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Institutional Logics

by Patricia H. Thornton, William Ocasio
The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism ()


INTRODUCTION The phrase, institutional logic has become somewhat of a buzz-word. Buzz words are over used; as a result their meanings often get distorted and overextended and they burn-out of existence. Mizruchi and Fein (1999) showed in the institutional theory literature how meanings get distorted and then taken for granted. To avoid misunderstandings of the institutional logic concept and to build on research in this genre, now is the time to reflect on definitions and the theoretical and methodological contributions this perspective brings to the analysis of institutions. We begin by defining the concept of an institutional logic and how it emerged as part of the development of institutional theory since the 1970s. Second, we illustrate the institutional logics approach as both a metatheory and a method of analysis. Third, we present a select review of the literature emphasizing how the institutional logics approach makes headway in addressing several limitations and tensions identified by scholars of institutional analysis. In this review we focus on an analysis of the implicit and explicit social mechanisms employed in these studies, not on the description or strength of their empirical findings. Last, we critique the literature on institutional logics and suggest how the approach can be used to further advance the study of organizations and institutions. The research on institutional logics represents an impressive variety of empirical contexts, from thrifts (Haveman and Rao, 1997), higher education publishing (Thornton and Ocasio, 1999), health care organizations (Scott et al., 2000), colleges and universities (Gumport, 2000), consumer research (Moorman, 2002), mutual funds (Lounsbury, 2002), French cuisine (Rao, Monin, and Durand, 2003), equity markets (Zajac and Westphal, 2004), accounting firms (Thornton, Jones, and Kury, 2005), occupational prestige rankings (Zhou, 2005), and architects (Jones and Livne-Tarandach (Forthcoming), among others. Given the incredible diversity of research topics, what are institutional logics?

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