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Organizational Analysis: Week 7 Questions (Organizational Ecology)


• On Stinchcombe: what would be the other mechanisms for the correlation of age and
organizational structure other than that organizations develop different devices suitable for
attaining the resources in different periods? (Gru)

• Stinchcombe (1965) focuses his analysis on the effects that the social structure has on
organizations: the rate of their creation, the time and specific circumstances determining their
creation, the form they assume, and the consequences they have for life in the community in
which they are embedded, among other factors. The opposite question is also worth asking:
How may organizations affect the social structure that surrounds them? What kinds of tools
are at their disposal to this end? How do organizational forms and social structures co-
evolve? (Luciana)

• stinchcombe uses a relative uncontroversial definition of organizations (top of 2nd col on

p142). he also identifies groups (ethnic or geographic) that have the same characteristics as
organizations, but distinguishes them from formal organizations (p145). on what basis does
he make this distinction? it is particularly perplexing since he explicitly comments on the
intermingling of organizations and the social structure in which they exist. (Vaughn)

• Stinchcombe piece: In what way could isomorphism be explained according to the time
of foundation of the organizations? (Phoenix)

Hannan and Freeman, 1977

• To what extent is "selection" different from "coercive isomorphism"? Since the

"elimination" the authors refer to seem to include not only the "demise" of the organizations
but also the transformation from older structures to new ones. (Phoenix)

• I’m not sure if I understand competition: Is competition greatest when there are lots of
people to compete with (the entire country is running in a race) or is it greatest when the pool
of competitors is small (only the Olympic athletes of a region are racing)? (Mary Carol)

• This week we get a very different lens with which to study organizational fields: instead
of asking, "why are organizations so much the same?" (DiMaggio and Powell 1983), we ask,
"why are there so many kinds of organizations?" (Hannan and Freeman 1977). Are these
approaches good for studying different kinds of phenomena? Are they conflicting
approaches? Can one subsume the other (such as the density theory proposed in the
newspaper study?) (Elizabeth)

• Hannan and Freeman (1977) explain how certain ecological models can apply to
populations of organizations. They say these models assume selection rather than adaptation
in the way organizational populations end up looking the way they do. But couldn't the
population dynamics of organizations look the same regardless of whether adaptation or
selection processes are taking place? What mathematical prerequisites (assumptions,

Organizational Analysis: Week 7 Questions (Organizational Ecology)

constraints) require that the process being modeled is based on selection and not adaptation?
(Or is their point just that the underlying processes could be anything but in the end it will
look like a selection process does in the natural sciences?). (Anshul)

• Are selection and adaptation separate, associated, or one is part of the other? It seemed at
points that the authors spent a lot of time defending the difference between them, but also
argued that one was necessary for the other, or that selection was part of adaptation. What do
you think? Separate? Work together? Combined forces? (Jessica)

• How does Hannan and Freeman's conception of isomorphism, in which the organization
is optimally adapted to the environment, differ from Meyer and Rowan's conception of
isomorphism, in which the organization incorporates elements which are legitimated by the
environment? What differing assumptions do they hold about the relationship between the
organization and the environment that would lead them to differing conclusions about the
organization's fitness upon isomorphising? In general, where can we place organization
ecology in the context of the other theories we have covered? (Sae)

• This stream of literature seem to underestimate the influence organizations have on their
environment. It seems to me that the naturalistic analogy is distorting reality and portraying
environment as a “force major” to organizations whereas in reality they are another force
organizations manage. For instance, how would this theory explain the bail-out deal? (Hila)

• hannan and freeman's discuss the effect of the graininess of firm environments on the
structure firms take. their reasoning implies that they assume that environments oscillate
between two fixed states at different intervals rather than being truly variable. this doesn't
seem a reasonable or even slightly realistic assumption. if environments were truly variable,
the predictions about the relationship between graininess and firm structure would seem to be
reversed from what hannan and freeman propose (fine-grained > polymorphic; coarse-
grained > specialized) (Vaughn)

