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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: September 2009

11 - Doing which work? A practice approach to institutional pluralism


This chapter takes a social theory of practice approach to examining institutional work; that is, how institutions are created, maintained, and disrupted through the actions, interactions, and negotiations of multiple actors. We examine alternative approaches that organizations use to deal with institutional pluralism based on a longitudinal real-time case study of a utility company grappling with opposing market and regulatory logics over time. These two logics required the firm to both mitigate its significant market power and also maintain its commercially competitive focus and responsiveness to shareholders.

Institutional theorists have long acknowledged that institutions have a central logic (Friedland & Alford, 1991) or rationality (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Scott, 1995/2001; Townley, 2002), comprising a set of material and symbolic practices and organizing principles that provide logics of action for organizations and individuals, who then reproduce the institutions through their actions (Glynn & Lounsbury, 2005; Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005). Despite a monolithic feel to much institutional theory, in which a dominant institutional logic appears to prevail, institutional theorists also acknowledge the plurality of institutions (e.g. Friedland & Alford, 1991; Kraatz & Block, 2008; Lounsbury, 2007; Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Whittington, 1992). While these pluralistic institutions may be interdependent, they are not considered to coexist in harmony; “There is no question but that many competing and inconsistent logics exist in modern society” (Scott, 1995: 130).

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