New institutionalism or neo-institutionalism is a theory that focuses on developing a sociological view of institutions — the way they interact and the way they affect society. It provides a way of viewing institutions outside of the traditional views of economics by explaining why and how institutions emerge in a certain way within a given context.
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- The new institutionalism in organization theory and sociology comprises a rejection of rational-actor models, and interest in institutions as independent variables, a turn toward cognitive and cultural explanations, and an interest in properties of supra-individual units of analysis that cannot be reduced to aggregations or direct consequences of individual’s attributes or motives.
- The new institutionalism focuses instead on nonlocal environments, either organisational sectors or fields roughly coterminous with the boundaries of industries, professions, or national societies. Environments, in this view, are more subtle in their influence; rather than being co-opted by organisations, they penetrate the organisation, creating the lenses through which actors view the world and the very categories of structure, action and thought.
- Contemporary theories of politics tend to portray politics as a reflection of society, political phenomena as the aggregate consequences of individual behavior, action as the result of choices based on calculated self-interest, history as efficient in reaching unique and appropriate outcomes, and decision making and the allocation of resources as the central foci of political life. Some recent theoretical thought in political science, however, blends elements of these theoretical styles into an older concern with institutions. This new institutionalism emphasizes the relative autonomy of political institutions, possibilities for inefficiency in history, and the importance of symbolic action to an understanding of politics. Such ideas have a reasonable empirical basis, but they are not characterized by powerful theoretical forms. Some directions for theoretical research may, however, be identified in institutionalist conceptions of political order.
- Renewed attention to institutions in political science over the past ten to fifteen years is a trend that has been widely recognized, discussed, and debated. This effort to emphasize the theoretical importance of institutions, succinctly expressed by slogans such as ‘bringing the state back in’ and ‘structuring politics’ typically is associated with a school that has come to be known as new institutionalism. New institutionalists have made the case for giving institutions analytical primacy, but substantial disagreements remain over how institutional analysis should be carried out.
- André Lecours (2005), New Institutionalism: Theory and Analysis, p. 3
- Institutional theories of organization provide a rich, complex view of organizations. In these theories, organizations are influenced by normative pressures, sometimes arising from external sources such as the state, other times arising from within the organization itself. Under some conditions, these pressures lead the organization to be guided by legitimated elements, from standard operating procedures to professional certification and state requirement, which often have the effect of directing attention away from task performance... Institutional theories of organization have spread rapidly, a testimony to the power of the imaginative ideas developed in theoretical and empirical work.
- Lynne G. Zucker (1987). "Institutional Theories of Organization," In: Annual Review of Sociology Vol. 13: 443-464