Practice, Substance, and History: Reframing Institutional Logics

Alistair Mutch
2018 Academy of Management Review  
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I have benefited from stimulating conversations with Roger Friedland and Roy Suddaby; I am solely responsible for my interpretation of them. Participation in the events organized by the standing working group on organizational history at the colloquia of the European Group for Organization Studies has helped shape my approach; my thanks to the participants over the year and, especially, the organizers. Associate editor Hugh Willmott and reviewers have pushed me with challenging
more » ... e with challenging but constructive responses for which I am grateful. Abstract The characterization by Roger Friedland of institutional logics as a combination of substance and practices opens the door to a more complex reading of their influence on organizational life. His focus suggests attention to feelings and belief as much as cognition and choice. This article uses history to develop these ideas by paying attention to the perennial features of our embodied relations with the world and other persons. Historical work draws our attention to neglected domains of social life, such as play, which can have profound impacts on organizations. The study of history suggests that such institutions have a long run conditioning influence that calls into question accounts that stress individual agential choice and action in bringing about change. Analytical narratives of the emergence of practices can provide the means to combine the conceptual apparatus of organization theory with the attention to temporality of history. The concept of institutional logics has achieved considerable traction in the study of organizations. Patricia Thornton, William Occasio and Michael Lounsbury (2012) provide us with a comprehensive summary of the work so far done. For them, logics are the "socially constructed, historical patterns of cultural symbols and material practices, including assumptions, values, and beliefs, by which individuals and organizations provide meaning to their daily activity, organize time and space, and reproduce their lives and experiences." (Thornton, Occasio & Lounsbury, 2012:2). They stress a focus on logics at the societal level, suggesting that a limited number of such logics -they list family, community, religion, state, market, profession, and corporation -provide resources on which actors draw to develop 3 practices and shape identities. In this process they point to the historically situated nature of such logics, giving some brief examples of, for example, the impact of religion on economic development through the influence of the Primitive Baptist sect on the formation of J. C. Penney in the nineteenth century. This use of history, is, however, rather limited. The institutional orders in which logics operate are derived inductively from the organizational literature. By contrast, as this article will examine in more detail, historians working on a longer time frame might suggest other candidates for the status of institution which can enrich our study of organizational life. This opens the door to an approach to logics informed by anthropological considerations, in which the focus is as much on beliefs and feelings as cognitions and choice. As Roy Suddaby has argued, historians see institutions as more substantial social structures than organization theorists in terms of both time and space. Institutions exist and exert social influence over decades, if not centuries, affecting multiple generations. Similarly, institutions extend their influence more broadly than mere organizational networks, but extend deeply into the core fabric of society (Suddaby, 2016: 52). Taking such a perspective suggests two related problems with much work in institutional theory, explored in more detail below: an excessive focus on agential choice and an exaggerated view of the pace of change and the ability of agents to influence this. This article marries a focus on how historians have approached the nature of institutions with the formulations of Roger Friedland. His suggestion that logics are a combination of substance and practice brings questions of value and belief firmly into the centre of our discussions. Using this combination, a number of areas of social life, each possessing distinctive logics, are discussed through the examination of historical work. I
doi:10.5465/amr.2015.0303 fatcat:jxf36u4g5va5fl2hexiprwpffi