Categories, Identities, and Cultural Classification: Moving Beyond a Model of Categorical Constraint


Address for reprints: Mary Ann Glynn, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA (


Categorization processes have gained currency in organizational theory. Categories are endemic to organizations and markets, serving as touchstones for organizational identity claims and for audience attention, legitimation, and valuation. Durand and Paolella argue for an expansion of current perspectives on categories, particularly that of prototype theory. Although we agree in spirit, we advocate an expansion of their perspective, which seems to focus primarily on the cognitive aspects of categorization and the force of their constraint, particularly at the individual level of analysis. We suggest three revisions to Durand and Paolella's arguments in order to extend the conversation. First, we advocate that categorization processes might usefully be understood by socio-cultural perspectives that explicitly consider the role of audiences and the embeddedness of categories in wider classification systems. Second, we connect categorization processes to identity formation and maintenance at the levels of both the organization and the market. Third, we move beyond the constraining power of categories to consider their generative capabilities in processes of emergence and change. Overall, we discuss these in the context of organizational identities and cultural classification systems.