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Logics of Organization Theory

Logics of Organization Theory: Audiences, Codes, and Ecologies

Michael T. Hannan
László Pólos
Glenn R. Carroll
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Logics of Organization Theory
    Book Description:

    Building theories of organizations is challenging: theories are partial and "folk" categories are fuzzy. The commonly used tools--first-order logic and its foundational set theory--are ill-suited for handling these complications. Here, three leading authorities rethink organization theory.Logics of Organization Theorysets forth and applies a new language for theory building based on a nonmonotonic logic and fuzzy set theory. In doing so, not only does it mark a major advance in organizational theory, but it also draws lessons for theory building elsewhere in the social sciences.

    Organizational research typically analyzes organizations in categories such as "bank," "hospital," or "university." These categories have been treated as crisp analytical constructs designed by researchers. But sociologists increasingly view categories as constructed by audiences. This book builds on cognitive psychology and anthropology to develop an audience-based theory of organizational categories. It applies this framework and the new language of theory building to organizational ecology. It reconstructs and integrates four central theory fragments, and in so doing reveals unexpected connections and new insights.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4301-5
    Subjects: Psychology, Population Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Chapter One Language Matters
    (pp. 1-26)

    Sociological theorists rarely give explicit attention to the language used in formulating arguments and drawing conclusions. We argue that attention ought to be paid to the choice of a theoretical language. This chapter discusses such language matters; and it also argues that choice of a language matters for what a theory can express and whether (and how) it can unify fragmentary knowledge.

    Sociological theories can be built and arguments can be unified without any special tools or methodologies. However, we believe that attempts in this direction face daunting challenges. The essential problem lies with language, with the natural language used...


    • Chapter Two Clusters and Labels
      (pp. 29-58)

      Sociologists routinely invoke the concept of form. For example, in analyzing French collective action across four centuries, Charles Tilly (1986) describes the “forms of contention” that arose and spread through the provinces. These include seizures of grain; collective invasions of forbidden fields, forests, and streams; attacks on machines; serenades; tendentious holiday parades; forced illuminations; turnouts; strikes; demonstrations; petition marches; planned insurrections, and electoral campaigns. Likewise, in developing a sociology of art, Howard S. Becker (1982) characterizes various activities involving works of music, literature, film, television, sculpture, painting, and photography as “art forms.” And, in organizational sociology, all major theorists occupy...

    • Chapter Three Types and Categories
      (pp. 59-77)

      Clustering and labeling create seeds for the development of categories. An emergent extensional consensus, which converts a cluster into a class, strengthens the durability of a labeled cluster. However, extensional consensus on a label, by itself, generally does not tell us how to think about a not-yet-seen object (producer) that might, or might not, deserve a label to one degree or another. This uncertainty creates a source of instability. It makes it likely that many—perhaps most—classes disappear before they gain much recognition or undergo much development. On occasion, a class might prove robust and resist getting overrun by...

    • Chapter Four Forms and Populations
      (pp. 78-99)

      Building on the conceptual material developed in chapters above, we now turn directly to questions about forms and populations. In our view, it is high time to clarify these concepts. Elaine Romanelli’s (1991: 81) review of the literature on the emergence and establishment of organizational forms concluded that “no theoretical consensus exists regarding an approach to the problem . . . the conceptual approaches are diverging.” More tellingly, this review also found no generally accepted common definition of the concept. From the proposed theoretical arguments about form emergence, “no overarching themes for integrating these perspectives” could be identified (Romanelli 1991:...

    • Chapter Five Identity and Audience
      (pp. 100-120)
      Greta Hsu

      The preceding chapters laid the foundation for a perspective on the emergence of forms. We now complete the construction by sharpening the formal connections between form and identity.

      We also consider the implications of the new conceptualization of populations for theory and research at the population level. We reconsider the view that forms must be based on identities. And, we argue that this theory of form emergence allows for a sounder treatment of “hybrid” organizations, those belonging to multiple classes, categories, or forms.

      In cognitive science research on categorization, the objects to be assigned to categories do not have what...


    • Chapter Six A Nonmonotonic Logic
      (pp. 123-149)

      The chapters in this part introduce and apply the new logic described in Chapter 1: a dynamic, nonmonotonic logic. In logic, nonmonotonicity means that adding a premise to an argument might kill some of its implications (theorems). This chapter provides an informal introduction to the logic. It tells why we designed the logic as we did and how the logic works. (Some potentially useful background on classical first-order logic (FOL) can be found in Appendix C.)

      It is customary to identify a logic with a (formal) definition of an inference relation. This might sound like a completely formal exercise, but,...

