Friday, October 12, 2007

Concept of the Day: Isomorphism

New Institutionalists (Meyer and Rowan 1977, DiMaggio and Powell, 1983, Edelman and Suchman, 1999) study how organizations respond to diverse external expectations (e.g., “The Law”) and their research reveals how those responses confer legitimacy in the form of taken-for-grantedness, which allows organizational structures and activities to stabilize.

Isomorphism: As communities of organizations evolve, a variety of forces (inter-organizational power relations, the state (law), competition) promote isomorphism within sets of organizations that are either tied directly to each other or play similar roles. That is, organizations evolve to adopt similar structures and operations as other organizations in its same field. This is relevant to our inquiry with respect to how grievance procedures and structural responses to sexual harassment mirror each other throughout different organizations and industries. What works for one organization, the idea goes, would work for another, particularly if that organization’s response satisfies some legal standard.

Types of Isomorphism:

Mimetic: conformity through imitation, resulting from efficient responses to uncertainty or bandwagon effects

Coercive: stems from pressure imposed by governmental regulation and administrative guidelines (e.g., EEOC) that authorize particular organizational structures and strategies

Normative: pressure imposed by collective actors such as professional and trade associations that create informal expectations of organizations.

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