Institutional work taken literally: How institutional logics shift as banking lawyers 'get the deal done'.

Smets, Michael (2007) Institutional work taken literally: How institutional logics shift as banking lawyers 'get the deal done'. In: EGOS 2007: Beyond Waltz - Dances of Individuals and Organization, 5-7 July 2007, Vienna. (Unpublished)

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The role of interest and agency in the creation and transformation of institutions, in particular the “paradox of embedded agency” (Seo & Creed, 2002) have long puzzled institutional scholars. Most recently, Lawrence and Suddaby (2006) coined the term “institutional work” to describe various strategies for creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions. This label, while useful to integrate existing research, highlights institutionalists’ lack of attention to work as actors’ everyday occupational tasks and activities. Thus, the objective of this study is to take institutional work literally and ask: How does practical work come to constitute institutional work?

Drawing on concepts of “situated change” (Orlikowski, 1996) I supplement existing macro-level perspectives of change with a microscopic, practice-based alternative. I examine the everyday work of English and German banking lawyers in a global law firm. Located at the intersection of local laws, international financial markets, commercial logics and professional norms, banking lawyers’ work regularly bridges different normative settings. Hence, they must constructively negotiate contradictory meanings, practices and logics to develop shared routines that resonate with different normative frameworks and facilitate task accomplishment.

Based on observation and interview data, the paper distils a process model of banking transactions that highlights the critical interfaces forcing English and German banking lawyers into cross-border sensemaking. It distinguishes two accounts of cross-border sensemaking: the “old story” in which contradictory practices and norms collide and the “new story” of a synthetic set of practices for collaboratively “editing” (Sahlin-Andersson, 1996) legal documentation. Data shows how new practices gain shape and legitimacy over a series of dialectic contests unfolding at work and how, in turn, these contests shift institutional logics as lawyers ‘get the deal done’. These micro-mechanisms suggest that as practical and institutional work blend, everyday working practices come to constitute a form of institutional agency that is situated, emergent, dialectic and, therefore, embedded.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords: institutional work, embedded agency, situated change, dialectics, professional firms
Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2009 14:24
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2016 12:35

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