Sub-theme 26:

Constructing Categories: Meaning and Framing in Organizational Fields

Peer C. Fiss, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA

Mark Kennedy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA

Joeri Mol, University of Melbourne, Melbourne

Call for Papers

Organizational theorists have examined the boundaries of organizational fields using a variety of constructs, including market orientations, organizational forms, networks, strategic groups, and professions. Yet, these investigations have largely neglected the crucial role played by acts of sensemaking and meaning construction in the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of categories. The extant literature is witnessing an emerging body of research indicating that categories demarcating organizational fields are the outcome of struggles over meaning. This is a pertinent issue since the framing activities that lie at the heart of how categories are unpacked and interpreted not only yield power to those who do the classifying, but also define the markets in which organizations compete.

In our sub-theme, we aim to re-open a discussion about the ways in which exchange relationships are affected by culture and classification. We ask: how do meaning structures shape and construct industry and market categories? And how is the meaning of a market, industry, form or field not only related to the category labels that define them, but also to the legitimacy of their constitutive practices? Beginning with the idea that framing and language matter, we hope to start a new discussion about the origins and consequences of classification systems in organizational fields.

We invite papers that enhance our understanding of category dynamics by relating them to processes of meaning construction. This includes the processes underlying both boundary formation/institutionalization and dissolution/de-institutionalization. As such, we welcome contributions from multiple theoretical perspectives and seek cross-pollination between the various approaches to meaning and culture in organization studies. We particularly welcome studies that incorporate insights from related disciplines. Likewise, we are open to both qualitative approaches such as frame analysis, historical case studies, discourse analysis, and ethnography, as well as quantitative approaches employing longitudinal or multi-level methods, or studies that bridge both approaches. We welcome studies that explore the importance of framing and meaning construction in a wide array of empirical settings, such as industry formation, performance measurement, framing contests, organizational narratives and stories, and the diffusion of innovations.

We especially welcome submissions that engage the following kinds of questions:

  • How do we do the classifying? How does meaning enter into the process of category construction? How can we show that meaning and culture are not super-structures, but are constitutive of markets, industries, and organizational fields?
  • What is the role of framing and classification in the creation of new industries and markets? How do new accounts of industries and markets get legitimized, established and reproduced?
  • How do categories get blended, combined and recombined, and how does this affect the emergence of new markets? How are new categories contested and defended?
  • How do categories travel across multiple sites such as product markets or geographical spaces without a priori agreed-upon meanings? How are categories translated across diverse communities of practice?
  • What is the role of audiences and institutional gatekeepers in the (de)construction of market categories? What role is played by social movements, ranking institutions, clients, suppliers, legislators, critics, political lobbyists, and other institutional gatekeepers in how social classification is unpacked and imbued with meaning?
  • What is the role of institutional entrepreneurs in category construction and dissolution? How do such actors successfully contest the power of the incumbency and prevail in instituting categorical change?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between (the formation of) standards and (the creation of) categories?
  • In a more general sense, what is the importance of classification processes for epistemology and ontology? And how do categories feature in processes of assemblage?


Peer C. Fiss?is the McAlister Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California. He is broadly interested in how meaning structures shape organizational actions and has studied this in the context of how practices diffuse, how they change, and how accounts framing and justifying practices are constructed. In addition, he has worked on configurational theory using set-theoretic methods such as fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis.

Mark Kennedy?is an Assistant Professor of Strategy at the Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California. He studies the role that language and collective agreement play in making innovations seem real to audiences and communities. In this broad area, he specializes in studying the role of the media and public relations in establishing technology markets, social movements and new academic literatures.

Joeri Mol?is a Lecturer at the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne. His research interests include classification systems and genre formation, power and appropriation in organizations, and diffusion patterns of innovations.

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