The role of agency in sociocultural evolution: Institutional entrepreneurship as a force of structural and cultural change

Thesis Eleven 127 (1):52-77 (2015)
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Abstract

Inspired by Weber’s charismatic carrier groups, Eisenstadt coined the term institutional entrepreneur to capture the rare but epochal collective capable of reorienting a group’s value-orientations and transferring charisma, while making them an evolutionary force of structural and cultural change. As a corrective to Parsons’ abstract, ‘top-down’ theory of change, Eisenstadt’s theory provided historical context and agency to moments in which societies experienced qualitative transformation. The concept has become central to new institutionalism, neo-functionalism, and evolutionary-institutionalism. Drawing from the former two, a more robust theory of institutional entrepreneurship from an evolutionary-institutionalist’s perspective is posited. In essence, entrepreneurs formulate institutional projects with dual logic: a collective side focused on innovation where efforts are directed towards organizational symbolic mechanisms of integration and a self-interested side directed towards resource independence, monopolization, mobility, and power-dependence. While outcomes vary based on numerous environmental factors, success leads to greater structural/symbolic independence and ability to reconfigure physical-temporal-social-symbolic space.

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