Theory and Society

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 213–236 | Cite as

Inhabited Institutions: Social Interactions and Organizational Forms in Gouldner’s Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy

  • Tim HallettEmail author
  • Marc J. Ventresca


Organizational sociologists often treat institutions as macro cultural logics, representations, and schemata, with less consideration for how institutions are ”inhabited“ (Scully and Creed, 1997) by people doing things together. As such, this article uses a symbolic interactionist rereading of Gouldner’s classic study Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy as a lever to expand the boundaries of institutionalism to encompass a richer understanding of action, interaction, and meaning. Fifty years after its publication, Gouldner’s study still speaks to us, though in ways we (and he) may not have anticipated five decades ago. The rich field observations in Patterns remind us that institutions such as bureaucracy are inhabited by people and their interactions, and the book provides an opportunity for intellectual renewal. Instead of treating contemporary institutionalism and symbolic interaction as antagonistic, we treat them as complementary components of an “inhabited institutions approach” that focuses on local and extra–local embeddedness, local and extra-local meaning, and a skeptical, inquiring attitude. This approach yields a doubly constructed view: On the one hand, institutions provide the raw materials and guidelines for social interactions (“construct interactions”), and on the other hand, the meanings of institutions are constructed and propelled forward by social interactions. Institutions are not inert categories of meaning; rather they are populated with people whose social interactions suffuse institutions with local force and significance.


American Sociological Review Sociological Theory Institutional Logic Symbolic Interaction Gypsum Mine 
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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology Dept.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.University of Oxford and Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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