Neil Fligstein

American sociologist

Neil Fligstein (born May 23, 1951) is an American sociologist, and Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, known for his work in the field between economic sociology, political sociology and organizational theory, and wrote his most notable works on corporate control, the "architecture of markets," and "markets as politics."


  • Younger and smaller firms would be more likely to adopt the MDF (Multidivisional Form) than older and larger ones.
    • Fligstein, Neil. "The spread of the multidivisional form among large firms, 1919-1979." Advances in Strategic Management 17 (1985): 55-78.

The transformation of corporate control, 1993


Neil Fligstein, The transformation of corporate control. Harvard University Press, 1993.

  • In this book Neil Fligstein takes issue with prevailing theories of the corporation and proposes a radically new view that has important implications for American competitiveness.
    • Abstract
  • I claim that the central goal of managers in the past hundred years has been to make sure their firms survived. To promote survival they proposed various forms of control, both inside and outside the firm. Internally, control was oriented to ensuring that organizational resources were deployed so that top management could be confident that their directives were being executed. Externally, this control was oriented toward establishing stable relations between competitors to promote the survival of their organizations.
    • p. 5
  • They are the basic mechanism of control of the external environment available to managers and entrepreneurs. Organizational fields are not generally benign and cooperative arrangements held in place by a sense of duty or honor the rhetoric and ideology of their proponents might lead one to think so. Instead, they are set up to benefit their most powerful members.
    • p. 6
  • All large organizations have an internal power struggle over the goals and resources of the organization.... In the largest firms, there are two bases of control : formal ownership and authority. Those who own the firm control by virtue of ownership. Authority relations embedded in the organizational structure legitimate how managers can control organizations.
    • p. 10 ; As cited in: François L'Italien, BÉHÉMOTH CAPITAL. Contribution à une théorie dialectique de la financiarisation de la grande corporation. Université Laval, 2012. p. 147 (Many of the following quotes came from this source)
  • Once in place as control perspectives, they are widely shared ways of reducing complexity of the world. They come into the existence in a piecemeal fashion and are articulated by representatives of the largest, most successful firms. They are propagated by the business press and informal links between organizations and then are supported by those organizations and organizational fields.
    • p. 12
  • The finance conception of the modern corporation, which currently dominates, emphasizes control through the use of financial tools which measure performance according to profit rates. Product lines are evaluated on their short-run profitability and important management decisions are based on the potential profitability of each line. Firms are viewed as collections of assets earning differing rates of return, not as producers of given goods. The firm is not seen as being a member of only one industry. Consequently if the prospect of an industry in which it participates declines, the firm disinvests. The problem for management from this perspective is to maximize short-run rates of return by altering product mix, thereby increasing shareholder equity and keeping the stock price high
    • p. 15
  • The basic insight of the finance conception was that such a firm could be more tightly controlled by strict accounting. This progression does not imply, however, that one conception of control caused the emergence of its successor. New conceptions of control evolved out of key interactions among firms and between firms and the state.
    • p. 16
  • The power struggle within the firm determines which conception of control will dominate and how that conception will be translated into concrete strategies. The winners of this struggle will push the organization into a certain direction and maintain that direction as long as their strategies bring positive results.
    • p. 17
  • their actors choose a course of action depending on what their competitors do.
    • p. 33
  • Markets are social constructs that reflect the unique political-cultural construction of their business enterprises and nations.
    • p. 39
  • By 1890, the corporate form had assume its modern guise. The managers and owners of corporations along with the actors in the courts, states, and federal government had helped develop sufficient law and precedence to protect the corporation from almost any attack.
    • p. 55
  • The purpose of the large horizontal (same-product) mergers was to reduce the number of plants and, hence, control production enough to insure a reasonable rate of profit. Mergers would allow a newly created large firm to produce full-time in its most efficient plants, and thereby maintain prices, production, and profits.
    • p. 55
  • The organizational fields of the largest firms continued to be unstable. There were no accepted rules to define how firms could avoid destructive competition, so they attempted to control their markets through various aggressive trade tactics, continued mergers, cartels, getting the federal government to guarantee profitability.
    • p. 89
  • ... did not set out to destroy the large corporation. Instead, each attempted to protect the legitimacy of the system by using existing law against the worst offenders or proposing new laws to change the rules of the system.
    • p. 89
  • A leading firm that controlled a large portion of the output of a given organizational field operated as a price setter. To set prices, the actors in that firm had to control their suppliers and marketing in order to increase their own efficiency and have the potential to cut off other firms from supplies or customers.
    • p. 89
  • The experiences of the war changed both Baruch’s and Wilson’s attitude toward the large firm. Following the war their anti-firm rhetoric was replaced with praise for the large firm’s patriotism and contribution to progress.
    • p. 112
  • The leaders of the large firms dominated by the manufacturing conception saw the key problem as low prices. This meant that they were intent on controlling prices by cutting production. But once prices were stabilized, they were cautious about increasing production for fear that prices would again collapse. Since their competitors had roughly equal production capacities and costs, all would lose by too rapid an increase in production.
    • p. 117
  • The major reasons for diversification were by this time well established : to employ excess plant capacity, to eliminate seasonal humps, to guard against dependency on one industry, to enter new expanding industries, to supplement existing product lines, to use old products to create new product, and to secure a larger share of business in general.
    • p. 128
  • We know that most of the wealth and income of the country is owned by a few large corporations, that these corporations in turn are owned by an infinitesimally small number of people and that the profits from the operation of these corporations go to a very small group with the result that the new opportunities for new enterprise, whether corporate or individual, are constantly being restricted. The committee therefore recommends the vigorous and vigilant enforcement of the antitrust laws, confident that an awakening business conscience will realize the necessity of complete cooperation in the elimination of monopolistic practice.
    • p. 166
  • The Celler-Kefauver Amendment to Section 7 of the Clayton Act has now been made effective by judicial ratification. The Supreme Court has said that the Act means exactly what it says... It prohibits acquisitions, either stock or assets, where competition in any line of commerce in any section of the country may be substantially lessened.
    • p. 177
  • The firm-as-portfolio model implies both a practice (growth through diversification) and a form (the conglomerate). Unrelated diversification entails buying businesses in industries that are neither potential buyers, suppliers, competitors, or complements to the firm’s current business.
    • p. 229
  • The notion that advertising was a sort of corporate luxury, to be indulged in where there are no demands left over, now seems archaic and quaint. Businessmen are increasingly inclined to view the appropriation as a true capital investment – as much so as a new plant.
    • p. 232
  • The marketing director in each department reported directly to the department head and controlled market research and sales. More important, the marketing manager was also responsible for new product development, requesting production schedules, and controlling finished goods inventory.
    • p. 234
  • The farther afield mergers were, the less likely antitrust authorities were to intervene. Growth through mergers required that finance-oriented managers choose their targets carefully. They sought profitable and growing industries where their capital would earn higher rates of return and avoided mergers where the threat of antitrust prosecution might exist.
    • p. 240
  • The forms of social organization produced the market, not the reverse... Instead of markets calling forth efficient forms of social organization, political and social interactions produced the structuring of sociologically effective markets.
    • p. 300

