Sub-theme 07: (SWG) Institutions and Identities

Tammar B. Zilber
Jerusalem School of Business, Israel
Michael Lounsbury
University of Alberta School of Business, Canada
Renate E. Meyer
WU Vienna, Austria, & Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Call for Papers

Identity is core concept as well as a key focal point for empirical analysis in institutional theory. It was part of the very early formulations of institutional theory by Selznick (1957), Berger & Luckmann (1966), DiMaggio & Powell (1983), and Zucker (1983), who all held that institutionalization involves the production of identities, both individual and organizational. Glynn (2008) convincingly asserts that the recent interest in identity within institutional theory is not surprising for albeit the different analytic aims of each, identity and institutional theories both take into account the role of meaning in constructing organizations and organizational practices; and, both take interest in issues of legitimacy, although on different levels of analysis.

The recent empirical studies that combine and theorize the concepts of institutions and identity have been focusing on two central lines of research. First, scholars document the production of individual and organizational identities as an outcome of institutional pressures in mature and merging fields, especially those characterized by multiple and conflicting logics. Second, scholars conceptualize identity not only as an outcome of institutional pressures but as the mechanism of institutional work by which institutions are established, maintained and transformed.

Despite these impressive lines of research, the concept of identity is still quite under-theorized within institutional theory. A central unresolved issue is the epistemological status of identity. While many institutional scholars refer to identity as both a conceptual and an empirical construct, the distinction between the two is at times quite blurred. Identity appears in various contexts and levels of analysis without explicating its role. Many scholars seem to refer to identity as a descriptive rather than an analytical construct. In some research, identity is hardly defined, and scholars use it as if its meanings and dynamics are given and self-evident. As in other disciplinary discourses, "identity" may thus mean too much, too little, or nothing at all. Moreover, the concept of identity and its tangled relations to institutional processes is frequently left unexplored. More often than not, "identity" is left outside the set of notions the researcher explicitly articulates and problematizes.

This sub-theme 07 attempts to unpack "identity" in institutional processes, by presenting and discussing empirical and theoretical studies relating to identity and institutions on various levels while taking a reflective and critical look at our own uses of the concept. We invite papers that explore individual, organizational, and field level identities in the context of institutional processes, whether with a theoretical, methodological, or empirical focus.




  • Berger, P.L., & Luckmann, T. (1966): The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.
  • DiMaggio, P.J., & Powell, W.W. (1983): "The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational field." American Sociological Review, 48 (2), 147–160.
  • Glynn, M.A. (2008): "Beyond constraint: How institutional enable identity." In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, R. Suddaby & K. Sahlin-Andersson (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 414–430.
  • Selznick, P. (1957): Leadership in Administration. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Zucker, L.G. (1983): "Organizations as institutions." Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 2, 1–47.


Tammar B. Zilber is Associate Professor of Organization Theory at Jerusalem School of Business, Hebrew University, Israel. Her research focuses on the dynamics of meaning and action in institutional processes. She examines the translation of institutions over time, across social spheres and given field multiplicity; the role of discursive acts (like narrating) in constructing institutional realities, and the institutional work involved in creating and maintaining field-level collective identity.
Michael Lounsbury is the Thornton A. Graham Chair and Associate Dean of Research at the University of Alberta School of Business, Canada. He is also a Principal Investigator at the Canadian National Institute for Nanotechnology. His research focuses on institutional emergence and change, entrepreneurship, and the cultural dynamics of organizations and practice. He serves on a number of editorial boards and is the Series Editor of 'Research in the Sociology of Organizations', as well as Associate Editor of 'Academy of Management Annals'.
Renate E. Meyer is Chair of Organization Studies at WU Vienna, Austria, and Permanent Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, Department for Organization; Denmark. Her research is anchored in phenomenological institutional theory. In her current projects, she analyzes multiple role-identities of large organizations, visual and discursive framing strategies in processes of institutionalization, and management knowledge as interlocking vocabularies.