Sub-theme 33: Multiple Lenses on the Complexity of Institutions

Alessandro Narduzzo
Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy
Davide Secchi
University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
Siavash Farahbakhsh
Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO), Belgium

Call for Papers

Institutions are complex. They are norms, rules, and practices in forms of historically patterned cultures (Greenwood et al., 2017; North, 1990; Powell & DiMaggio, 1991). They compose of organizations, individuals and actors of different roles. Institutional theory is one of the well-established theories aiming to explain the complexity of institutions especially with the recently emerged paradigms such as intuitional logics and institutional complexity (Greenwood et al., 2011; Thornton et al., 2012). On the one hand, the theory of institutional logics explains how organizations and individualslogics of behaviors and actions are shaped. On the other hand, complexity raises where different logics co-exist within an environment. That is, heterogeneity is one of the central elements of complexity in institutions as early scholars such as March and Simon (1958) also put forward.
Studying the complexity of institutions could be highly useful in order to understand how institutions change and how isomorphism, new organizational forms and behaviors emerge. Nevertheless, it requires a multi-level approach to capture the dynamics of change and emergence (Padgett, 2017; Padgett & Powell, 2012). If we define institutions as some sort of norms, rules, practices, behaviors and actions, then they should be observed across field, organization and individual levels.
To theorize and develop a better understanding of the dynamics of heterogenous (often conflicting or inconsistent) and interacting logics, rules and norms, we want to to consider and triangulate a variety of approaches, well rooted in the tradition of the social sciences (Cyert & March, 1963) and, in principle, complementary with the epistemology of institutional theory. Despite the current research on institutional complexity, its dynamics are clearly in need further investigations.
In this sub-theme, we call for papers aiming to study institutional complexity through different methods such as, quantitative, experimental, simulations, qualitative and conceptual methods used to capture complexity dynamics. Moreover, we acknowledge empirical settings related to timely phenomena such as sustainability. A large component of such topics are essentially social phenomena that requires a complexity lens (Tainter, 2006, Wells, 2012). With this intention, we hope to not only advance the current literature on the complexity of the institutions, but also to understand the dynamics of the institutions behind timely issues such as sustainability and how those institutions can be organized toward a sustainable future especially knowing the contradiction between commercial, ecological and social logics.
In particular, we look for papers aiming to study complexity in institutions across different levels – individuals, organizations, and field while setting on sustainability and other related problems. Papers may take, but are not limited to the following approaches:

  • Macro level: Field level complexity is centered while abstracting meso and micro levels. At this level, first, the conceptualization of institutional field is important. Then, scholars should investigate how such fields change over time based on meso and micro changes. At a macro level, theories such as institutional logics, categories, etc. can be helpful.

  • Meso level: Organizational meso-level complexity is centered while abstracting macro and micro levels. At this level, concepts such as hybridization, plasticity, dynamic capability, risk taking, cognition, entrepreneurial behavior, innovativeness, and imitation are helpful to understand how organizations change under micro and macro level pressures.

  • Micro level: Individual level complexity is centered while abstracting field and organizational levels. At this level, paradigms such as trust, authenticity, emotions, risk taking, cognition, decision making, and entrepreneurial behavior are useful in order to see how individuals either change under meso and macro pressures or how they contribute to the change at the meso and macro levels.

  • Multi level: Complexity at all levels is concerned. With a certain degree of abstraction at each level, scholars may develop a comprehensive model of institutional complexity, which connects all the levels using coherent theories. This allows for up- and down-wards causation mechanisms to be explored, highlighting emergence from complex adaptive organizational systems (Secchi & Neumann, 2016).



  • Boxenbaum, E., & Jonsson, S. (2017): “Isomorphism, Diffusion and Decoupling.” In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T.B. Lawrence & R.E. Meyer (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 78–99.
  • Cyert, R.M., & March, J.G. (1963): A Behavioral Theory of the Firm. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
  • Greenwood, R., Oliver, C., Lawrence, T.B., & Meyer, R. E. (2017). The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Greenwood, R., Raynard, M., Kodeih, F., Micelotta, E.R., & Lounsbury, M. (2011): “Institutional Complexity and Organizational Responses.” Academy of Management Annals, 5 (1), 317371.
  • March, J.G., & Simon, H.A. (1958): Organizations. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • North, D.C. (1990): Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Padgett, J.F. (2017): “The Emergence of Organizations and States.” In J.N. Victor, A.H. Montgomery & M. Lubell (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Political Networks. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 5989.
  • Padgett, J.F., & Powell, W.W. (2012): The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Powell, W.W., & DiMaggio, P.J. (1991): The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Secchi, D., & Neumann, M. (2017): Agent-Based Simulation of Organizational Behavior. New York: Springer.
  • Tainter, J.A. (2006): “Social Complexity and Sustainability.” Ecological Complexity, 3 (2), 91–103.
  • Thornton, P.H., Ocasio, W., & Lounsbury, M. (2012): The Institutional Logics Perspective. A New Approach to Culture, Structure and Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wells, J. (2012): Complexity and Sustainability. London: Routledge.
Alessandro Narduzzo is Professor of Strategy and Innovation Management at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy. His research focuses on organizational capabilities and their strategic implications. Organizational capabilities are mainly embodied in practices, organizational routines, and artifacts that he investigated through evolutionary and relational approaches, analyzing both behavioral and cognitive dynamics. More recently, his research interests include the capabilities that organizations develop to solve ill-structured problems, such as unexpected emergencies or novel situations. In his empirical research Alessandro applies various methods, including ethnography, computer simulations, field and labs experiments.
Davide Secchi is Associate Professor of Organizational Cognition and Director of the Research Centre for Computational and Organizational Cognition, University of Southern Denmark. His research focuses on the use of computational agent-based modeling for the study of organizational cognition, rationality in organizations, and individual social responsibility. He is author of more than fifty among articles and book chapters, published the monograph “Extendable Rationality” (2011) and edited the book “Agent-Based Simulation of Organizational Behavior” (with M. Neumann, 2016).
Siavash Farahbakhsh is a post-doctoral researcher at the Social Sciences Unit of the Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO), Belgium. His main focus is on providing policy-supportive scientific research and the associated public service to create sustainable agriculture and fisheries from an economic, ecological and social perspective. In doing so, he uses mainly qualitative and computational methods. Qualitatively, Siavash investigates the underlying decision-making models of different actors toward phenomena such as sustainability and circular economy. With a simulation approach, he develops agent-based models to understand how the corresponding institutions are constructed, sustained, and changed.