Sub-theme 11: From market to industry categories: The institutionalization of competitive arenas

Filippo Carlo Wezel
University of Lugano, Switzerland
Joeri Mol
University of Melbourne, Australia
Johannes M. Pennings
Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Call for Papers

One of the fundamental questions in organizational sociology is what explains organizational diversity. Whereas institutional theorists have stressed isomorphic tendencies explaining organizational convergence (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983), population ecologists (Hannan and Freeman, 1989) have put emphasis on divergence and variety. Yet for an adequate understanding of what drives diversity, one needs to understand what constitutes diversity. The central question then becomes, what devices do we employ to make verdicts about the level of diversity within a given population?

Allowing us to lump together products/practices/organizations based on shared characteristics, classification systems help us assess the level of homogeneity (or its converse, heterogeneity) within an organizational field. Central to classification systems is the way in which categories are constituted as cognitive sense making devices that on the one hand spell out the degree of membership and at the same time put boundaries between disparate subpopulations. Although the consequences of classification have been acknowledged in the literature, scant attention has been paid to how classification systems come into being. If classification systems are not contrived in a void but result from the continuing interaction and negotiation between different actors in organizational fields, it would serve to investigate how institutions do the classifying (Douglas 1986).

In this regard, the emergence of markets and industries carries particular importance since most of our knowledge of mutualistic and competitive processes affecting organizations has been obtained by assuming the presence of already established boundaries separating classes of firms. As such, markets, organizations and organizational fields have been partitioned deploying distinct categories exhibiting sets of unique properties. Divergence from established categories may enable tapping into unsated demand, but could just as well trigger the discipline of the market when the product offering is not understood or seen as legitimate (Zuckerman, 1999). Particular importance has been given to the mediating role that audiences and social movements play in shaping the tolerance of diversity of organizational fields (Lounsbury, 2005; Hsu and Hannan, 2005). Recently, these issues have triggered considerable efforts to classify organizational typologies, spurring new theoretical developments (Hannan, Polos nd Carroll, 2007).

Since the way we categorize industries and the criteria that we employ to justify competitive segmentation have such a profound impact on our understanding of organizations, it seems justified to at least investigate how we have gone about it so far. The present track proposal is aimed at discussing the process leading to boundary formation (i.e., between-industry segregation) and their time-varying impact on the dynamics of competitive heterogeneity (i.e., within-industry segregation). In this track, we welcome contributions from multiple theoretical perspectives. We will seek cross-pollinization between strategic and managerial frameworks, whether inspired by economics or sociology. We also welcome studies that incorporate insights from related disciplines, including (but not limited to) political science, business history, linguistics and logic, psychology and philosophy. Likewise, we are open to longitudinal and multi-level methods whether stemming from quantitative perspectives such as large scale field studies as well as more qualitative approaches such as discourse analysis, historical case studies and qualitative case studies.

Specifically we invite papers dealing with the following topics, among others:

  • The formation of market categories, such as industry segments and market niches

  • The revision and evolution of existing categories

  • The emergence and evolution of industry boundaries and technological trajectories

  • The roles played by particular agents (e.g., movie critics) for the emergence of new market categories

  • Identity formation at the form level

  • Methodological issues reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of categorization such as SIC codes or patent classes


DiMaggio, P. and W.W. Powell (1983): "The iron cage revisited: institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields." American Sociological Review, 48, 147–160.

Douglas, M. (1986): How Institutions Think. The F.W. Abrams Lectures, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse.

Hannan, M. T. and J. Freeman (1989): Organizational Ecology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hannan, M.T., L. Polos and G.R. Carroll (2007): The Logics of Organization Theory: Audiences, Codes and Ecologies. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hsu, Greta and Michael T. Hannan (2005): "Identities, Genres, and Organizational Forms." Organization Science, 16 (5), 474–490.

Lounsbury, Michael (2005): "Institutional Variation in the Evolution of Social Movements: Competiting Logics and the Spread of Recycle Advocacy Groups." In: Gerald F. Davis, Doug McAdam, W. Richard Scott and Mayer N. Zald (eds.), Social Movements and Organization Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 73–95.

Zuckerman, Ezra W. (1999): "The Categorical Imperative: Securities Analysts and the Illegitimacy Discount." American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 104, 1398–1438.

Filippo Carlo Wezel 
Joeri Mol 
Johannes M. Pennings