Institutional Isomorphism Revisited: Convergence and Divergence in Institutional Change*


  • *

    Address correspondence to: Jens Beckert, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Paulstr. 3, 50676 Köln, Germany. I would like to thank Marie-Laure Djelic, Sigrid Quack, Richard Scott, Wolfgang Streeck, Anne Tempel, Christine Trampusch, and the anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments.


Under the influence of groundbreaking work by John Meyer and Brian Rowen, as well as Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell, over the last 30 years research in the new sociological institutionalism has focused on processes of isomorphism. I argue that this is a one-sided focus that leaves out many insights from other institutional and macrosociological approaches and does not do justice to actual social change because it overlooks the role played by divergent institutional development. While the suggestion of divergent trends is not new, there have been few attempts to integrate divergence into the theoretical premises of the new sociological institutionalism. Based on the typology proposed by DiMaggio and Powell, I show that the mechanisms identified by them as sources of isomorphic change can support processes of divergent change as well. The theoretical challenge is to identify conditions under which these mechanisms push institutional change toward homogenization or divergence.