Tag Archives: institutionalism

Short Impression from the 12th Workshop on New Institutionalism

The 12th Workshop on New Institutionalism in Organization Theory took place in the picturesque city of Lucerne, Switzerland, on 31/03 and 01/04/16. A good share of the presented papers was on higher education organizations, which indicates again that new institutionalism is among the most vital theoretical perspectives in our field.

Jelena Brankovic presented an interesting piece on the emergence of ‘elite’ university associations, such as the Russell Group in UK or the German U15. If this trend continues, soon few universities will be left that are not excellent. But if all universities are excellent, none is.

CfP: 8th Annual UK & Ireland Conference of the higher Education Institutional Research

On Thursday 10th and Friday 11th September 2015 the 8th Annual UK & Ireland Conference
of the higher Education Institutional Research Network takes place at the University of the West of Scotland, Paisley Campus PA1 2BE, Scotland, UK. The topic of the 2015 conference is: “The Stories We Tell: Using institutional research to enhance policy, practice and Engagement.”

Abstracts can be submitted until March 27th 2015.

For further Informations about the speakers, the different tracks dealing inter alia with “Performance and Impact” or “Institutional Management” and the submission formats take a look at  http://www.uws.ac.uk/heir2015/#.VOg8ui4l-Wk.

Distinguished Scholars Seminar at Zurich – Reflections

As Isabel Boegner has already announced, we have both participated in the Distinguished Scholars Workshop on “Developments in Institutional Theory”, conducted by Royston Greenwood from the University of Alberta. Greenwood is currently one of the most influential scholars in the field of organizational institutionalism.

The seminar took place at the Chair of David Seidl at the University of Zurich from 24th – 26th of September. We were approximately 15 participants (doctoral students) given the chance to discuss several papers on institutional theory, reaching from an introduction to institutional theory to hybrids, institutional logics, and institutional complexity. Further, we have learned about categories and “emerging stuff”, such as emotions and materiality. Besides these paper-based discussion rounds, advanced doctoral students were given the opportunity to present their current research projects, discuss them and receive feedback from Royston Greenwood and the seminar participants. Ferdinand Wenzlaff from Leuphana University of Lüneburg, working in the RePort-Project, joined us and took the opportunity to present a collaborative research paper on hybrid organizational responses of European universities facing institutional complexity in the higher education field.

Greenwood admitted himself: “Organizational Institutionalism is very fluffy”. Although it was sometimes challenging to grasp the essence of neo-institutionalism and to be clear about definitional issues – for example, how to distinguish between institutional context, geographical community, and organizational field? – we spent three very nice days at the University of Zurich and got to know different facets of institutional theory. We have gathered inspirations for our collaborative research project IndiKon: The theme of hybrid organizations that are exposed to competing institutional logics in the long run is of particular interest for our research project. In this context, rankings act as field-level intermediaries shaping actors’ responses to conflicting institutional demands (Kodeih & Greenwood, 2014).

Moreover, recent developments towards a micro-level of analysis within institutional theory have become apparent during the workshop. Again, our research project will benefit from this developments.

Report from WINIR Conference

I’ve attended the inaugural conference of the World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research (WINIR) entitled with “Institutions that change the world” (September 11-14, 2014, London).

Indeed, the participants were an interdisciplinary group; however the major part were evolutionary/institutional economists. General facilities and provisions were rather poor – given the 270£ conference fee. The conference was spread over 3 days, but one could only listen to 4 slots of presentations (each slot organized as 8 parallel sessions), since there were 5 key notes. Unfortunately, I have chosen sessions, which did not meet my expectations. The session The Social Institutions of Social Science connected to recent attempts of assessing the institutionalization of scientific fields. However, the methods – e.g. counting journals – employed could be expanded by more sophisticated bibliometric analyses but also qualitative accounts such as studying conferences.

I have presented my working paper “Dynamic Stagnation” in a session to Institutional Change. The key idea of the paper is as follows:

Developed economies tend to face declining growth rates and stagnation. While stagnation would be rather associated with saturation and institutional stability, there is evidence for increasing dynamics and pressures for the marketization and economization of social spheres (e.g. the restructuring higher education systems according to market principles or the retrenchment of welfare systems). This constellation of institutional change (economization) and stagnation is causally linked and labeled as dynamic stagnation. It is explained by modeling the paradoxical operating mode of a capitalist economy (growth paradox): declining effective demand constitutes an inherent stagnation tendency (growth brake), but only growth allows avoiding increasing in­equalities (growth imperative). Institutional change towards the marketization of social spheres previously organized outside the market is a reflex of attempts to maintain capitalism during low growth rates and stagnation. This type of institutional change then is less a product of economic growth, but of insufficient growth (dynamic stagnation).

