36th EGOS Colloquium
Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance
University of Hamburg
July 2–4, 2020
36th EGOS Colloquium
July 2–4, 2020
Digitally-enabled institutional arrangements, such as new organizational forms, are increasingly changing the rules of
the game in many industries and fields. Consider the following examples: Platforms, such as TripAdvisor, restructured entire
evaluation systems in the tourism industry – moving from an expert-based model (based on an episodic, standardized review
by professionals) to a crowd-based model, that is continuously harnessing and aggregating consumer’s evaluations (Orlikowski
& Scott, 2014). Despite meeting resistance by regulators, Uber and AirBnB gained legitimacy for disrupting, disintermediating
and reconfiguring the delivery of taxi and accommodation services (Bauer & Gegenhuber, 2015; Cusumano et al., 2019; Mair
& Reischauer, 2017). Organizations in the diamond industry have begun to mobilize support for a transparent, blockchain-based
model of tracking diamonds from production to end-consumer in order to weed out conflict diamonds (Iansiti & Lakhani,
2017; Seidel, 2018).
Although lagging behind other research fields, such as information systems research or the technology and innovation management literature, institutional theorists are increasingly attentive to the role and impact of digitalization (Davis, 2016; Deephouse et al., 2017; Hinings et al., 2018; Hinings & Meyer, 2018; Powell et al., 2016). There is no doubt that digitally-enabled institutional arrangements permeate and reshape industries and fields, challenging power structures and meaning systems. This presents a significant opportunity for institutional theorists to probe further into how actors leveraging digital technologies can transform the very ways in which institutions are created, complemented, threatened or destroyed. For instance, Powell et al. (2016) demonstrate how actors use social media technologies in the early stages of institutionalization processes. These technologies aid ventures, bloggers or activists alike to introduce novel ideas into a field by circumventing traditional stakeholders, reaching large audiences and making their ideas understandable and easily adoptable (see also Gegenhuber & Dobusch, 2017; Hannigan et al., 2018).
In a similar vein, the cultural entrepreneurship literature (Lounsbury & Glynn, 2019) began to examine how ventures using a digital platform, such as crowdfunding, results in legitimacy spillovers (i.e., individual outcomes encourage or discourage audiences to support similar projects; Soublière & Gehman, 2019) as well as in open negotiation of appropriate norms driving ventures’ actions (Gegenhuber & Naderer, 2019). Etter and colleagues (2017) make the case that social media plays a critical role in the formation of social judgments, resulting, however, in increasingly fragmented and multi-vocal audience judgments (see also Glozer et al., 2018). Conversely, however, Kornberger and colleagues (2017) indicate that rating mechanisms in various platforms fuel homogenized social evaluations. Lindebaum, Vessa and den Hond (2019) also suggest the need for further theorising on the rapid rise and implications of algorithmic decision making in organizations and for organizational studies more broadly.
Using this emerging work as a vantage point, we envisage this sub-theme as an invitation to explore the interplay of novel digital technologies and institutional processes, including processes of institutional emergence, change, institutionalization and de-institutionalization. We see this as encompassing new, platform-based organizations that disrupt existing institutional processes (e.g., Uber, Spotify, TripAdvisor); organizations that are well established in digital innovation and thus are part of ongoing institutional processes (e.g., Amazon, Google; Microsoft); and organizations within established fields that are subject to digital innovation and are dealing with changing institutional processes (e.g., banks, telecommunications, retail) (Davis, 2017; Hinings et al., 2018).
We therefore call for empirical (qualitative, quantitative, mixed-methods) or conceptual papers addressing the ‘digitalization of institutional theory’, encouraging different levels of analysis and inviting papers that make integrative and innovative contributions to a range of topics and themes, such as:
Novel digitally-enabled institutional arrangements, that is a bundle of legitimate practices, values and actor constellations intertwined with digital technologies, may rearrange institutionalization mechanisms such as inter-organizational monitoring (e.g., Tolbert & Zucker, 1996), theorization (e.g., Strang & Meyer, 1993), and interest group advocacy or resistance (e.g., Lounsbury, 2001). This raises the question:
How do novel digital institutional arrangements based on technologies such as social media, blockchain, artificial intelligence, or algorithms, reconfigure institutionalization mechanisms and processes?
For instance, how does leveraging social media affect (de-)legitimation processes of a new venture?
How does the interplay of ‘new’ arrangements (e.g., social media) and ‘old’ institutional arrangements (e.g., traditional media) mediate these processes?
Corporations, such as Apple, Amazon, Google/Alphabet, and Facebook, are powerful actors providing and controlling critical infrastructure of a digital economy (Cutolo & Kenney, 2019; Srnicek, 2017; Zuboff, 2015). It is in these infrastructures in which many processes of institutionalization take place.
Hence, how does their infrastructure impact institutionalization processes?
How do these actors make use of their dominant positions to affect these?
Another aspect is that institutional theory posits that professions such as law or medicine are critical arbiters in enacting institutional arrangements. For instance:
What does artificial intelligence mean for the boundaries and positioning of traditional professions (Barrett et al., 2012)?
Who are the arbiters in a digital economy (e.g., (data)analysts, programmers)?
What new logics or values does certain digital infrastructure infuse, embed or reinforce in organizations (Berente & Yoo, 2012)?
Relatedly, and building on the rich literature of socio-materiality (Leonardi & Barley, 2010; Orlikowski & Scott, 2008):
How can we account for the emergence of new (artificial) actors or the displacement of other actors by artificial intelligence?
And furthermore, how can we theorise artificial agency in institutional contexts?
Fields (exchange or issue fields) and their respective field infrastructures are essential in understanding the emergence and diffusion of novel institutional arrangements (Zietsma et al., 2017; Hinings et al., 2017). New organizational forms, such as digital platforms and their ecosystems, often seek to become arbiter of a subfield within a field (e.g. Apple and Android within the mobile phone industry).
How can an understanding of fields inform understandings of digital platform ecosystems (Jacobides et al., 2018; Ozalp et al., 2018)?
Digital platforms also enable more loosely coupled forms of cross-field collaboration, or emerge at the intersections of fields or between fields, intermediating in different ways to traditional boundary organizations (Randhawa et al., 2017). They may be used to pursue a range of goals, both for-profit and for the production of social good (Logue & Grimes, 2018). Research, thus, may ask:
How novel digital institutional arrangements change the way how we understand negotiation processes within fields, and the interaction and mutual dependence between and across fields and subfields (Furnari, 2016)?
This sub-theme forms the basis for developing submissions for a forthcoming volume in Research in the Sociology of Organizations on “Digital transformation and institutional theorizing: Consequences, opportunities and challenges”, scheduled for publication in 2021.