2006 Conference: The Present and Future Status of Institutional Theory
June 2–3, 2006
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
The Department of Strategic Management and Organization, School of Business, University of Alberta is hosting a 2-day meeting on whether institutional theory is likely to continue serving as a useful way of understanding future circumstances. Or, is it past it’s ‘sell by’ date? There is no doubt that institutional theory is one of the most widely used theoretical perspectives since it was developed in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
It is approaching two decades since Scott (1987) reported ‘considerable variation in the types of concepts and arguments employed’ within institutional accounts of organizations and declared the theory as in its ‘adolescence’. Papers are invited that deal with any aspect of two fundamental questions: (a) to what extent has institutional theory matured into a coherent body of scholarship? And (b) what is its likely future relevance? The first question will take stock of institutional theory dealing with its development in the past several decades and assessing its current coherence. Does what we have produced add up to a coherent and informative interpretation of organizational behaviour? What insights has it provided? What questions does it address well? Which questions are ignored or poorly addressed? Taking stock, however, is more than retrospection. We need to consider future relevance. How far will institutional theory and/or the institutionalist perspective continue to provide important means of making sense of events in future decades?
These questions are dealt with in two different ways. The first way is through the involvement in the workshop of invited participants, namely, Renate Meyer, Christine Oliver, Woody Powell, Huggy Rao, Dick Scott, and Lynn Zucker.
The second way is through the various papers that will be presented. This call emphasizes the need for debate, especially between the ‘optimists’ and ‘pessimists’ of institutional theory. For some, the idea that institutional theory might have reached its ‘expiration date’ is premature. The theory is seen as robust, with an array of issues and problems around levels of analysis (social systems, organizational fields, organizations and intra-organizational units), change and innovation (institutional entrepreneurs) and the role of actors, all of which are central to our understanding of organizations, and, for all of which, institutional theory has concepts and theories to develop them further.
For others there may be a more cautious view. They will argue that institutional theory has become too broad and has lost its distinctive focus. It has also tended to become somewhat insular and thus ‘impoverished’. The argument is that institutional theory should not new issues, such as social movement theory, power, and contingent rationality, but restrict itself to its original and seminal focus. Institutional theory has become so broad and encompassing that it risks the danger of losing sight of its core contributions. Thus, the future of the theory is in disappearing as it become indistinguishable from the generality of approaches to understanding organizations in the 21st century.