This macro perspective contributes to the explanation of institutional change of the (German) higher education system. Today, higher education institutions are increasingly constructed as actors, competing for students, staff, and funding. They are not only considered for New Public management and strategic management in order to achieve efficiency and competitive advantages; they are turned into “quasi-economic organizations” (Teixeira & Dill, 2011: xvi) stimulating innovation and growth through knowledge commercialization and job market oriented training. This idea is manifested in university models such as the entrepreneurial university, the triple helix, or the third generation university to name only few of an inflationary discourse on new university models.

Challenges of Institutional Theory – Reflections from the EGOS 2014 conference

I have commentated central debates about the developments of institutional theory – in the case of the NIW2014 conference in Rome, institutional logics have been of central concern. Institutionalism also has been debated at EGOS 2014 – at least in the two subthemes of Greenwood et al. Rethinking Responses to Institutional Complexity and Pinheiro et al. Public Sector Reforms and Organizational Responses: Comparing Universities and Hospitals and Engwall et al. Universities in Unsettled Times as well as in the sub-plenary New Directions in Institutional Innovation with talks from Eva Boxenbaum, Marc Ventresca and Roy Suddaby.

Boxenbaum promoted an institutional imperialism by suggesting to incorporate findings from other sciences like neuro-sciences. This remembers of the Institutional Logics-book by Thornton, Occasio and Lounsbury (2012), which is presented as an attempt to position their developments of new institutionalism as a new and comprehensive meta-theory competing with Giddens structuration theory and other grand theories of society.

Since there was no moderator, a direct collusion of attitudes and ideas have been avoided, but during his talk, Ventresca revealed a sceptical position towards the imperialistic position Boxenbaum represented: “If everything is institutional, then it doesn´t help us to understand the world.” Ventresca rightly observes a “downfall as a discrete analytical stance”. Institutionalism now seems to claim explaining everything by labeling everything as something institutional.

Roy Suddaby made this point even more sharp. He started his presentation with an idom: “has institutional theory jumped the shark?” He observes a lack of construct clarity and coherence as well as tendency towards the trivialization of change and institutions. Excessive interest in studying institutional change has lead to perceive any changes as institutional change: “Any change process, however trivial, has become institutional change.” This means studying every social phenomena as institutional. So we have to bethink the very idea of institutions – endurance (this point has been also made by Elke Weik at NIW2013 in Warsow)

But reclaiming to contribute to the understanding of our world, Institutionalism might rather recognize his limits and concentrate on further elaborating the foundations. On the other hand, imperialistic tendencies can emerge into positive effects of interdisciplinary (recall my thoughts from the Bucharest-Workshop: an economist studying behavior of academics can understand the limits of its market approach).

All in all, EGOS was worth going and we came home with some constructive feedback on our papers and inspirations for our further research.

Papers for this year’s EGOS conference (or: The evolution of paper titles)

As you might have noticed, our blog has become somewhat quiet recently. But the hot summer is not the (only) reason.. During the past weeks, we’ve been busy crafting our papers for this year’s EGOS conference.

As you’ll know from your own experience, the title of a short paper may change significantly when it is developed towards a full paper. The story gets a new twist, is enlarged or further condensed, theoretical constructs may change, and conceptual frameworks are specified. And sometimes empirical observations just won’t tell the story you’ve expected in the first place..

So here’s the list of our short and full paper titles:

Short: Organizational responses to evaluations, rankings and performance indicators – Evidence from French and German universities. Full: Organizational Responses to Institutional Complexity – Evidence from French and German Universities.

Short: How Rankings Impede Scientific Progress. Full: What Makes Journals Highly Ranked? A Bibliometric Analysis of Management and Organization Studies.

Short: University commons: An empirical analysis of collective resources in German universities. Full: Organizing Collective Action? An Empirical Analysis of Common Goods in German Universities.

Reflections of the 10th New Institutionalism Workshop, 20-21 March, Rome – Part II

The social obligation of research

Bernard Forgues (IAE Lille) raised an important point during his small speech at the panel discussion: scientists develop the taste for an abstract scientific language addressing constructed problems, and thereby forgetting the real world. Honestly, self-critically, and a bit ironically he said that at the end of a paper he has written about institutional work, he asks himself if he really addressed what the actors of his study are actually doing. Since the concepts developed are so abstract, they hardly reflect the practical concerns and actions of the actors studied.

This point was similarly made by Elke Weik (University of Leicester) in her presentation, in which she reported from the state of the art of her long-term project about the enduring features of institutions.

