Safety in Numbers: Downsizing and the Deinstitutionalization of Permanent Employment in Japan

By Ahmadjian, Christina L.; Robinson, Patricia | Administrative Science Quarterly, December 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Safety in Numbers: Downsizing and the Deinstitutionalization of Permanent Employment in Japan


Ahmadjian, Christina L., Robinson, Patricia, Administrative Science Quarterly


**********

While population-level change has long been a central concern of organizational theory, most theory and research focuses on the adoption and diffusion of new practices, with few studies examining how organizational practices are eliminated across an organizational population. In particular, there is a paucity of literature on deinstitutionalization, the process by which deeply entrenched practices give way to new innovations (exceptions include Davis, Diekmann, and Tinsley, 1994; Greve, 1995; Kraatz and Zajac, 1996). Neoinstitutionalist theory tends to concentrate on the process by which new practices become widely disseminated and persist regardless of the economic rationale for them (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983; Scott, 1995). Research on institutionalization often "implies that institutionalization is a once-and-for-all process" (Davis, Diekmann, and Tinsley, 1994: 550). Yet processes of both institutionalization and deinstitutionalization drive change: often, new practices cannot be adopted unless the old on es are left behind. A more complete understanding of organizational and economic change requires us to understand how institutionalized practices erode and make way for the new.

Theory and empirical research have begun to illuminate the process by which organizational practices and structures are transformed through deinstitutionalization and the closely related processes of abandoning existing practices and adopting new, illegitimate ones. Recent research highlights the economic, technical, political, and social antecedents of deinstitutionalization and provides evidence that institutionalized practices and structures are far from stable (Oliver, 1992). Technical and economic pressures, for example, lead organizations to adopt practices diametrically opposed to long-held organizational values, as Kraatz and Zajac (1996) found in their study of the adoption of professional programs by U.S. liberal arts colleges. A changing regulatory environment and the shifting dynamics of power and resources can transform even the most thoroughly entrenched notions of the corporation and its appropriate form, as evidenced by the wholesale breakup of U.S. business conglomerates through takeover, lev eraged buyouts, and investor pressure (Davis, Diekmann, and Tinsley, 1994). Social processes further hasten deinstitutionalization, as organizations seek information from those around them on the costs and benefits of abandoning existing practices and adopting new ones (Greve, 1995; Kraatz, 1998). While existing research has begun to address factors that trigger deinstitutionalization, researchers have paid less attention to the specific economic, social, and institutional forces that impede and promote it or to how the influence of these forces changes as deinstitutionalization gains momentum over time. Given that a practice is institutionalized when it spreads and persists as a result of social factors, above and beyond its technical or economic efficacy (Meyer and Rowan, 1977; DiMaggio and Powell, 1983), deinstitutionalization implies that these social factors somehow lose their grip. But what causes these factors to fall away, and by what route does deinstitutionalization spread through an organizational field? The fate of permanent employment during the sluggish Japanese economy of the 1990s provides an excellent case in which to examine this question.

During more than five decades of economic growth, permanent employment became one of the cornerstones of the postwar Japanese economic system and came to be viewed as a distinctly Japanese way of organizing employment (Abegglen, 1958; Dore, 1973; Aoki, 1988). Yet recession in the 1990s led many executives to believe that permanent employment was incompatible with the goals of efficiency and long-term corporate survival, and downsizing among Japanese firms rose to unprecedented levels. Announcements of risutora (the Japanese transliteration of "restructuring" and a euphemism for downsizing) in the Nihon Keizal Shimbun, Japan's leading business daily, increased from 505 in 1990 to 5,324 in 1994.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Safety in Numbers: Downsizing and the Deinstitutionalization of Permanent Employment in Japan
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?