Ontology, levels of society, and degrees of generality: Theorizing actors as abstractions in institutional theory

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7 Scopus citations

Abstract

The term "actor" is a central yet contested construct in institutional theory. Regardless of one's position, institutional theory requires a scaffolding that acknowledges the novelty and diversity of actor analyses and facilitates the commensurability, application, and reach in scholarly uses of the term. We put forth a view of actor as an abstraction that consists of three core elements: (1) the level(s) of society that claims about actors occupy (e.g., from individual to organizational to societal), (2) the degree of generality that claims about actors reach (i.e., from concrete to abstract), and (3) the essential features that constitute actors (i.e., ontology). Our lens pushes beyond the prolific use of the term by providing a foundation for identifying and positioning actorbased studies. It also delineates reference sets of actor-based scholarship, even absent of the term altogether, so as to identify where conceptual specifications converge, expand, complement, or compete. Our lens also provides a means of relating actor-based analyses to one another in ways that distinguish the quality of the actor specification from its novelty or empirical validity. In so doing, we move the agenda forward on the analyses of actor as both explanandum and explanans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)570-595
Number of pages26
JournalAcademy of Management Review
Volume45
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

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