It feels like they win when they lose – hegemonic accommodation and institutional entrepreneurs

I re-read

Levy, D. and Scully, M. 2007. The Institutional Entrepreneur as Modern Prince: The Strategic Face of Power in Contested Fields. Organization Studies, 28(07): 971–991.

while slogging around Alex Park with my backpack full of books and weights this morning.  I had forgotten just how damn good it is, and how damn useful it will be For The Thesis.

I could quote for ages – especially on ‘The Modern Prince’ , but a) time b) your attention c) copyright. So for now, this – the notion of ‘hegemonic accommodation’ – a cousin of Marcuse’s ‘repressive tolerance’.  There’s useful stuff in this for me thinking about the big voluntary scheme that the Howard Government used as a fig-leaf (one it inherited from Keating, and duly expanded), also known as ‘the Greenhouse Challenge.’  The analogy with the Access Campaign is fairly weak – the NGOs in the Australian case were aiming for a carbon tax, and got rolled, not co-opted…

The interaction between the strategies of institutional entrepreneurs and defenders frequently gives rise to a characteristic pattern of limited accommodation while preserving, or even reinforcing, the essentials of field power structures. Pragmatic entrepreneurs, seeking to legitimize their claims, frequently use insider language and practices to drive change (Meyerson and Scully 1995) and ‘embed calls for change within accepted models’ (Clemens and Cook 1999: 459).
(Levy and Scully, 2007: 984)

In agreeing to establish a forum for consultation, industry not only enhanced its legitimacy but also gained financially from the marketing value of this information and from expanded insurance coverage.
(Levy and Scully, 2007: 985)

Though the Access Campaign is generally credited with having ‘won’ the struggle to allow low-cost generic drugs in developing countries, this institutional settlement was also a hegemonic accommodation.
(Levy and Scully, 2007: 985)

Indeed, pharmaceutical companies quickly moved to claim credit for expanded drug access and embraced the discourse of corporate social responsibility. The power of even the most skillful institutional entrepreneurs is constrained by the nesting of issue-level fields within wider, well-entrenched institutions. Institutional entrepreneurship has been characterized using salient episodes and discontinuities but is an ongoing, situated process.
(Levy and Scully, 2007: 985)

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2 thoughts on “It feels like they win when they lose – hegemonic accommodation and institutional entrepreneurs”

  1. There was an excellent little paper from the old John Clemenger agency – “what every corporate advertiser should know about his enemy” … it was the 1970s so sexism was fine. It set out a strategic response to embracing, engulfing and digesting criticism. Just as this, but without the intellectual rigour. Well worth a look if you can find it.

    Most effective of all were the struggles to steal meaning. Foaming rivers gave us “biodegradable” … suddenly everyone is “natural”, organic, herbal, …. Our krill is wild!!!

    And when you actually drill down into the “legal meanings” of these words – as defined by the industry in its self-regulatory codes – you discover they are in fact devoid of meaning – empty, hollowed out, stuffed full of whatever synthetic nonsense they make. Like watching sausages being made.

    Words and meaning are the soft furnishings and welcoming ambience of yer hegemonic accommodation I reckon. Settles ’em in.

  2. Excellent, thanks!! There was a paper about the contestation over the meaning/definition of ‘organic’ in the journal Capitalism Nature and Socialism about 10 years ago. If I can dig it out, I will.

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