Institutional work

Research on agency within institutional theory offers important insights in this respect. Lawrence and Suddaby (2006, p. 217) emphasize that ‘[institutions] require the active involvement of individuals and organizations in order to maintain them over time’. These activities are called ‘institutional work’: ‘the purposive action of individuals and organizations aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions’ (p. 215). In the following we highlight such purposive action aimed at influencing the public policy process and at influencing technical standards, which are a form of self-regulation among market actors.
(Smink et al. 2015: 89)

Compare with the 1971 Powell Memorandum

Smink, M., Hekkert, M. and Negro, S. 2015. Keeping sustainable innovation on a leash? Exploring incumbents’ institutional strategies. Business Strategy and the Environment, Vol. 24, pp.86-101.


Reconciling individuals and institutions has become the explicit concern of research in “institutional work.” Here, studies investigate effects of day-to-day agency for institutional orders, paying heed to the “awareness, skill, and reflexivity” of individual and collective actors and how institutions are “constituted in the actions of those actors” (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). With causality running in both directions between institutional structures and the intentionality of resource-endowed, powerful or gifted social agents, studies of institutional work consider social theories concerned with the mediation of free will and determinism, including discourse analysis, practice theory, actor network theory, and semiotics (e.g., Lawrence et al., 2009; Lawrence et al., 2011).

(Zundel et al. 2013: 102)

Zundel, M., Holt, R. and Cornelissen, J. 2013. Institutional Work in The Wire: An Ethological Investigation of Flexibility in Organizational Adaptation. Journal of Management Inquiry. Vol. 22 (1), pp.102-120.


See also ‘defensive institutional work

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