She stumbled upon the scientific contributions of J.W. Goethe, who developed a very critical distance towards the developments of sciences as early as in the 18th century. Being aware of the points raised by Forgues, Goethe proposed five principles of studying social phenomena, which sound inevitably anti-scientific for us as scientists:

(1) There is no subject-object-opposition between the researcher and the object

(2) The phenomena itself is the ultimate reality – the Anschauung emerges out of the object

(3) Rational thinking is only one of multiple necessary approaches to study social life.

(4) Instead of looking focusing on generalities, synchronic developments with eye to differences have to be studied.

(5) Instead of looking for linear causalities, correlations have to be studied. Instead of explanations, descriptions should be offered.

I am not sure how do deal with these propositions, since they suggest exactly the opposite of what we think of social science is about – abstracting, generalizing, idealizing, constructing causalities and so on. Goethe seems to suggest that we should carefully observe and write it down. This may contribute to our knowledge, but not to what we regard as scientific knowledge.

Nevertheless, the critique that social sciences tend to turn way from addressing practical problems seems to be undoubtful and to be a growing topic at conferences (remember my report from the last EFMD conference). We have to rethink the methods as well as the objects. For example, Elke Weik stated the following: we studied too much the poor and very often, our findings did not really help to improve their position. Hence, we should not forget to study the rich, which may help us to address some questions of injustice.

Reflections of the 10th New Institutionalism Workshop, 20-21 March, Rome – Part I

Like for the 9th NIW in Warsow last year, the call for papers hasn’t been specified to a guiding topic as it is known from other workshops or conferences. Interestingly, it seemed that this year (program) a general concern among the participants emerged: How to interpret the concept of institutional logics and how to use it in empirical studies? Some have gained great insights in the institutional logics perspective; others – like me – went home with even more questions than they came with. Let me shortly discuss some of the points raised at the workshop.

Fog surrounding the institutional logics perspective

The concept of institutional logics mainly goes back to an article published Friedland and Alford (1991) in the “Orange Bible of Institutionalists” (Ann Westenholz from CBS). The institutional logics perspective has then been discovered and applied by Megan Thornton in the early 2000s and been further elaborated in several works with William Ocasio. The works culminated in a book together with Michal Lounsbury in 2012. This book has received considerable attention among institutionalist scholars while at the same time there seems to be a huge dissatisfaction with the book.

Defining institutional logics?

A central paper presented at the workshop – at least to my view – carried the programmatic title “What are logics? An investigation of the methodologies in the Institutional Logics perspective”. In this paper Boch-Waldorff and Berg-Johansen (both from CBS) reviewed 30 articles published in prestigious journals applying the institutional logics in empirical studies. The authors asked how the concept of institutional logic is defined and methodologically approached. From that review they derive typologies of definitions and methodological pathways. While some highly appreciate this effort and share the concern of a necessary clarification of a theoretical and methodological basis, others would rather welcome methodological pluralism. This point has been made by Greenwood, how didn’t deny the importance of such work, but remembered not to marginalize the progress in the growth of empirical knowledge the studies have provided, despite (or maybe because of?) the fuzziness of the concept they use.

I close the definition-paragraph with a statement of Giuseppe Delmestri (JKU Linz) according to his meaning: “In our first workshop 10 years ago we have been asking what an institution is. There have been ambitions to agree on something like a manifesto. Of course this did not work out and it did not prevented us from advancing our knowledge for the following ten years. Today we trap into a similar illusion with the institutional logics …”


A main and quite commonly shared critique of institutional logics perspective as further elaborated by Thornton, Ocasio and Lounsbury in their book published in 2012 is the ethnocentrism. While Friedland and Alford in their initial formulation of the concept highlighted to investigate the central logics of Western societies, this has been brushed aside. While Friedland and Alford identified the Christian Relegion as a central logic of the West, Thornton et al. (2012) generalize to simply religion, and thereby at least implicitly suggesting to universalize the logics. However, religions are not replaceable systems, they may differ enormously, fulfil different functions and have different relationships to other institutional logics. As shown by Max Weber, the development of protestant religion goes hand in hand with the logic of capitalism; other religions may have other relations to capitalism and embed it differently – this point has been critically reflected by Iwashita (Cardiff Business School) in his presentation.


Further, – this point refers to Friedland & Alford as well as Thornton et al. – the central institutional logics may be selective or arbitrary, for example it has been asked, why there is no logic of science as a central institutional logic of modern Western societies. On the other hand, a logic of science could be captured by the logic of professionalism – but still, one can discuss about the incompleteness of the central logics.

