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The Institutionalization of Institutional Theory
Articles and Chapters
  • Pamela S Tolbert, Cornell University
  • Lynn G Zucker, University of California - Los Angeles
Publication Date
[Excerpt] Our primary aims in this effort are twofold: to clarify the independent theoretical contributions of institutional theory to analyses of organizations, and to develop this theoretical perspective further in order to enhance its use in empirical research. There is also a more general, more ambitious objective here, and that is to build a bridge between two distinct models of social actor that underlie most organizational analyses, which we refer to as a rational actor model and an institutional model. The former is premised on the assumption that individuals are constantly engaged in calculations of the costs and benefits of different action choices, and that behavior reflects such utility-maximizing calculations. In the latter model, by contrast, 'oversocialized' individuals are assumed to accept and follow social norms unquestioningly, without any real reflection or behavioral resistance based on their own particular, personal interests. We suggest that these two general models should be treated not as oppositional but rather as representing two ends of a continuum of decision-making processes and behaviors. Thus, a key problem for theory and research is to specify the conditions under which behavior is more likely to resemble one end of this continuum or the other. In short, what is needed are theories of when rationality is likely to be more or less bounded. A developed conception of institutionalization processes provides a useful point of departure for exploring this issue.

Suggested Citation

Tolbert, P. S. & Zucker, L. G. (1996). The institutionalization of institutional theory [Electronic version]. In S. Clegg, C. Hardy and W. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of organization studies (pp. 175-190). London: SAGE.

Required Publisher Statement

Copyright held by SAGE. Reprinted with permission.

Citation Information
Pamela S Tolbert and Lynn G Zucker. "The Institutionalization of Institutional Theory" (1996)
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