    • Chapter Seven Integrating Theories of Age Dependence
      (pp. 150-168)

      The formal logic for theory building presented in the previous chapters might be interesting for its own sake. But does it contribute to our understanding of sociological processes? Here we try to show that it does in the context of theory and research on age dependence in the organizational mortality.¹

      Organization theory possesses too many plausible stories when it comes to the relation of age and mortality. The history of studies of the relationship between organizational age and the probability of mortality goes back three-quarters of a century. Several waves of descriptive studies revealed that young organizations generally face a...


    • Chapter Eight Niches and Audiences
      (pp. 171-190)

      The concept of niche has proven to be extremely valuable for specifying competitive processes and environmental dependencies in organizational analysis.¹ However, various strands of organization theory and research define and use the concept in different (occasionally conflicting) ways. Obviously, resolving these differences would help to unify theory and to provide clearer guidelines for empirical research. The chapters in this part of the book report our attempt to integrate several important ecological theories of the niche.²

      We begin this integration effort in Chapters 8 and 9 by considering three sociological theories of the niche. Niche theory (Hannan and Freeman 1977; Freeman...

    • Chapter Nine Niches and Competitors
      (pp. 191-208)

      As discussed in the previous chapter, the fundamental niche abstracts from the possible implications of competitors: it concerns mainly the relationship between the producer and the environment, as represented by the audience. How does the picture change when competitors are present?

      To analyze the impact of competitors, we begin with the concept of fitness, which tells the relation between the appeal of an organization’s offering and its viability in the midst of resource competition. Fitness allows us to define formally the realized niche, the traditional way of conceiving how competitors impinge upon the fundamental niche. Here again, our task is...

    • Chapter Ten Resource Partitioning
      (pp. 209-228)

      The connections between niche theory (Hannan and Freeman 1977) and resource-partitioning theory (Carroll 1985) are somewhat unsettled.¹ Although both lines of theory build explicitly on the niche concept, they define specialism/generalism differently and make different assumptions about the possible tradeoff between peak fitness and the breadth of adaptive capacity.² Given these differences, whether the two theories differ fundamentally or can be integrated into a unified theory remains an open question. We seek to provide an answer by building a formal model of partitioning that incorporates the key assumptions about the structure of the niche presented in the previous chapter. We...


    • Chapter Eleven Cascading Change
      (pp. 231-255)

      A considerable body of empirical research generally supports the main implications of ecology’s theory of structural inertia, namely that change in a core feature raises the hazard of organizational mortality (Hannan and Freeman, 1984; Barnett and Carroll 1995; Carroll and Hannan 2000). However, the theory has not advanced in parallel with the empirical work; further progress in understanding inertia and change requires attention to theoretical foundations.

      The inertia story began, somewhat indirectly, with Stinchcombe’s (1965) observation of a “correlation of age and structure” across industrial segments. Stinchcombe argued that the stability of organizational structures was partly responsible for the fact...

    • Chapter Twelve Opacity and Asperity
      (pp. 256-270)

      We can gain deeper insight about the risk of organizational change by building a more complex model of internal organization and by introducing organizational culture into the picture. We find it insightful to consider the implications of two specific factors: (1) structural limits on the foresight of those initiating a change (which we call opacity) and (2) restrictiveness of the organization’s culture with respect to architecture (which we call asperity). Considerations of culture bring issues of identity back into the picture.¹

      The structural theory presented in Chapter 11 provides a framework for explaining why certain architectural changes in certain contexts...

    • Chapter Thirteen Niche Expansion
      (pp. 271-285)

      At this point, we can advance the project of integrating aspects of various theory fragments we have considered: categories and forms, age dependence, the niche, and structural change. We do so by considering the consequences of expansion of an organization’s niche.

      Recent empirical research examines the consequences of niche change (see Dobrev, Kim, and Hannan 2001; Dobrev, Kim, and Carroll 2003). Generally speaking, this research shows that niche change typically induces deleterious outcomes. In particular, it raises the hazard of mortality in the period following the change.

      In seeking to reconcile this empirical work with theory, we focus exclusively on...

    • Chapter Fourteen Conclusions
      (pp. 286-304)

      In Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s bookGreen Eggs and Ham, a pesky character named Sam persistently implores his companion, a circumspect character with a rumpled top hat, to eat an offering of green eggs and ham. In a battery of insistent propositions, Sam tries many arguments, asking his companion variously would he be willing to eat them “here or there, with a mouse or in a house, with a fox or in a box, in the dark, in a tree, in a car, in the rain or in a train, on a boat or with a goat.” To each impassioned...

  9. Appendix A. Glossary of Theoretical Terms
    (pp. 305-312)
  10. Appendix B. Glossary of Symbols
    (pp. 313-320)
  11. Appendix C. Some Elementary First-Order Logic
    (pp. 321-330)
  12. Appendix D. Notation for Monotonic Functions
    (pp. 331-333)
  13. Appendix E. The Modal Language of Codes
    (pp. 334-338)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 339-354)
  15. Index
    (pp. 355-364)