Identity realization and organizational forms: Differentiation and consolidation of identities among Arizona's charter schools

Brayden G. King*, Elisabeth S. Clemens, Melissa Fry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Organizations in an emerging organizational population face an identity problem. Collectively, organizations cannot yet rely on a coherent and stable definition of what membership in that new industry means. Individually, each organization must also establish its own distinctive identity to differentiate itself from competitors and secure resources. To explore the relationship between differentiation and the consolidation of recognizable identity element clusters, we examine the emergence of organizational form in the early years of the Arizona charter school industry. This industry is particularly interesting for scholars studying institutional processes because the legislative mandate of the new industry was for schools to experiment and provide education in an unconventional manner. Thus, the legislative definition of the organizational form or template for the charter school identity was intentionally underspecified. Using inductive analysis and regression models, we examine the process of identity realization occurring among charter schools and assess how the local institutional context of charter schools affected the realization process. The analyses demonstrate that new industries may come to be characterized by multiple element clusters; a single label for an organizational form may be linked to different combinations of identity elements. Our results also demonstrate that identity realization at the organizational level occurs through mimicry and differentiation processes and is facilitated by the local institutional context. In particular, the diversity of organizational resources available to industry entrepreneurs enables identity differentiation from one's peers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)554-572
Number of pages19
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Blockmodels
  • Differentiation
  • Educational organizations
  • Form emergence
  • Institutional theory
  • Mimicry
  • Organizational identity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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