Sub-theme 36: Institutional Theories of Family Firms

Michael Carney
Concordia University, Montréal, Canada
Roy Suddaby
University of Victoria, Canada, and Newcastle University, UK
Giuseppe Delmestri
WU Vienna, Austria

Call for Papers

Research on family firms has accelerated over the past decades but much existing theory focuses upon factors internal to the family and firm such as their governance structure and family members' emotional attachments to the firm. Yet family firms operate in divergent cultural and institutional contexts around the world. While scholars studying Asian family firms have begun to explore institutional effects (e.g. Luo & Chung, 2013) research employing institutional perspectives is sparse. The absence of institutional theories of organization, family, and context limit our understanding of this prevalent organizational form. We therefore call for researchers to develop institutional theories of family firms with different levels of analysis.

The organizational level: A growing number of studies move beyond the comparison of family and non-family firms to examine the evident heterogeneity among family firms around the world. In Germany, for example, the archetypal family firm is medium sized and closely focused on manufacturing ("Mittelstand"), whereas in several Latin American and Asian economies a few families organize diversified business groups that that are politically connected and dominate a country's economic activity (Carney & Gedajlovic, 2002). Can institutional perspectives explain the prevalence and distribution of different types of family and non-family firms across societies? Can differences in family firm identities help explain family firm heterogeneity (Miller et al., 2011)?

The family level: National and cultural differences in gender roles and work-family interfaces are likely to be important determinants of family firm outcomes (Jennings & McDougald, 2007) yet existing research largely ignores how family structure differs and shape family firms. We ask: how do differences in the institution of family across the world affect family businesses? How are new forms of families changing family businesses? Is the heterogeneity of family firms a result of the heterogeneity of families? Does the institutional logic of family differ from culture to culture?

The institutional level: Cross national research on family firms is underdeveloped and research is largely national in focus (Deephouse & Jaskiewicz, 2013). However, differing degrees of institutionalization is likely moderate the value of family firms relative to other organizational forms (Gedajlovic et al., 2012). Differences in cultural and legal norms pertaining to inheritance and property rights specify who has a legitimate claim on family assets (Beckert, 2004) and are likely to influence the stability and longevity of family owned firms. Accordingly we ask: how do institutions influence family firm characteristics across different contexts? What forms of institutional work (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006) are required to establish, maintain or change family firms as they adapt to different institutional pressures? Finally, we are interested in papers that demonstrate how the empirical context of family based business can help to challenge and influence contemporary approaches to institutional theory (Suddaby, 2010).




  • Beckert, J. (2004): Inherited Wealth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Carney, M., & Gedajlovic, E. (2002): "The co-evolution of institutional environments and organizational strategies: The rise of family business groups in the ASEAN region." Organization Studies, 23 (1), 1–29.
  • Deephouse, D., & Jaskiewicz, P. (2013): "Do family firms have better reputations than non-family firms? An integration of socioemotional wealth and social identity theories." Journal of Management Studies, 50 (3), 337–360.
  • Gedajlovic, E., Carney, M., Chrisman, J.J., & Kellermanns, F.W. (2012): "The adolescence of family firm research." Journal of Management, 38 (4), 1010–1037.
  • Jennings, J.E., & McDougald, M.S. (2007): "Work-family interface experiences and coping strategies: implications for entrepreneurship research and practice." Academy of Management Review, 32 (3), 747–760.
  • Lawrence, T.B., & Suddaby, R. (2006): "Institutions and institutional work." In: S.R. Clegg, C. Hardy, T.B. Lawrence & W.R. Nord (eds.): SAGE Handbook of Organization Studies. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 215-254.
  • Luo, X.R., & Chung, C.-N. (2013): "Filling or abusing the institutional void? Ownership and management control of public family businesses in an emerging market." Organization Science, 24 (2), 591–613.
  • Miller, D., LeBreton-Miller, I. & Lester, R.H. (2011): "Family and lone founder ownership and strategic behaviour: social context, identity, and institutional logics." Journal of Management Studies, 48 (1), 1–25.
  • Suddaby, R. (2010): "Challenging institutions." Journal of Management Inquiry, 19 (1), 14–20. 

We thank Peter Jaskiewicz (Concordia University) and Trish Reay (University of Alberta) for their valuable input on this Call for Papers and their participation in this sub-theme.


Michael Carney is Concordia University Research Chair in Strategy and Entrepreneurship in the Management Department, John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Montréal, Canada. His research focuses upon strategy and competitive capabilities of emerging market business groups and family firms. He is currently Editor-in-Chief of 'Asia-Pacific Journal of Management'.
Roy Suddaby is the Winspear Chair of Management in the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria, Canada, and Strategic Advisory Professor at the University of Newcastle Business School, UK.
Giuseppe Delmestri is Professor and Director of the Institute Change Management & Management Development at WU Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business), Austria. He studies the international diffusion of contested organizational forms, biodiversity of organizational forms (family firms included), branding of universities, institutional change and logics