Logics as a Toolkit

A more critical point regarding the suggestion of Thornton et al., that institutional logics can been seen as a toolkit, allowing strategic behavior of entrepreneurs combining logics in various ways. This idea attracts criticism, since it contains the danger of an over-agentification of actors. Further, it is questionable if institutional logics can be combined into coherent hybrids. A Logic as a set of principles would then lose its meaning.

More critique of the developments of Thornton et al. one can find in the review of the book by Roger Friedland himself (published in M@n@gement 2006, 15(5), 582-595).

The lost value

Ann Westenholz (CBS) in her presentation stated that the concept of value has been lost in the development of Thornton et al. The importance of value in explaining institutions has been a central concern in the presentation of Elke Weik (University of Leicester). A similar argument has been made by Friedland in his keynote speech “The value of institutional logics”. Value has been an essential concept in prominent social theories such as from Marx and Weber, but today (institutionalist) scholars try to escape this concept with the taste of subjectivism, idealism, normativism etc. We will observe curiously how this re-birth of value will take its course within institutionalist research.

Order, logic, and institution

Another question is the distinction between the concepts „institutional logic“ and „institutional order“. Boch-Waldorff and Berg-Johansen insist that Friedland and Alford make a distinction and warn of a conflation of the two concepts; however neither of the papers offers convincing criteria for distincting these concepts. Further, in his speech Friedland seemed to use the terms synonymous. Hence, our concern should first concentrate on defining logics and its relationship to institutions, before we generate more confusion with another term order.

But even this point allows diverse reflections: what is the difference between institutional logics and institutions? This question Markus Höllerer (WU Vienna) asked to Friedland during the discussion of his presentation. Interestingly, Friedland did not have a straight answer but he played the ball back by stating that this would depend on the questioner’s definition of institutions.
Most researchers – including me – would try to integrate logics and institutions into one theory and hence struggle with finding a distinction. Just to give an example how confusing these attempts can become: “While institutions are the rules of the game, institutional logics are the underlying principles of the game.” (Leca & Naccache, 2006, A Critical Realist Approach To Institutional Entrepreneurship). In a discussion with Markus Reihlen (Leuphana University of Lüneburg) I have been inspired to think the concepts of institutions and logics not as complementary but as competing – we would then talk about the same but with different theoretical foundations.

RePort & IndiKon @ EGOS

Our joint projects are represented at this years EGOS conference in Rotterdam. Here’s a short summary of our activities:

Alfred Kieser is chairing a track together with Lars Engwall and Richard Whitley on “Universities in Unsettled Times: Effects of Evaluations, Accreditations and Rankings” (see this post for the cfp).

A research collaboration that started at last years EURAM conference has led to first results. Markus, Ferdinand and myself are co-authoring a paper from Anne Riviere and Marie Boitier (both Toulouse Business School) entitled: “Organizational responses to evaluations, rankings and performance indicators – evidence from French and German Universities”.

Rick and Alfred will evaluate “How rankings impede scientific progress” – a major concern of both, scientists and policy makers.

Together with Jetta and Steffen, I’ll elaborate our theoretical reasoning on university commons by using empirical data: “Universities commons: An empirical analysis of  collective resources in German universities”.

Last but not least, Markus and Ferdinand will present their paper “From institutional contradictions to organizational transformation: The case of a university merger” in Sub-theme 23: Public Sector Reforms and Organizational Responses: Comparing Universities and Hospitals.

So, plenty of opportunities to meet, discuss, work, laugh & chat @ Rotterdam! Hope to see you there.

New Institutionalism Workshop, Warsaw, 14-15th March 2013

We have been accepted to present our work in progress “Institutional Work and Organizational Transformation: A Case Study of a University Merger” at the 9th New Institutionalism Workshop in Warsaw. Higher Education is a mature and highly institutionalized field and organizations (universities) are strongly embedded in political and societal expectations and governed through a complex system of governmental regulative authorities and other intermediaries. Further, we aim at tracing the enabling conditions and mechanisms of an organizational transformation of a university in the context of a field-level institutional change towards marketization and managerialization of higher education. All these arguments reason to embed our research in the new institutionalist research community.

The presentation of our case of a radical university transformation met broad interest and some useful comments to further elaborate the paper have been collected. It was the sole research out of about 45 presentations dealing with higher education. Most papers presented have been strongly empirical and covering e.g. wine industry, gender equality, prison or sustainable architecture. Some of the papers seem to be too much phenomenon oriented and under-theorized. Some papers tackled theoretical considerations such as institutional change, institutional pluralism or the conceptualization of competition in the non-profit and public sector. Few presentations have been interesting, but did not clearly reveal features interesting for new institutionalist research.

Overall, it was worthy to take part at this workshop. An overview over current research efforts in the domain has been gained and we have been socializing.