Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2004


Evolutionary Analysis of Organizations:
Evaluating Six Perspectives on Organizational Change

Dates: 26. - 30. July 2004

Lecturer: Howard E. Aldrich,
Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

The participants:
Ahti Aho, Tone Alm Andreassen, Martha Kold Bakkevig, Daiva Bukantaite, Lena Elisabeth Bygballe, Tommy Clausen, Ana-Maria Dima, Mirko Ernkvist, Stijn Gryp, Lars J. Halvorsen, Johan Hansson, Hanne Heen, Cecilia Jonsson, Minna Kataja, Masingita Khandlhela, Kim Klyver, Celesta Kofman-Bos, Renata Korsakiene, Dag Øyvind Madsen, Christian Moldt-Jørgensen, Sara Louise Muhr, Jacek Pec, Anna-Maria Sarstrand, Jeremy Schulz, Ingebjørg Skarpaas, Wouter Stam, Kim van Nieuwaal, Anne Live Vaagaasar, Monika Wallmon, Shangwu Zhao and Professor Aldrich.

•  Objectives

We will take an evolutionary approach, examing six popular perspectives from sociology, economics, history, and political science in terms of their ability to explain organizational change. The core text for the course is Organizations Evolving (Sage, 1999), which examines the creation, persistence, transformation, and disbanding of organizations of many different types. The course begins by focusing on organizational emergence. We pay special attention to the role of entrepreneurs, not only in their role as founders of organizations but also in term of their place in society. We examine the importance of human and social capital, such as social networks, as well as the role of economic and social inequality. Next, we will focus on social change and models for historical analysis. We then turn to the emergence of new types of organizations and industries, as well as the forces that maintain and reproduce established populations. Last, we turn to the community level of analysis, focusing especially on social networks and interorganizational relations.


We will consider organizations of all types, including: profit and non-profit, commercial and voluntary, large and small, banks and universities, social movements and newpapers. Students will be encouraged to discuss particular organizational sectors that are of interest for their research.

•  Basic Readings

Books to read in preparation for the course. Given in priority order:

All participants are urged to buy these books and read them in advance of the course in order to be well prepared.


•  Lecture Outline and Corresponding Readings

Please find the readings marked with † in the booklet provided by the Oslo Summer School.

Course format

The course consists of ten 2 x 45 minute lectures, 2 per day. For each day, I have assigned readings & preparation questions. You should prepare answers to the day's questions before coming to class so that you get the maximum value from the lectures. You will find tentative answers to all questions in the readings. Many of the questions call for speculation on your part, and you will have to extrapolate from the readings to create an answer.

Lecture 1


We begin by reviewing six Perspectives Fight For Supremacy: institutional sociology, resource dependence, population ecology, transactions cost economics, interpretive views, and organizational learning. We then start with the overarching perspective of the course, as well as a companion perspective: Evolutionary Organization Theory & Organizations as Learning Entities.



•  Why has "evolution" not been central to other perspectives on organizations?

•  Which perspective on organizations does the best job on the issue of "agency"?

•  In what ways is organizational learning different from individual learning?

Lecture 2

Institutional Theory & Ecological Theory

We start with the fastest growing of the perspectives: Institutional Theory Becomes Electrifying. We then consider recent attempts at synthesis: The Great Rapprochement: Ecology and Institutional Theory Collide.



•  Is institutional theory a sly way of sneaking sociology into business schools?

•  Paul Hirsch claims neo-institutional theory ignores conflict and class issues. Does he have grounds for his criticism? (We will return to this issue at the end of the term.)

•  Is this a forced wedding or are there natural affinities between the two perspectives?

•  Are the methodological demands of such integrative & synthetic work greater than for other kinds of organizational research? Why or why not?

Lecture 3

Politics, Economics, and Power

We first consider a strongly political perspective on organizations and then a radically different approach: Birth of the Cool: The Resource Dependence and Interpretive Perspectives. Next, we consider the 'threat' posed to organizational sociology by neo-institutional economics: Invasion of the Body Snatchers: TCE and its Critics.



•  According to resource dependence, are managers important or not?

•  What kinds of actors populate Karl Weick's world? And how does he want theorists to "do theory"?

•  Is Granovetter right about Williamson? Why or why not?

•  How might you design a study that would test a proposition from TCE? What would it look like?

Lecture 4

Emergence: New Organizations & the Founding Process

Under which conditions do individuals and teams attempt to create new organizations? Is it an emergent or a planned process?



•  Why do most organizations start small?

•  Why are radically innovative new organizations so rare? Is it just a semantic issue?

Lecture 5

Organizational Boundaries: Eintritt Verboten, Vietato Ingresso, Stay Out

By what process do organizational founders and members construct & maintain organizational boundaries? How important are boundaries?



•  Under what conditions might organizational leaders desire a more homogeneous membership?

•  Are Fernandez and Weinberg's results "scalable"? That is, do they apply to smaller as well as larger organizations? Why or why not?

Lecture 6

Emergence of a Community of Practice: You Gotta Have Wa

We examine the process by which organizational members learn their roles and develop relationships with other members.


Questions for lecture 6:

•  Why do people do things inside organizations that they were never do, on their own, outside the organizational context?

•  How often do you think the "constructing members" process breaks down? Why?

Lecture 7

Through the Nasjonalgalleriet in Oslo on a bicycle: Abbott's Anguish

To what extent can we take historical conjunctures and trends into account in our understanding of organizational change? Does sociology do a bad job of this? How about other disciplines?



•  According to Abbott, why isn't sociology fun anymore?

•  Identify a period and cohort effect for organizations in the 1990s, and be prepared to back up your choice with evidence.

Lecture 8

Emergence of New Populations and the Reproduction of Old Ones

At the beginning of the new millennium, do new populations still face formidable barriers? Why or why not?



•  Reformulate Strang and Soule's argument, using evolutionary language. What's different, if anything?

•  If I want to change the world, do I have to change its language? Why or why not?

•  How large a role did the state play in the cases we read about for today?

Lecture 9

Analyzing Organizational Communities: An Answer to Abbott's Anguish?

We move up to the community level of analysis and see whether analyses become more contextually & historically sensitive and sophisticated.



•  Are communities really evolutionary units of selection? Why or why not?

•  How much importance would you attribute to entrepreneurs in new communities? Why?

•  Use the inter-population relations' taxonomy from Aldrich, Chapter 11, to classify relations in Castel Goffredo.

Lecture 10

Concluding Lecture: What Have We Learned?

Come prepared with any remaining questions you have about an evolutionary approach to organizational analysis.



•  What did you learn from this course?


Total pages for course: 855.

•  The lecturer

Howard E. Aldrich is Kenan Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina , Chapel Hill , where he won the Carlyle Sitterson Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2002. He is chair of the Department of Sociology and Adjunct Professor of Management in the Kenan Flagler Business School . In 2000, he received two honors: the Swedish Foundation of Small Business Research named him the Entrepreneurship Researcher of the Year and the Organization and Management Division of the Academy of Management presented him with an award for a Distinguished Career of Scholarly Achievement. His latest book, Organizations Evolving (Sage, 1999), won the Academy of Management George Terry Award as the best management book published in 1998-99, and was co-winner of the Max Weber Award from the American Sociological Association's Section on Organizations, Occupations, and Work. He is currently engaged in three research projects: (1) the process by which entrepreneurial teams are founded, focusing on similarity and differences between team members; (2) the contribution that voluntary association membership makes to entrepreneurial success; and (3) how to design courses and classroom activities to promote active learning by students.  

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