Crafting an Analytic Framework: Three Pillars of Institutions

To an institutionalist, knowledge of what has gone before is vital information. The ideas and insights of our predecessors provide

the context for current efforts and the platform on which we necessar- ily craft our own contributions. However, as should be clear even from my brief review, the concepts and arguments advanced by our prede- cessors have been strikingly diverse, resting on varied assumptions and privileging differing causal processes. A number of theorists have proposed that we can clarify the arguments by boiling them down to a few dominant paradigms (see, e.g., Campbell, 2004; Hall and Taylor, 1996). However, as Campbell observes, these “schools” exhibit as many similarities as differences. Hence, my own approach to bringing some order into the discussion is to propose a broad definition of institutions that can encompass a variety of arguments, and then attempt to iden- tify the key analytic elements that give rise to the most important dif- ferences observed and debates encountered. This chapter and the next identify and elucidate the three analytical elements that comprise institutions. Each element is important, and sometimes one or another will dominate, but more often—particularly in robust institutional frameworks—they work in combination. But because each operates through distinctive mechanisms and sets in motion disparate pro-cesses, I emphasize their differences in my initial discussion.

After introducing the principal distinctions around which the analysis will be conducted, I bravely but briefly consider their philo- sophical underpinnings. Varying conceptions of institutions call up somewhat different views of the nature of social reality and social order. Similarly, the institutional elements relate to disparate constructs of how actors make choices, the extent to which actors are rational, and what is meant by rationality. These issues, while too complex to fully explore, are too important to ignore.

The companion chapter, Chapter 4, completes the presentation of the analytical framework and associated issues. It begins by examining what types of institutional beliefs support the development of organiza- tions. I then describe the concept of structuration, which can assist us in the effort to reconcile institutional constraints with individual agency. Finally, I identify the multiple levels at which institutional analysis takes place. It is important to recognize that even if an investigation focuses on a particular level, institutional forces operating at other levels—both “above” and “beneath” the level selected—will be at work. Chapters 3 and 4 should be taken as a prolegomenon to the more problem-focused, empirically based discussions in the chapters to fol- low. They introduce concepts and definitions that will be employed to examine particular topics as well as preview controversies and issues that will be encountered as we review, in Chapters 5 through 8, develop- ments in institutional theory and research from the 1970s to the present.

Source: Scott Richard (2013), Institutions and Organizations: Ideas, Interests, and Identities, SAGE Publications, Inc; Fourth edition.

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