Institutional theory

Reflections on ontology

Authored by: Tim Edwards

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy in Organization Studies

Print publication date:  November  2015
Online publication date:  November  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415702867
eBook ISBN: 9780203795248
Adobe ISBN: 9781134466016


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The philosophical foundations of institutional theory continue to be obscured by the problem of meta-theory, the ontological ideas that necessarily underpin institutional theory. These concern statements about the way the social world is, of the relationship between human agents and social structures and the transformational nature of that relationship. These are significant issues because ontology informs how scholars approach the phenomena they want to study, shaping the research questions asked and the methodology adopted, which informs what can be said about it (Al-Amoudi and O’Mahoney, Chapter 1, this volume). The origins of the issue reveal distinct points of connection and contention, of how institutional theory has been conceived across disciplines (Nielson, 2001; Mutch et al., 2006; DiMaggio, 2008), which for organizational studies scholars becomes apparent when looking at the concept of ‘isomorphism’. The points of connection concern the necessary role of agency in explaining institutionalization; the points of contention relate to the ontological assumptions that might underpin the agency–structure relationship.

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