In sociology and organizational studies, institutional theory is a theory on the deeper and more resilient aspects of social structure. It considers the processes by which structures, including schemes, rules, norms, and routines, become established as authoritative guidelines for social behavior. Different components of institutional theory explain how these elements are created, diffused, adopted, and adapted over space and time; and how they fall into decline and disuse.
In defining institutions, according to William Richard Scott (1995, 235), there is “no single and universally agreed definition of an ‘institution’ in the institutional school of thought.” Scott (1995:33, 2001:48) asserts that:
Institutions are social structures that have attained a high degree of resilience. [They] are composed of cultural-cognitive, normative, and regulative elements that, together with associated activities and resources, provide stability and meaning to social life. Institutions are transmitted by various types of carriers, including symbolic systems, relational systems, routines, and artifacts. Institutions operate at different levels of jurisdiction, from the world system to localized interpersonal relationships. Institutions by definition connote stability but are subject to change processes, both incremental and discontinuous.
According to Scott (2008), institutional theory is “a widely accepted theoretical posture that emphasizes rational myths, isomorphism, and legitimacy.” Researchers building on this perspective emphasize that a key insight of institutional theory is imitation: rather than necessarily optimizing their decisions, practices, and structures, organizations look to their peers for cues to appropriate behavior.
According to Kraft’s Public Policy (2007): Institutional Theory is “Policy-making that emphasizes the formal and legal aspects of government structures.”
There are two dominant trends in institutional theory:
- Old institutionalism
- New institutionalism