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Meyer, J. W., & Rowan, B. (1977). Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83(2), 340.

John Meyer is an emeritus professor of sociology at Stanford University. Early in his career he studied schools and school systems from an organizational perspective, and his more recent work applies ideas from organizational theory to the world as a whole. Brian Rowan did his doctoral work with Meyer at Stanford and is now a professor of education at the University of Michigan. These two sociologists were part of a group of scholars who formulated the “new institutionalism,” a refined approach to how organizations are influenced by one another and the broader field.

The Meyer and Rowan article is a classic of organizational theory, and one of the few to draw on examples from education. Their main argument is that there is a decoupling of what actually happens within an organization from many of its formal structures. These formal structures are developed to reflect those of similar organizations in the field (isomorphism) and thus an organization gains the confidence of its constituencies and the broader public. In the years since this article’s publication, organizations generally, and school systems in particular, have become more transparent and porous, and thus this decoupling is less prevalent. Nevertheless, the institutions (and the myths that perpetuate them) continue to have a powerful influence over organizations.

1. What are rationalized institutional rules? What is institutionalization?

2. On page 355, the authors state:
Two very general problems face an organization if its success depends primarily on isomorphism with institutionalized rules. First, technical activities and demands for efficiency create conflicts and inconsistencies in an institutionalized organization’s efforts to conform to the ceremonial rules of production. Second, because these ceremonial rules are transmitted by myths that may arise from different parts of the environment, the rules may conflict with one another. These inconsistencies make a concern for efficiency and tight coordination and control problematic. (p. 355)
There is a lot in this paragraph. Interpret it in layperson’s terms, using examples from your organization.

3. According to the authors, there are four ways that organizations partially resolve inconsistencies between ceremonial elements and day-to-day activities. Describe these four and choose examples from your organization to illustrate two of them.

4. The authors aver that organizations can more fully resolve the tension between the ceremonial and day-to-day through decoupling and the logic of confidence. Describe how this works and provide one example from your organization.

Lipsky, M. (1993). The rationing of services in street-level bureaucracies. In F. Fischer & C. Sirianni (Eds.), Critical studies in organization and bureaucr

Lipsky, M. (1993). The rationing of services in street-level bureaucracies. In F. Fischer & C. Sirianni (Eds.), Critical studies in organization and bureaucracy. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Frederickson, H. G., & Smith, K. B. (2003). The public administration theory primer (Ch. 5: Theories of public management). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Frederickson, H. G., & Smith, K. B. (2003). Theories of public management. In HG. Fredrickson & K. B. Scott, The public administration theory primer (pp. 95-125). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

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Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure
as Myth and Ceremonyl

John W. Meyer and Brian Rowan
Stanford University

Many formal organizational structures arise as reflections of ratio-
nalized institutional rules. The elaboration of such rules in modern
states and societies accounts in part for the expansion and increased
complexity of formal organizational structures. Institutional rules
function as myths which organizations incorporate, gaining legitimacy,
resources, stability, and enhanced survival prospects. Organizations
whose structures become isomorphic with the myths of the institu-
tional environment-in contrast with those primarily structured by
the demands of technical production and exchange-decrease internal
coordination and control in order to maintain legitimacy. Structures
are decoupled from each other and from ongoing activities. In place of
coordination, inspection, and evaluation, a logic of confidence and
good faith is employed.

Formal organizations are generally understood to be systems of coordinated
and controlled activities that arise when work is embedded in complex
networks of technical relations and boundary-spanning exchanges. But in
modern societies formal organizational structures arise in highly institu-
tionalized contexts. Professions, policies, and programs are created along
with the products and services that they are understood to produce rational-
ly. This permits many new organizations to spring up and forces existing
ones to incorporate new practices and procedures. That is, organizations are
driven to incorporat

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