Institutional complexity and individual responses: delineating the boundaries of partial autonomy

Graham Martin, Graeme Currie, Simon Weaver, Rachael Finn, Elizabeth Mcdonald

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Research highlights how coexisting institutional logics can sometimes offer opportunities for agency to enterprising actors in organizational fields. But macro- and micro-level studies using this framework diverge in their approach to understanding the consequences of institutional complexity for actor autonomy, and correspondingly in the opportunities they identify for agents to resist, reinterpret or make judicious use of institutional prescriptions. This paper seeks to bridge this gap, through a longitudinal, comparative case study of the trajectories of four ostensibly similar change initiatives in the same complex organizational field. It studies the influence of three dominant institutional logics (professional, market and corporate) in these divergent trajectories, elucidating the role of mediating influences, operating below the level of the field but above that of the actor, that worked to constrain or facilitate agency. The consequence for actors was a divergent realization of the relationship between the three logics, with very different consequences for their ability to advance their interests. Our findings offer an improved understanding of when and how institutional complexity facilitates autonomy, and suggests mediating influences at the level of the organization and the relationship it instantiates between carriers of logics, neglected by macro- and micro-level studies, that merit further attention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-127
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number1
Early online date23 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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