Studying Organizational Fields Through Ethnography

Authored by: Tammar B. Zilber

Handbook of Qualitative Organizational Research

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

Print ISBN: 9781848725096
eBook ISBN: 9781315849072
Adobe ISBN: 9781317908784


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The interorganizational social sphere has attracted much interest in recent years (Baum & Rowley, 2005). According to open-system approaches like Institutional Theory, this social sphere—the organizational field 1 —is where much of the drama of organizational reality takes place (Wooten & Hoffman, 2008). Organizational fields are networks of actors (individuals and organizations; DiMaggio & Powell, 1991), who negotiate the meanings they share or contest (Scott, 1994) through various channels of communication (Hoffman, 1999). These meaning are worked out within an ongoing, political (Brint & Karabel, 1991), and context-bound effort to form collective understanding (Wooten & Hoffman, 2008). Accordingly, organizational “reality,” the “natural” ways of thinking, structures, norms of conduct, and practices are neither usually born within the organization itself nor are they taken up by direct imitation of other organizations alone or from the society within which an organization resides. Rather this taken-for-granted reality of organizations is borrowed and translated from a mediating sphere—the organizational field—that is analytically and socially discerned between organizations and societies.At the same time, some meanings, structures, and practices originating from within organizations diffuse across fields and are adopted and adapted by other organizations (Czarniawska & Joerges, 1996; Strang & Soule, 1998). Organizations and fields, then, constitute each other in an ongoing process (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). To fully understand organizations, we need to also explore the fields within which they are embedded.

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