Broken Rules and Constrained Confusion: Toward a Theory of Meso-Institutions



abstract  Meso-institutions are weak, intermediate forms of institutions that bridge the gap between institutional disintegration and the development of new, more firmly established institutions. Meso-institutions lack the stronger behaviour-guiding signs and symbols of more established institutions, but instead contain fragments of former institutions mixed with emerging, but fragile, components of developing institutions. Institutional disintegration leads to a disorienting period characterized by the dissolution of fundamental, widely held ideologies. This offers an opportunity for actions rather than institutions to guide actions. Because meso-institutions are weak, only after actions are repeated will they solidify into specific patterns that may be retrospectively granted legitimacy. Using archival data supplemented by interviews, we identified three meso-institutional occurrences with the phenomenologically based manifestations of fractured ideology, actions as rules and retrospective legitimization.