beginners; doctoral students and research scholars
familiar with the literature on institutional logic will find it more useful. At a first reading, readers
are likely to feel overwhelmed as the subject is vast. The authors use a large number of concepts to
develop theories and models in almost every chapter. The chapters are organized in a manner that
is completely intelligible for the readers. Every chapter has a well-written ‘introduction’ describing
the goal and a ‘conclusion’ presenting a summary of the chapter. Since the institutional logic perspective was developed in North America and Europe, evidently the empirical works cited in the
book are all from those parts of the world. The emerging Asian economies such as India and China
will offer contexts which may provide further insights, and scholars from these countries will no
doubt contribute to the growth of the institutional logic perspective.
Berger, J., & Zelditch, M. (1993). Theoretical research programs: Studies in the growth of theory. Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press.
DiMaggio, P. J. (1982). Cultural entrepreneurship in nineteenth-century Boston: The creation of an organizational base for high culture in American media. Culture and Society, 4, 33–50.
DiMaggio, P. J. (1988). Interest and agency in institutional theory. In L.G. Zucker (ed.) Institutional patterns
and organizations: Culture and environment (pp.3–21). Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.
DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective
rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48, 147–160.
Friedland, R., & Alford, R. (1991). Bringing society back in: Symbols, practices, and institutional contradictions. In W. Powell & P. J. DiMaggio (eds.) The new institutionalism in organizational analysis (pp.
232–263). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Berkeley: University
of California Press.
Lounsbury, M., & Glynn, M. A. (2001). Cultural entrepreneurship: Stories, legitimacy and the acquisition of
resources. Strategic Management Journal, 22, 545–564.
Meyer, J. W., & Rowan, B. (1977). Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony.
American Journal of Sociology, 83, 340–363.
Scott, W. R. (2008). Institutions and organizations: Ideas and interests. Los Angeles: SAGE.
Thornton, P. H. (2004). Markets from culture: Institutional logics and organizational decisions in higher
education publishing. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Thornton, P. H., & Ocasio, W. (2008) Institutional logic. In R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, K. Sahlin-Andersson,
& R. Suddaby (eds.)The Sage handbook of organizational institutionalism (pp. 99–129). Thousand Oaks,