Source: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 83, No. 2 (Sep., 1977), pp. 340-363 Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2778293 .
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Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure
as Myth and Ceremonyl
John W. Meyer and Brian Rowan
Many formal organizational structures arise as reflections of rationalized institutional rules. The elaboration of such rules in modern states and societies accounts in part for the expansion and increased complexity of formal organizational structures. Institutional rules function as myths which organizationsincorporate,gaining legitimacy, resources, stability, and enhanced survival prospects. Organizations whose structures become isomorphic with the myths of the institutional environment-in contrast with those primarily structured by the demands of technical production and exchange-decrease internal coordination and control in order to maintain legitimacy. Structures are decoupled from each other and from ongoing activities. In place of coordination, inspection, and evaluation, a logic of confidence and good faith is employed.
Formal organizationsare generally understood to be systems of coordinated and controlled activities that arise when work is embedded in complex networks of technical relations and boundary-spanningexchanges. But in modern societies formal organizational structures arise in highly institutionalized contexts. Professions, policies, and programs are created along with the products and services that they are understoodto producerationally. This permits many new organizations to spring up and forces existing ones to incorporatenew practices and procedures.That is, organizationsare driven to incorporate the practices and procedures defined by prevailing rationalizedconcepts of organizationalwork and institutionalized in society. Organizationsthat do so increase their legitimacy and their survival prospects, independent of the immediate efficacy of the acquired practices and procedures.
Institutionalized products, services, techniques, policies, and programs function as powerful myths, and many organizations adopt them ceremonially. But conformity to institutionalized rules often conflicts sharply 1 Work on this paper was conducted at the Stanford Center for Research and Development
in Teaching (SCRDT) and was supported by the National Institute of Education (contract no. NE-C-00-3-0062). The views expressed here do not, of course, reflect NIE positions. Many colleagues in the SCRDT, the Stanford Organizations Training Program, the American Sociological Association's work group on Organizations and Environments, and the NIE gave help and encouragement. In particular, H. Acland, A. Bergesen, J. Boli-Bennett, T. Deal, J. Freeman, P. Hirsch, J. G. March, W. R. Scott, and W. Starbuck made helpful suggestions.
AJS Volume 83 Number 2
Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony
with efficiency criteria and, conversely, to coordinate and control activity in order to promote efficiency undermines an organization's ceremonial conformityand sacrificesits support and legitimacy. To maintain...