organizational forms

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See form for an explanation distinguishing 'form' or 'organizational form' from terms like M-form, organizational architecture, and inertial theory changes to the organization.

""Forms"" play a role on explaining structure in organizational theory. Organizational form schools of thought include both trait-based and boundary-based approaches (Carroll & Hannan, 2000, p 60). The most popular social scientific approach to organizational forms regards them as clusters of features.

Carroll & Hannan's proposal combines elements of three approaches to population definition (pp 62-65):

  • feature-based -- e.g. clusters of features, such as Weber's (1968) specification of the form of rational-legal bureaucracy. Like feature-based, it begins by specifying potential identities in terms of constraints over features.
  • network-based -- based on patterns of network ties related to resource flows. Like network-based, it emphasizes the importance of the judgments made by outsiders in transforming potential identities into real identities and, under certain conditions, into forms.
  • boundary-based approaches to defining organizational forms based on the identification of distinct boundaries. Processes that create and reproduce boundaries - social network ties, closed flows of personnel among the set of organizations, technological discontinuities, social movements articulating the interests of a set of organizations - are the keys to understanding forms. And like boundary-based, it allows identities to be defined relationally.

In corporate demography, forms -

  • define organizational populations for study
  • form refers to a selection-favored conglomerate of features such as those implying a degree of environmental fitness.
  • differentiates between possible local adaptation steps and deep structural changes

Organizational codes -- explicitly defining form (Carroll & Hannan, 2000, 60-61) --
We propose a new definition of form as a recognizable pattern that takes on rule-like standing. We want to use a term whose denotation and connotation include both cognitive recognition and imperative standing. In early drafts, we phrased the theory in terms of social and cultural ""rules."" We reasoned that rules both specify the objects to which they apply and offer prescriptions about the objects and their behavior. However, the connotation of articulated regulation appears to be so strong that the cognitive dimension gets slighted. So we have chosen to speak of codes.

""Code"" refers both to (1) a set of signals, as in the ""genetic code"" and (2) a set of rules of conduct, as in the ""penal code."" We intend that our use of the term code reflect both meanings.

Identity, forms, codes, and features --
We define identity in terms of social codes (comprised of sets of social rules and signals) that specify the features that an organization can legitimately possess. These codes can be enforced by members of the organization (insiders) or by external actors on which the organization depends for resources and support (outsiders). We claim that one knows that a social code of this kind exists when one observes that departures from the rules (after periods of conformity) cause a devaluation of the organization by relevant outsiders.

What provides the basis of identity? A natural answer says that identity inheres in the constancy of some set of features. Yet, in the case of organizations, at least some changes do not disrupt identity. So, defining identities in terms of permanent features does not work. We conclude that neither the actual values of the features nor the features themselves can be the carriers of identity.

So what do organizations preserve when they maintain their identities? We claim that an identity constrains what an organization would/could do and what is expected and not expected of it. On the formal side, this idea can be expressed as follows: organizations are described in terms of features and constraints over features.

Some identities impose restrictions on features that go beyond the technological and legal constraints. We refer to these restrictions as identity-restricted alternatives. If an identity allows only one value for a particular feature, then an organization cannot change the value of this feature without giving up its identity. These features might be called indispensable properties. Some restrictions that support identity have a conditional nature.

An organization can, of course, claim several identities simultaneously.

Social identities, including organizational identities, are often nested. The lowest level distinguishable identity is the clearest indication of form.

Definition of social identity -- (Carroll & Hannan, 2000, 71)
We need some principle for distinguishing actual (socially meaningful) identities from potential identities. Our proposal builds on the idea that real identities come to have a code-like status in the sense that they consist of sets of rules whose violations have observable consequences (Meyer and Rowan 1977; Jepperson 1991). The rules contained in these codes are often implicit -- sometimes even tacit -- yet they might be fully articulated and explicit.

Definition of organizational forms & form vs. identity -- (Carroll & Hannan, 2000, 73-74)
We define an organizational form as a special kind of identity. Whereas identities meaningfully apply to single organizations, forms applies to classes of organizations. Moreover, whereas identities might be established primarily or even exclusively by evaluations of insiders (think of a secret society whose structure has avoided notice by outsiders), forms are cultural objects. So, in our view, an identity is a form in a period if and only if the following conditions are met:

  1. the identity applied to and was satisfied by a form-specific constant number of organizations at the beginning of the interval; and
  2. violation of applicable identity causes the outsider evaluation functions to drop sharply.

According to this definition, a form is an abstract, code-like specification of organizational identities. The next step ties forms to organizations. An organization is classified by default as having an organizational form if the codes specifying the form apply to the organization by default (i.e., as a code). Our definition of faun implies that if an organization violates the set of identities that specify a form of which it is a ""member,"" then the valuation of the organization by outsiders drops sharply.