A unique contribution of institutional theory is the insight that organizations need legitimacy as well as technical efficiency to survive and thrive in their environments (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Meyer & Rowan, 1977). The institutionalized norms, practices, and logics which structure organizational fields exert isomorphic pressures, forming an “iron cage” which constrains organizational actions. Organizations are seen as legitimate when they conform to field structures and operate within the iron cage (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983). Much work in institutional theory has focused on the diffusion of institutional structures and the forces which support institutional isomorphism.
Yet not all institutional environments are highly institutionalized, and not all actors are equally constrained by institutional arrangements. A great deal of work in the last two decades has shown that institutional entrepreneurs may arise to question institutional arrangements (DiMaggio, 1988), resisting them strategically (Oliver, 1991; Ang & Cummings, 1997), disrupting and deinstitutionalizing them (Ahmadjian & Robinson, 2001; Oliver, 1992), and reconstructing them to suit the desires of different actors (Anand & Peterson, 2000; Hargadon & Douglas, 2001; Zilber, 2002).
Much of the prior work on institutional entrepreneurship has tended to focus retrospectively on the path of a single institutional innovation as it gained support in an emerging or existing field, often displacing an existing set of institutional arrangements (e.g. Greenwood, Suddaby & Hinings, 2002; Maguire, Hardy & Lawrence, 2004; Munir, 2005). Throughout this work, competing or independently evolving innovations which may also have been candidates for institutionalization are generally not discussed.