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A tropological theory of institutionalization

Sillince, J. A. A. and Barker, J. R. (2012) A tropological theory of institutionalization. Organization Studies, 33 (1). pp. 7-38. ISSN 0170-8406

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Abstract

We address the co-evolution of language and material practices during institutionalization by proposing a tropological model of institutionalization that integrates linguistic and practice-oriented approaches into a four-stage sequence: Metaphor enables members to inaugurate institutional change by inspiring and energizing initial movement. Members use metonymy to operationalize the emerging institution by demonstrating how it can become expected practice. Synecdoche is used to facilitate diffusion, standardizing the institution across time and space. When material practice is noticeably contrary to linguistic claims, however, members use irony to bring about deinstitutionalization and generate another inaugurating metaphor. The model further proposes that ritualized actions dramatize each trope, highlighting its symbolic meaning and embedding distinct material practices that serve both to institutionalize the practice and to facilitate boundary crossing to the next trope. The paper goes beyond current literature by offering an integrated theory of trope and ritual as an explanation of how institutions are simultaneously symbolic-linguistic and practice-material.