• Hannan and Freeman (1977) talk about how in adaptation phenomena the organization is
internally optimizing whereas in selection phenomena the environment is optimizing (by
selecting good organizations and killing bad ones). They go on to explain how to model
selection processes in organizational populations but do not discuss the specific processes
involved in selection. Stinchcombe's (1965) piece is almost completely about these specific
processes of selection. Are the processes of selection illustrated by Stinchcombe the main
processes that we should be aware of (eg. motivations to organize, liability of newness, etc)?
What are other selection processes central to the ecological approach to organizational
analysis? (Anshul)

Mechanisms and Measurement

• Do Hannan and his collaborators in organizational ecology apply a teleological

imputation to the existence of prevalent forms, judging that they have been selected by the
environment for fitness? Such thinking without sufficient analysis of the actual causal
mechanism is quite dangerous and prone to error: for example, they appear to commit this

Organizational Analysis: Week 7 Questions (Organizational Ecology)

error when describing the M-form (polymorphism) as optimal since the environment that
conglomerates face is characterized by coarse-grained uncertainty. Of course, when the
conglomerate form was subsequently discredited and de-institutionalized, without any
corresponding change in the coarse-grained nature of the environmental uncertainty. (Vince)

• Related to the above point, Hannan and his collaborators have not directly studied
legitimation and competition, i.e. the actual selection processes asserted. Does observing
population organization counts over time and fitting a curvilinear model onto that pattern
prove the selection process of competition and the opposite effect of legitimation? Certainly,
alternative hypotheses that also predict a curvilinear trend over time (and there are many,
some quoted from Stinchcombe for instance) are not disproved. Yet it appears that is the
extent of the organizational ecologist’s methodology and proof. (Vince)

• Organizational ecologists’ theory has similar problems with Darwinian arguments which
is less adequate to explain why certain species have had better survival properties. I am
wondering what ecologists’ findings in the population level tell about the characteristics of
organization which have survived. What is the internal mechanism that makes the survival of
certain types of organization more likely? Is it efficiency or power to control the relationship
with environments, or anything else? (Dong Ju Lee)

• In density dependence models, it seems that a more reasonable input to legitimation

processes as described in the literature would be a measure of organizational activity, not
numbers of organizations. Is there any reason other than data availability to model entry as a
consequence of populations of organizations, rather than fields of activity? (Matt)

• Hannan and Freeman frequently justify the inferential approach of their models to
legitimacy and competition on the basis that it is impossible to observe these processes
directly in the way they are described in Stinchcombe (1965), for example. But H&F suggest
that the institutionalists have been hypocritical, and that their studies do not effectively
identify legitimacy, either. Twenty years later, has the increase in the availability of data
resulting from digitization and globalization gotten us any closer to ideal measures? Or are
the constructs of legitimacy and competition inherently unmeasurable? (Matt)

Ecological Studies

• Carroll and Hannan (1989) present three alternative scenarios that might explain the rise
and decline of organizational populations: (1) the exploitation of ephemeral resources, (2) the
obsolesence that comes from the historical specificity of organizational forms, and (3) the
density-dependent processes of legitimation and competition. In their study of newspaper
organizations, they attempted to explersain the significance of the third and to control for the
first two to the greatest extent possible. However, these three effects are worth analyzing
jointly. How do ephemeral resources, quasi-obsolete technologies, and density combine to
explain the rise and fall in members of a population? Do all effects move in the same

Organizational Analysis: Week 7 Questions (Organizational Ecology)

direction, reinforcing each other, or may they sometimes move in different directions? Why
and when would this happen? (Luciana)

• In both the newspaper study and the automobile study, population age seemed to have
complicated the effects of density on organization founding and mortality in a way not
predicted by density theory. What explanations do organizational ecologists offer for these
effects? What might alternative explanations be and with what implications for their theory?

