Social Organization, Classificatory Analogies and Institutional Logics: Institutional Theory Revisits Mary Douglas

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Journal Article
Human Relations, 2016, 69 (7), pp. 1587 - 1609
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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 as institutional theory itself becomes increasingly institutionalized as a vibrant branch of organization studies. 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 paper 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. This aids particularly in informing accounts of institutional logics and the movement between individual cognition and collective signification.
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