"Social skill and institutional theory." 1997


Neil Fligstein (1997). "Social skill and institutional theory." The American Behavioral Scientist, 40(4): 397.

  • The basis of social skill is the ability to relate to the situation of the ‘other.’ This means that whereas a given strategic actor has interests, he or she must take other people’s interests into account… to imaginatively identify with the states of others.
    • p. 398
  • [Institutional entrepreneurs must] size up the condition of the organizational field and figure out what kinds of action make sense.
    • p. 398

Markets as politics: A political-cultural approach to market institutions, 1996

A conception of control is simultaneously a worldview that allows actors to interpret the actions of others and a reflection of how the market is structured.
- Neil Fligstein, 1996

Fligstein, Neil. "Markets as politics: A political-cultural approach to market institutions." American sociological review (1996): 656-673.

  • I use the metaphor "markets as politics" to create a sociological view of action in markets. I develop a conceptual view of the social institutions that comprise markets, discuss a sociological model of action in which market participants try to create stable worlds and find social solutions to competition, and discuss how markets and states are intimately linked. From these foundations, I generate propositions about how politics in markets work during various stages of market development-- formation, stability, and transformation. At the formation of markets, when actors in firms are trying to create a status hierarchy that enforces noncompetitive forms of competition, political action resembles social movements. In stable markets, incumbent firms defend their positions against challengers and invaders. During periods of market transformation, invaders can reintroduce more fluid social-movement-like conditions.
    • p. 656; Abstract
  • The social structures of markets and the internal organisation of firms are best viewed as attempts to mitigate the effects of competition with other firms.
    • p. 657
  • Property rights, governance structures and rules of exchange are arenas in which modern states establish rules for economic actors. States provide stable and reliable conditions under which firms organize, compete, cooperate and exchange. The enforcement of the laws affects what conceptions of control can produce stable markets. There are political contests over the content of laws, their applicability to given firms and markets, and the extent and direction of state intervention into economy. Such laws are never neutral. They favor certain groups of firms.
    • p. 657
  • Conceptions of control refer to understandings that structure perceptions of how a market works and that allow actors to interpret their world and act to control situations. A conception of control is simultaneously a worldview that allows actors to interpret the actions of others and a reflection of how the market is structured. Conceptions of control reflect market-specific agreements between actors in firms on principles of internal organization (i.e., forms of hierarchy), tactics for competition or cooperation, and the hierarchy or status ordering of firms in a given market. The state must ratify, help to create, or at the very least, not oppose a conception of control.
    • p. 658

