The complexity of institutional niches: Credentials and organizational differentiation in a field of U.S. higher education
This paper examines the emergence and differentiation of institutional categories - distinctions of kind that are salient to specific arenas of social life - as an organizationally and historically embedded process. We employ the concept of the institutional niche to describe how multiple orderings of key institutional categories come together to form relationally meaningful regimes within organizational fields. Using social network methods for inducing relational macro-structures, we ground this approach in an analysis of institutional differentiation within a single organizational field, exploring one theoretically salient case. Drawing upon archival data sources we model and interpret the differentiation of institutional categories of credentials within U.S. higher education in agriculture - a field with a putatively egalitarian mission - up to World War II. Findings from this analysis suggest that historical exigencies and organizational dynamics constitute a driving force behind the differentiation of institutional categories, and that this process is tied to the maintenance of symbolic boundaries at multiple levels. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Rawlings, CM; Bourgeois, MD
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