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Fields of Practice: Connections between Law and Organizations

  • Walter W. Powell

Extract

It is, of course, both a privilege and a challenge to have one's work attended to in the thorough and thoughtful manner exemplified by Professors Suchman and Edelman's and Professor Sutton's essays. The New Institutionalism in Organizarional Analysis has been subject of many review symposia—in journals of accounting, business, political science, and sociology. But the traffic has never been two-way: our work is typically imported into new domains, but here we also have the opportunity to see how law and society research might enhance institutional analysis. In reading and reflecting on these valuable commentaries, I am pulled by divergent reactions: “Why didn't we think of that?” and “that's not what we meant” are the most common. But rather than play out these responses in print, I plead nolo contendere and concur with Suchman and Edelman's contention that institutional analysis has treated the law and the legal environment in an overly determinist fashion. In focusing on the letter of the law and its purported impact, institutional analysis neglects the extent to which the law and the legal environment are subject to negotiation, interpretation, and contestation.

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References

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1 Suchman, Mark C. & Edelman, Lauren B., “Legal Rational Myths: The New Institutionalism and the Law and Society Tradition,” 21 Law & Soc. Inquiry 943 (1996); Sutton, John R., “Rethinking Social Control,” 21 Law & Soc. Inquiry 959 (1996).

2 Walter W. Powell & Paul J. DiMaggio, eds., The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991) (“Powell & DiMaggio, New Institutionalism”).

3 W. Richard Scott, Institutions and Organizations 33 (Thousand Oaks, Cal.: Sage Publications, 1995).

4 Robert Nelson, Partners with Power: the Social Transformation of the Law Firm (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); Walter W. Powell, “Institutional Effects on Organizational Structure and Performance,”in L. G. Zucker, ed., Instiutional Patterns and Organizations (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1988) (“Powell, ‘Institutional Effects”’); Marc Galanter & Thomas Palay, Tournament of Lawyers: The Transformation of the Big Law Firm (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

5 Carruthers, Bruce, “Accounting, Ambiguity, and the New Institutionalism,” 20 Accounting, Organizations, & Soc'y 313 (1995); Covaleski, Mark A. & Dirsmith, M. W., “An Institutional Perspective on the Rise, Social Transformation, and Fall of a University Budget Category,” 33 Admin. Sci. Q. 562587 (1988); Anthony G. Hopwood & Peter Miller, eds., Accounting as Social and Institutional Practice (New York: Cambridge University Press 1994); Royston Greenwood & Bob Hinings, “An Institutional Theory of Change: Contextual and Interpretive Dynamics in the Accounting Industry,”in W. W. Powell & D. Jones, eds., Bending the Iron Cage: Institutional Dynamics and Processes (forthcoming); Mezias, Stephen, “An Institutional Model of Organizational Practice: Financial Reporting at the Fortune 200,” 35 Admin. Sci. Q. 431 (1990).

6 Meyer, John W., Scott, W. R., & Strang, D., “Centralization, Fragmentation, and School District Complexity,” 32 Admin. Sci. Q. 186 (1987); Powell, “Institutional Effects”; D'Aunno, Thomas, Sutton, R. I., & Price, R. H., “Isomorphism and External Support in Conflicting Institutional Environments: A Study of Drug Abuse Treatment Units,” 14 Acad. Mgmt. J. 636 (1991); W. Richard Scott & J. W. Meyer, “The Organization of Societal Sectors: Propositions and Early Evidence,”in Powell & DiMaggio, New Institutionalism.

7 John L. Comaroff & Simon Roberts, Rules and Processes: The Cultural Logic of Dispute in an African Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).

8 Tom R. Tyler, Why People Obey the Law (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990).

9 Peter Berger & Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality 93 (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1967).

10 Edelman, Lauren B., “Legal Environments and Organizational Governance: The Expansion of Due Process in the American Workplace,” 95 Am. J. Soc. 1401 (1990); id., “Legal Ambiguity and Symbolic Structures: Organizational Mediation of Civil Rights Law,” 97 Am. J. Soc. 1531 (1992); also see Edelman, Lauren B., Abraham, Steven E., & Erlanger, Howard S., 1992. “Professional Construction of Law: The Inflated Threat of Wrongful Discharge,” 26 Law & Soc'y Rev. 47 (1992); Edelman, Lauren B., Erlanger, Howard S., & Lande, John, “Internal Dispute Resolution: The Transformation of Civil Rights in the Workplace,” 27 Law & Soc'y Rev. 497 (1993).

11 Gerald Rosenberg, The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

12 Macaulay, Stewart, “Non-contractual Relations in Business,” 28 Am. Soc. Rev. 55 (1963); id., Law and the Balance of Power: The Automobile Manufacturers and Their Dealers (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1966).

13 Robert Ellickson, Order without Law (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991).

14 Walter W. Powell, “Expanding the Scope of Institutional Arguments,”in Powell & Dimaggio, New Institutionalism 194–200 (cited in note 2).

15 Mark C. Suchman, “On the Role of Law Firms in the Structuration of Silicon Valley” (Institute for Legal Studies Working Paper DPRP 11–7, University of Wisconsin Law School, 1994).

16 Powell, Walter W., “Inter-organizational Collaboration in the Biotechnology Industry,” 152 J. Inst. & Theoretical Econ. 197 (1996); Powell, Walter W., Koput, K., & Smith-Doerr, Laurel, “Interorganizational Collaboration and the Locus of Innovation: Networks of Learning in Biotechnology,” 41 Admin. Sci. Q. 116 (1996).

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