John Meyer wrote a terrific review paper entitled “World Society, Institutional Theories, and the Actor.” It can be downloaded here.
It is John’s most refined, clear statement about institutional theory to date. A definite “must-read.”
The review draws a contrast between cultural/phenomenological institutionalisms — which treat actors as socially constructed — versus “realist” institutionalisms which tend not to. In John’s imagery, one might think of individuals or organizations as “stage actors” (who enact scripts) as opposed to a more conventional social-scientific or economistic view of actors with a priori preferences.
As a student in the 1990s, I can remember wading through “Ontology and Rationalization in the Modern Western Cultural Account”. I spent quite a long time puzzling through that sweeping, profound, and sometimes cryptic chapter. Reading this new review, I can’t help but be amazed at how much John’s vision has grown and become more clear. The core ideas were already there in the 1987 chapter, but there was much fleshing-out to be done.
An excerpt from the 2010 review:
The Modern Social Order
“Under the cultural and associational conditions outlined above, the outlines of modern society become clear. The scriptwriting Others of the world prescribe agentic actorhood for individual persons. And they prescribed very agentic actorhood for the organizations and nation-states built by these persons. Actorhood means the enhanced standing of the entities involved and their empowered comprehension of the scientized and rationalized environment in which they are to act.” p. 9
I included this excerpt partly because it is impressive to have see anyone try to sum up the entire modern social system in a paragraph. Also, it shows that John still has the ability to be simultaneously sweeping, profound, and cryptic. 🙂