In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Neo-institutional Theory

  • Introduction
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals

Management Neo-institutional Theory
Michael Lounsbury, Eric Yanfei Zhao
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0053


Neo-institutional theory is one of the main theoretical perspectives used to understand organizational behavior as situated in and influenced by other organizations and wider social forces—especially broader cultural rules and beliefs. Initial scholarship theorized and documented how the construction of broader cultural rules constituted actors and facilitated organizational isomorphism—the growing similarity of organizations in a field. Subsequently, the scope of the theory was expanded to account for the transformation and change of institutions, as well as the heterogeneity of actors and practices in fields. This has spawned new strands of theorizing such as that related to the institutional logics perspective. While neo-institutional theory is most closely informed by ideas and debates in sociology and management, it also draws from cognitive and social psychology, anthropology, political science and economics.

Reference Resources

Academic Journals are the most common sources of new developments and information; however, there are a few reference resources that students of the field must consider. Scott 2008 is now in its third edition and provides a nice historical overview of this field of research. Greenwood, et al. 2008 provides a variety of chapters that address foundational themes, provide reviews of the literature, and offer guidance for new theoretical developments. Over the years, there have been a wide variety of important edited volumes. Meyer and Scott 1983; Meyer, et al. 1987; Zucker 1988; Powell and DiMaggio 1991; and Scott and Meyer 1994, while dated, provide still-useful touchstones for understanding the development of this body of thought. Greenwood, et al. 2012 provides reprinted versions of many of the most important papers in neo-institutional theory.

  • Greenwood, Royston, Christine Oliver, Kerstin Sahlin, and Roy Suddaby, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2008.

    A wide ranging handbook consisting of multiple invited chapters that review and summarize various topical areas within neo-institutionalism, including theoretical connections to other theoretical domains and concepts. Chapters are highly readable and are of great value to graduate students as well as scholars active or interested in the area. The volume is remarkable in assembling a diverse set of international contributors who address a wide scope of topics.

  • Greenwood, Royston, Christine Oliver, Kerstin Sahlin, and Roy Suddaby, eds. Institutional Theory in Organization Studies. London: SAGE, 2012.

    This is an edited collection of previously published papers in neo-institutional theory. In addition to providing in one place many of the most highly cited publications in the area, a handful of more recent papers that signal new directions for the field are included.

  • Meyer, John W., and W. Richard Scott, eds. Organizational Environments: Ritual and Rationality. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1983.

    An early edited collection that contains both previously published papers and original chapters by John Meyer and W. Richard Scott, with the assistance of Brian Rowan and Terrence Deal. This formative volume contains the seeds of many high-profile neo-institutional publications through the 1980s and into the 1990s.

  • Meyer, John W., G. Thomas, F. Ramirez, and J. Boli, eds. Institutional Structure: Constituting State, Society, and the Individual. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1987.

    An important edited volume by John Meyer and colleagues that lays out key ideas and themes in the emergent World Society variant of neo-institutional theory. The volume addresses broad historical trends of modernity as they relate to organizations and society, including expanding state authority, the constitution of nation-states, and citizens and individuals, as well as rationalization and collective action.

  • Powell, Walter W., and Paul J. DiMaggio, eds. The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

    An important edited volume—referred to as the “orange book” by insiders—consisting of published seminal articles and multiple invited chapters that provide efforts to refine and extend theory or offer empirical studies. This volume set the agenda for neo-institutional research and debate in the 1990s.

  • Scott, W. Richard. Institutions and Organizations: Ideas and Interests. 3d ed. London: SAGE, 2008.

    A highly readable treatment of the development of neo-institutional thought, providing a review of the literature and overview of main concepts. It contains the “three pillars” framework—“normative,” “mimetic,” “cognitive-cultural”—that underpins much institutional scholarship.

  • Scott, W. Richard, and John W. Meyer, eds. Institutional Environments and Organizations: Structural Complexity and Individualism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1994.

    Like Meyer and Scott 1983, this is an edited collection that contains both previously published papers (from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s) and original chapters by W. Richard Scott, John Meyer, and their students.

  • Zucker, Lynne G., eds. Institutional Patterns and Organizations: Culture and Environment. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1988.

    An important edited collection of theoretical and empirical papers by varied North American scholars on neo-institutional theory. It highlights the growing diversity of interest in neo-institutional theory and lays out key problems and directions for future development.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.