Sub-theme 13: The social dynamics of standardization

Nils Brunsson, SCORE, Stockholm Schools of Economics, Sweden
Andreas Rasche, Helmut-Schmidt-University Hamburg, Germany
David Seidl, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Call for Papers

When looking at modern organizations, standards are proliferating. They occur in numerous fields (e.g. corporate governance, financial and social auditing, product development, technical design), take many forms (e.g. membership standards, multi-stakeholder standards) and are particularly relevant when thinking about regulating organizations beyond national boundaries (Brunsson and Jacobsson, 2000; Djelic and Sahlin-Andersson, 2006). In a broad sense standards can be defined as a particular type of rules: voluntary rules that are explicitly formulated pertaining to a wide set of actors (individuals or organizations). Indeed, a variety of organizations are involved in developing, sustaining and implementing standards, including, but not limited to, standard makers, adopters, monitoring and certification agencies and the wider public.

Standards and standardization are often addressed as part of the wider discussion of organizational regulation. Regulation involves creating and propagating more or less explicit rules and thus fosters the formation of social order. Hence, studying standards allows us to consider both, the 'demand side' of order (i.e. how organizations and individuals are affected by organizing efforts) as well as the 'supply side' (i.e. how organizing elements are produced).

Despite their pervasiveness and significance in modern life standards have received comparatively little serious attention by social scientists. It is only within the last few years that researchers have started to explore systematically the social dynamics of standards. Apart from research on individual standards like ISO 9000 (e.g. Beck and Walgenbach, 2005), CSR standards (e.g. Déjan et al., 2004) or accounting standards (e.g. Perry and Noelke, 2005) there are now also attempts at exploring the logic of standards per se (e.g. Mörth, 2004). With this subtheme we want to bring together the various strands of theorizing in this nascent area of research in order to take stock of the developments and advance the research agenda.

We are particularly interested in the various social dynamics of standardization: the dynamics involved in standard development, standard setting, standard following, standard 'enforcement', etc. While standards are often associated with rigidity and formalism, a closer study reveals standardization as a very dynamic process involving multiple actors (individuals and organizations) and often fostering creativity and innovation both on the side of standard setters and followers. We call for papers that deal with the various aspects of standardization. We are interested both in conceptual (using different theoretical perspectives) and empirical papers, which might be qualitative and/or quantitative in approach. Particularly, we invite submissions discussing the distinction between organizing standards on the macro-level and the micro-level affects that standard implementation brings about.

Possible topics for contributions include, but are not restricted to the following issues:

  • Standardization and creativity/innovation: Does standard implementation foster and/or impede creativity and innovation among adopters? Is competition among standard setters a driver of creativity in terms of standard content? How much innovation is needed and desirable when revising and improving standards? Do multi-stakeholder approaches support creativity and innovation within the process of developing a standard?

  • Production/evolution of standards: Who is and who can be responsible for developing standards? How are standardizers themselves organized? To what extent are standards and standard setter accountable to their stakeholders and the wider public? What potential problems arise within the process of standardization? What theoretical perspectives can help us to better understand the global diffusion of international standards, and their likely intended and unintended consequences? How do standards gain legitimacy in the eyes of adopters and the wider public?

  • Growth and context of standardization: Why have standards emerged as alternatives to governmental regulations? What role do standards play in relation to international and supranational governmental regulations? How can we learn to better distinguish among the myriad of standards? What influences the possible future growth and expansion of standards in different fields?

  • Adoption/implementation of standards: How are standards implemented in corporations? What drives the adoption of standards by firms? What impact can be expected from standard implementation? How can this impact be measured in a meaningful way? How and why are standards modified during the process of implementation?

  • Standards and the role of 'third parties': What 'third parties' (e.g. customers) are involved in the standardization process? How do they affect the likelihood and form in which standards are adopted? What influence do they have on the development of standards?

  • Competition and compatibility among standards: What determines which standard setter attracts the most followers? What factors foster and impede competition among standards? Which factors foster monopoly and stability? What is the relationship between competition and compatibility among standards?


Beck, M. and P. Walgenbach (2005): "Technical Efficiency of Adaptation to Institutional Expectations? – The Adoption of ISO 9000 Standards in the German Mechanical Engineering Industry." Organization Studies, 26 (6), 841–866.

Brunsson, N. and B. Jacobsson (2000): A World of Standards. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Déjean, F., J.-P. Gond and B. Leca (2004): "Measuring the Unmeasured: An Institutional Entrepreneur Strategy in an Emerging Industry." Human Relations, 57: 740–764.

Djelic, M.-L. and K. Sahlin-Andersson (eds.) (2006): Transnational Governance – Institutional Dynamics of Regulation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mörth, U. (ed.) (2004): Soft Law in Governance and Regulation: An Interdisciplinary Analysis. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Perry, J. and A. Noelke (2005): "International Accounting Standard Setting: A Network Approach." Business and Politics, 7: 1–s2.

Nils Brunsson 
Andreas Rasche 
David Seidl