Organizing Far from Equilibrium: Nonlinear Change in Organizational Fields

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Authors: A.D. Meyer, V. Gaba, K.A. Colwell

Publication Year: 2005


Journal: Organization Science

Volume: 16

Issue: 5

Categories: Organizational Change, Crisis, Qualitative


Organizational fields undergo upheavals. Shifting industry boundaries, new network forms, emerging sectors, and volatile ecosystems have become the stuff of everyday organizational life. Curiously, profound changes of this sort receive scant attention in organization theory and research. Researchers acknowledge fieldwide flux, emergence, convergence, and collapse, but sidestep direct investigations of the causes and dynamic processes, leaving these efforts to political scientists and institutional economists. We attribute this neglect to our field’s philosophical, theoretical, and methodological fealty to the precepts of equilibrium and linearity. We argue that ingrained assumptions and habituated methodologies dissuade organizational scientists from grappling with problems to which these ideas and tools do not apply. Nevertheless, equilibrium and linearity are assumptions of social theory, not facts of social life. Drawing on four empirical studies of organizational fields in flux, we suggest new intellectual perspectives and methodological heuristics that may facilitate investigation of fields that are far from equilibrium. We urge our colleagues to transcend the general linear model, and embrace ideas like field configuration, complex adaptive systems, self-organizing networks, and autocatalytic feedback. We recommend conducting natural histories of organizational fields, and paying