MARKET VENTURES, MORAL LOGICS, AND AMBIGUITY: Crafting a New Organizational Form in Post-Socialist China


*Carolyn Hsu, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY 13346; e-mail:


How do institutional entrepreneurs craft new organizational forms under unstable conditions, especially when all of the relevant organizational models have serious liabilities in terms of legitimacy? Previous literature argues that emergent organizational models must adopt existing organizational elements in order to solve three problems: (1) gaining access to resources, (2) exploiting previous competencies, and (3) demonstrating legitimacy to salient audiences. Yet, these three distinct needs often require very different organizational elements associated with diverse, contradictory moral logics. This article, which examines the case of for-profit ventures started by Chinese state organizations in the 1990s, reveals one strategy that entrepreneurs can use to solve this problem—to deliberately increase ambiguity about the organization's central characteristics and its underlying moral logic. This strategy makes it possible for new organizations to solve the problems of resources, competency, and legitimacy by simultaneously adopting (and adapting) contradictory organizational elements.