DDT is good for meeeee!! And ‘defensive institutional work’

So, the latest to write about in my ‘only read what you intent to blog’

Maguire, S. and Hardy, C. 2009. Discourse and Deinstitutionalization: The Decline of DDT. Academy of Management Journal, Vo. 52, (1), pp.148-178.

There’s heaps of good stuff in this paper, which is about how DDT went from hero to zero in ten short and shocking years (it wasn’t all down to Rachel Carson or her book, ) but crucially, I need to show (to myself and to someone else) that this blogging isn’t just “relaxation” (and yes, I am weird enough for that to ring true!!) but also a necessary and efficient way of building the theory around my thesis effort.

So, to highlight – this paper is the one that ‘invented’ the notion of ‘defensive institutional work’, and that is, I think, crucial to my thesis.  What is it?   I’m glad you asked. It’s what field members (e.g. incumbents and their allies) do in response to “attacks”. Or, to put it more academically, what they do in response to “disruptive institutional work originating from outside the focal field and promoting the abandonment of existing practices.”
Maguire and Hardy define this reaction as

“defensive institutional work”: the purposive action of individuals and organizations aimed at countering disruptive institutional work. In our case, certain actors— most notably in industry—sought to defend the institutional pillars by producing their own texts countering assertions of negative impacts, the inappropriateness of practices, and the need for regulation.

They say that their

“findings illustrate that defensive institutional work also takes the form of authoring texts but, instead of promoting problematizations, these texts dispute them in an attempt to legitimize existing practices, and with an eye toward defending the institutional pillars.”
(Maguire and Hardy, 2009: 169)

They reckon (and I reckon they’re right, fwiw) that

“Defensive institutional work is an important new concept and contribution to the literature. We distinguish it from institutional work undertaken to “maintain” institutions, which is accomplished by actors “largely unaware of the original purpose, or ultimate outcome, of their actions,” who engage “in the routines and rituals of reproduction” (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006: 234). In contrast, our study indicates that defensive institutional work is a conscious and strategic response to disruptive work.

Defensive work is particularly relevant to outsideridriven deinstitutionalization which, we observed, is characterized by a wholesale attack on the pillars supporting existing practices. We suggest that the concept of defensive institutional work also applies to insider-driven deinstitutionalization; a number of studies of institutional change have reported some form of resistance to the latter phenomenon (e.g., Farjoun, 2002; Maguire & Hardy, 2006; Reay & Hinings, 2005). This concept is therefore important for understanding both the adoption of new practices and the abandonment of old ones because it focuses attention on the discursive struggle likely to ensue when either insiders or outsiders seek changes in practices in which existing field members’ interests are vested, as well as on the specific ways field members respond to and resist initiatives for institutional change.
(Maguire and Hardy, 2009: 169)

Oh, so what is ‘disruptive institutional work?’ It’s the things annoying folks (inside or outside) do to upset the gravy train.  According to Maguire and Hardy (2009: 168)

Lawrence and Suddaby argued, can have three aims: “undermining assumptions and beliefs” about practices; “disassociating moral foundations” from practices; and “disconnecting sanctions” from practices through changes in legal or professional regulations (2006: 235).
(Maguire and Hardy, 2009: 168)

There’s also really good stuff on subject positions and bodies of knowledge in this article, and ‘translation’ (as opposed to diffusion).

So, have done some further thinking and investigating about Defensive Institutional Work, and its antecedents etc.  Gonna send the boss something on this soon.  And to a couple of other folks beforehand for their comment….


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