Member Publication: The case for an inhabited institutionalism in organizational research: interaction, coupling, and change reconsidered

Please check out the recent publication by OOW members Tim Hallett and Amelia Hawbaker. 2020. “The Case for an Inhabited Institutionalism in Organizational Research: Interaction, Coupling, and Change Reconsidered.” Theory and Society, Online First.


This paper makes the case for an inhabited institutionalism by pondering questions that continue to vex institutional theory: How can we account for local activity, agency, and change without reverting to a focus on individual actors—the very kinds of actors that institutional theory was designed to critique? How is change possible in an institutional context that constructs interests and sets the very conditions for such action? Efforts to deal with these questions by inserting various forms of individual, purposive actors into institutional frameworks have created inconsistencies that threaten the overall coherence of institutional theory and move it farther from its sociological roots. To provide alternative answers, we turn to the growing line of work on “inhabited” institutions. Our exegesis of this literature has two goals. The first goal is to shift focus away from individuals and nested imagery and towards social interaction and coupling configurations. This move opens new avenues for research and helps to identify the spaces—both conceptual and empirical—and the supra-individual processes that facilitate change. This shift has important theoretical implications: incorporating social interaction alters institutional theory, and our second goal is to specify an analytic framework for this new research, an inhabited institutionalism. Inhabited institutionalism is a meso-approach for examining the recursive relationships among institutions, interactions, and organizations. It provides novel and sociologically consistent means for dealing with issues of agency and change, and a new agenda for research that can reinvigorate and reunite organizational sociology and institutional theory.

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