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

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Tim Hallett.

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Tim Hallett is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. His research interests lie at the intersections of social psychology, organizations, and culture. He has published research on symbolic power and organizational culture (Sociological Theory 2003), on how emotions “blow up” in organizations (The Sociological Quarterly 2003), and the social construction of leadership (with James Spillane and John Diamond, Sociology of Education 2003). He and Marc Ventresca have also published work that reexamines the microsociological components of the “coupling” concept in new institutionalism (American Behavioral Scientist 2005). Hallett’s current research examines the social organization of “turmoil” in urban elementary schools. He is also doing a project on the dynamics of organizational gossip (with Brent Harger and Donna Eder).

Marc J. Ventresca is University Lecturer in strategy, entrepreneurship, and international business at the Saïid Business School and a Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Oxford. He is concurrently a research fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University. His research explores issues in the economic sociology of strategy and expertise. Ventresca’s recent projects examine the institutional politics of governance innovation in global financial markets and the role of states, professionals, and entrepreneurial markets in the evolution of US/UK information services industries. He earned his Ph.D. in sociology at Stanford University and has served on the faculty at Northwestern University, University of Illinois, University of California-Irvine, and Copenhagen Business School.

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Hallett, T., Ventresca, M.J. Inhabited Institutions: Social Interactions and Organizational Forms in Gouldner’s Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy . Theor Soc 35, 213–236 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-006-9003-z

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Keywords

  • American Sociological Review
  • Sociological Theory
  • Institutional Logic
  • Symbolic Interaction
  • Gypsum Mine