• I thought Hannan et al.'s (1995) piece on density dependence in multinational context

was very interesting in that they theorize on the national level and international level. The
authors contend that competitive environments are more local than institutional
environments, and therefore legitimation operates more broadly than competition. For
example, nation states often have laws and regulations that limit competitive threats from the
outside, but they cannot stop cultural images about organizational forms to spread to other
countries and consolidate and spread legitimation. I think it is original and interesting to
theorize about competition and legitimation on different levels and they contribute to the
theory of density of dependence. However, I find the concept of "cultural images" as the
mechanism that spreads legitimation of organizational forms somewhat unclear. In general, I
agree that "legitimation would be driven by the overall density of European automobile
producers, while competition would be influenced by each country's own density of
producers." But are we convinced that this process is occurring through the spread of cultural
images about an organizational form? If so, how can we measure this? And how can we
capture the process? (Sabrina)

• The size of environment itself (land size?) is an important factor determining the
predictability of ecological explanations: in Carroll and Hannan (1989), density does not
show significant effect on mortality for small cities, while in Hannan et al. (1995),
competition has strong impact on founding for small countries. However I found that the size
of environment, which should be related to the size of resource, is less theorized in their
works. They write at the page 522 in the Hannan et al. (1995) that the carrying capacity of a
society depends on the size of economy. If so, in what way does it matter? (Dong Ju Lee)

Boundaries and Applicability

• What are the important differences between networks and organizations of they are both
created both social structure and also potentially change social structure? Is it the
environment that links them (or affects them both in potentially similar ways) and allows us
to apply theory from both types of structure (networks and organizations) to analyze each
other? (Jessica)

• Carroll and Hannan say that competition has a more powerful effect on founding than it
does on mortality in the newspaper industry, but is this universally true? Why might this not
be the case in other industries (and what are those industries)? (Aaron)

Organizational Analysis: Week 7 Questions (Organizational Ecology)

• Given that Carroll and Hannan’s (1989) “Density Dependence in the Evolution of
Newspaper Populations” was published over 20 years ago, how might their findings be
different if they were to include newspaper data from the intervening years? (Mary Carol)

• In relation to Carroll and Hannan’s (1989) study on the evolution of newspaper

populations, how can population ecology explain legitimization and competition in the digital
age- including digital versions of newspapers? What would the findings look like if the
authors were to take into account other “news sources” (ie: print newspaper, online
newspaper, basic TV channels, cable news stations, traditional radio, podcasts, etc.) (Mary

• The connection between the density of organizations and "social solidarity" or integration
within a specified geographic area is very interesting to me, as it is slightly counter-intuitive,
given the image of organizations as impersonal bureaucracies. I wonder if the concentration
of organizations within a neighborhood impacts the variance of "confidence in
social/political institutions" among residents of that neighborhood, net of socioeconomic
factors. My hypothesis is that in neighborhoods with high organizational density, increased
social solidarity (a mediating variable) creates similar views among neighborhood residents,
such as levels of confidence in institutions (social/political). That is, social solidarity,
spawned by organizational density, creates uniform social attitudes. (Mazen)

• Hannan & Freeman argue that organizational forms change through selection instead of
adaptation. Organizations have structural inertia that hinders adaptation when the
environment changes. If an organization becomes incompatible with the environment, it will
fail, particularly when more “fit” competition enters the market. These days, organizations
have become so networked together and dependent on each other that we have seen
unprecedented moved by the government to save companies out of fear for the entire industry
(e.g. banking, US autos to a lesser degree). In light of this, what aspects of population
ecology are still true and which are not? Does population ecology need a completely laissez
faire market to work? (Aaron)

• Where would NGO’s that cross boundaries, such as the Red Cross, the World Bank, or
Doctors without Borders, fit in the Hannan/Dundon/Carroll/Torres analysis? (Jennifer)

• The Hannan and Freeman article on population ecology describes “strong inertial
pressures on structure”, but they do not provide an operational definition of “structure”
itself. How would they explain the interlocking, overlapping, reconstituted arrangements that
describe so much of organizational life these days, and for which there is an entire
vocabulary – for example – subsidiaries, divisions, restructuring, reorg, project teams,
matrix, LBO, embedded account teams, executive committee, etc., etc.? Are these not
structures too? Or would Hannan and Freeman call them something else – and how would
they then differentiate “organization” from these arrangements? (Jennifer)