Social organization, classificatory analogies and institutional logics: Institutional theory revisits Mary Douglas

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Human Relations, 2016, 69 (7), pp. 1587 - 1609
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© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016. As a social theory of organization, it is unsurprising that institutional theory draws upon the profound and ambitious work of the late anthropologist Mary Douglas. One of the foundational concepts of organizational institutionalism, institutional logics, directly draws upon her work. Yet, in recent times this foundational role has faded from view. This is unfortunate for there is much continuity in current work with that of Douglas, it now being 50 years and 30 years respectively, since the publication of two of her formative works. The deep analogies that underpin classificatory systems and the processes by which they are sustained remain significant areas under continued investigation by institutional theorists. Thus, in this article we revisit Douglas’ core arguments and their connections to institutional theorizing. We specifically explore her contribution of ‘naturalizing analogies’ as a way of accounting for the unfolding of change across levels of analysis, extending, modifying and enriching explanations of how institutional change is reified, naturalized and made meaningful. We do this by providing empirical descriptions of meta-organizing analogies and field-level applications. We explain how Douglas’ major theoretical works are of considerable relevance for current institutional theorizing, particularly in informing accounts of institutional logics.
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