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.