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Institutional Work in the Transformation of an Organizational Field: The Interplay of Boundary Work and Practice Work

By Charlene Zietsma and Thomas B. Lawrence


We draw on an in-depth longitudinal analysis of conflict over harvesting practices and decision authority in the British Columbia coastal forest industry to understand the role of institutional work in the transformation of organizational fields. We examine the work of actors to create, maintain, and disrupt the practices that are considered legitimate within a field (practice work) and the boundaries between sets of individuals and groups (boundary work), and the interplay of these two forms of institutional work in effecting change. We find that actors' boundary work and practice work operate in recursive configurations that underpin cycles of institutional innovation, conflict, stability, and restabilization. We also find that transitions between these cycles are triggered by combinations of three conditions: (1) the state of the boundaries, (2) the state of practices, and (3) the existence of actors with the capacity to undertake the boundary and practice work of a different institutional process. These findings contribute to untangling the paradox of embedded agency—how those subject to the institutions in a field can effect changes in them. We also contribute to an understanding of the processes and mechanisms that drive changes in the institutional lifecycle

Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.2189/asqu.2010.55.2.189
OAI identifier: oai:eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk:5488
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