Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Intersecting Three Muddy Roads: Stability, Legitimacy, and Change

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Intersecting Three Muddy Roads: Stability, Legitimacy, and Change

Article excerpt


How organizations respond to and shape the larger social systems in which they are embedded is a topic that has intrigued sociologists, organizational theorists, historians, and others for decades (e.g., Chandler, 1962; Parsons, 1956, 1960; Selznick, 1957; Weick, 2005). While Holm (1995) asks how organizations conditioned by institutions can change the very institutions by which they are conditioned, Giddens (1984) reminds us that structurated systems provide both choice and constraint. Choice allows institutional inhabitants to break free from their institutional moorings within prescribed limits, limits which give "stability and meaning to social behavior" (Scott, 1998: 133). Institutions, however, proscribe the extent of the choice sets available. Given this brief background, the authors will suggest in this paper that one way scholars can clear the crowded avenue of these theoretical perspectives is to view institutional theory as implying stability, organizational legitimacy as implying approval, and environmental enactment as implying change, albeit change that ultimately continues to generate further institutionalization. A series of tables is developed, culminating in Table 4, that more clearly shows the distinctive footprint of each theoretical perspective.

Institutional theory (e.g., Broom and Selznick, 1955), organizational legitimacy (e.g., Suchman, 1995), and environmental enactment (e.g., Weick, 1979) have described specific aspects of organization-social system relationships. As this body of literature has grown, researchers from various disciplines have adopted their own vocabularies in describing various organizational phenomena. While this has contributed to theory development, it has also resulted in researchers talking past one another, defining the associated terminology according to each discipline's language and research traditions while sometimes overlooking subtle nuances of meaning when transferred across disciplinary boundaries. What should be clear often becomes muddied as the various disciplines develop their own definitions and applications (Pfeffer, 2005).

Although others have suggested relationships among institutional theory, organizational legitimacy, and environmental enactment (Farjoun, 2010; Pfeffer, 2005; Glenn et al., 2000; Scott, 1998), the current literature lacks a formal integration of these perspectives. Given the need for clear definitional and theoretical integration, the purpose of this research is to clarify and integrate institutional theory, organizational legitimacy, and environmental enactment into a cohesive framework while leaving their theoretical distinctions intact. As pointed out by Weick (2005) and Pfeffer (2005), "sense making" in theory development should be undertaken to assure that theory provides a contribution on which researchers can build upon each other's results. This study's intent is to contribute to this foundation.

Rather than provide an exhaustive review of each theory, this research highlights characteristics that are applicable across a variety of scholarly disciplines in an effort to increase the multidisciplinary utility of ongoing efforts to research organizational phenomena that utilize institutional theory, organizational legitimacy, and environmental enactment as the theoretical lens. To sharpen this lens and bring further clarity, each term is carefully defined as the study progresses. Table 1 lists brief definitions of each of the major concepts discussed throughout this paper with definitions of secondary concepts shown in Tables 2 and 3. Table 4 then provides a summary and provides detail regarding the relationships between the three constructs.

To begin, the following sections define each theoretical perspective-institutional theory, organizational legitimacy, and environmental enactment. Institutional theory is described first, as it has applications to understanding both environmental enactment and organizational legitimacy; however, there is iteration among the three perspectives. …

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