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Recycling the Garbage Can: An Assessment of the Research Program

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2002

Jonathan Bendor
Affiliation:
Jonathan Bendor is Professor of Political Economics, Graduate School of Business, and Terry M. Moe is Professor of Political Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. Kenneth W. Shotts is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University, 601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208-1006
Terry M. Moe
Affiliation:
Jonathan Bendor is Professor of Political Economics, Graduate School of Business, and Terry M. Moe is Professor of Political Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. Kenneth W. Shotts is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University, 601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208-1006
Kenneth W. Shotts
Affiliation:
Jonathan Bendor is Professor of Political Economics, Graduate School of Business, and Terry M. Moe is Professor of Political Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. Kenneth W. Shotts is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University, 601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208-1006

Abstract

The garbage can theory of organizational choice is one of the best-known innovations in modern organization theory. It also has significantly shaped a major branch of the new institutionalism. Yet, the theory has not received the systematic assessment that it both deserves and needs. We evaluate the early verbal theory and argue that it fails to create an adequate foundation for scientific progress. We then analyze and rerun Cohen, March, and Olsen’s computer model and discover that its agents move in lockstep patterns that are strikingly different from the spirit of the theory. Indeed, the simulation and the theory are incompatible. Next, we examine how the authors have built upon these incompatible formulations in developing the theory further. We assess this larger program, which includes the March-Olsen version of the new institutionalism, and find that many of the problems that attended the original article have intensified over time. We conclude that a fundamental overhaul is required if the theory is to realize its early promise.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
2001 by the American Political Science Association

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