The architecture of markets, 2001


Fligstein, Neil. The architecture of markets: An economic sociology of twenty-first-century capitalist societies. Princeton University Press, 2001.

  • The key insight of the approach is to consider that social action takes place in arenas, what may be called fields, domains, sectors, or organized social spaces... Fields contain collective actors who try to produce a system of domination in that space. To do so requires the production of a local culture that defines local social relations between actors.
    • p. 15
  • State building can be viewed as the historical process by which groups outside of the state are able to get domains organized by the state to make rules for some set of societal fields. These rules reflect the interests of the most powerful groups in various fields. Politically oriented social movements are, by definition, outside of some established field of a given state. They are oriented toward either creating a new domain where they will have power, or taking over and transforming an existing domain or even the entire state. At any given moment, there are political projects in the fields that make up states (i.e., “normal politics”) and social movements oriented toward altering incumbents’ ability to set rules.
    • p. 16
  • The main problem actors face is uncertainty caused by difficulties in finding suppliers and customers and in controlling their own firm.
    • p. 16
  • Initial formation of policy domains and the rules they create affecting property rights, governance structures, and rules of exchange shape the development of new markets because they produce cultural templates that determine how to organize in a given society.
    • p. 40
  • Organizational and not financial or ownership embeddedness is likely to be a more important cause of actions of firms than anything else in the case of United States. This means efforts should concentrate on specifying models of relations between firms that focus on intra- and interorganizational processes, such as the construction of strategic action and the cultural frames by which such a construction makes sense.
    • p. 145
  • The key argument is that managers and owners in firms search for stable patterns of interaction with their largest competitors. Once stable patterns prove to be both legal and profitable, firms set up organizational fields that tend to produce and reproduce those patterns.
    • p. 155

Organizations: Theoretical Debates and the Scope of Organizational Theory, 2001


Neil Fligstein. Organizations: Theoretical Debates and the Scope of Organizational Theory. University of California Berkeley, August 2001

  • Organizational theory is one of the most vibrant areas in sociological research. Scholars from many subfields, (medical sociology, political sociology, social movements, education) have felt compelled to study organizational theory because of the obviously important role that complex organizations play in their empirical research. But scholars who do not do organizational theory are often struck at how arcane the debates are within organizational theory. They also think most of organizational theory is about firms and thus, the theory does not seem to have much application to other kinds of social arenas.
    • p. 1
  • Organizational theories have three origins: Max Weber’s original work on bureaucracies which came to define the theory for sociologists, a line of theory based in business schools that had as its focus, the improvement of management control over the work process, and the industrial organization literature in economics. Unlike many fields in sociology, organizational theory has been a multidisciplinary affair since World War II, and it is difficult to understand its central debates without considering its linkages to business schools and economics departments.
    • p. 1

Quotes about Neil Fligstein

  • Neil Fligstein is one of the most productive empirical researchers in economic sociology. His new book [The Architecture of Markets, 2001] can be interpreted as an attempt to answer the questions just mentioned, among others. He argues that “the sociology of markets lacks a theory of social institutions” (p. 8) and “needs to be clarified theoretically” (p. 9). The book’s aim is to give an outline of new theoretical foundations of a sociology of markets. Fligstein points out that “there are real differences in theoretical assumptions” between institutional economics and his version of a sociology of markets (p. 10). The first major part of the book is devoted to an explication and elaboration of a specifically sociological approach to markets called the “political-cultural approach.” In the second part, Fligstein applies this approach to various empirical cases and data of twenty-first-century capitalist societies.
    • Thomas Voss, and Neil Fligstein. "The Architecture of Markets: An Economic Sociology of Twenty-First-Century Capitalist Societies." (2004): 617-620.
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