The Typical Tools for the Job: Research Strategies in Institutional Analysis


*The authors contributed equally to the formulation and writing of this paper. Address correspondence to either author: Elisabeth Clemens, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1126 E. 59th Street, Chicago IL 60637. E-mail: Marc Schneiberg, Department of Sociology, Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., Portland, OR 97202. E-mail: For all their comments, criticisms, and suggestions, we would like to thank Sun-ki Chai, James Cook, Frank Dobbin, Anders Forssell, Heather Haveman, Michael Hechter, Ron Jepperson, Dan Jones, Woody Powell, Sarah Soule, Marc Ventresca, the members of the Social Organization Seminar at the University of Arizona, and participants at the conference on Institutional Conflict and Change, held at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.


Institutional theory rests on a rejection of reductionism. Instead of reducing higher-order phenomena to aggregates of behavior, institutional theory reverses this causal imagery. It attributes the behavior of organizations and nation-states to contextual factors, notably organizational fields, national institutional systems, or the emerging global polity, Institutionalists, particularly within sociology, also emphasize specifically cultural mechanisms for these higher-order effects. This article develops the methodological foundations for these claims. It surveys and elaborates research designs for documenting higher-order effects and for differentiating the cultural mechanisms of institutional influence. It also presents new strategies for assessing multiple logics and the coherence of institutional orders, moving beyond adoption and diffusion studies to analyze the dynamic and contested processes of institutionalization and institutional change.