Opening Fields: A Methodological Contribution to the Identification of Heterogeneous Actors in Unbounded Relational Orders
Institutional scholarship studies how individuals coexist and interact with social structures. Organizations and inter-organizational relations within industries are a central focus of these studies. Hence, empirical research has so far largely relied on the observation of individual actors identified by their organizational attributes, and organizations identified by their industry characteristics. The flourishing of new types of social structures has sent an invitation to observe a broader range of actors beyond organizations stricto sensu, and to define the arena of interest beyond the boundaries of industry membership. However, in practice, these remain a favorite starting point of empirical investigations. In this article, we present a new method for the study of organizational fields that facilitates the identification of a large number and varied types of actors in a given field, provides a characterization of the relational structure of the field, and offers a content analysis on different sub-regions of the field. We test the method by replicating a previous study in the field of ‘social impact of nonprofits’, and show how it can contribute to operationalize mechanisms at play in the field. We conclude by noting that the principles of this method can extend beyond the dataset it is originally built on and facilitate a comparative approach to the study of fields. This contribution should enhance the value of the field as a theoretical construct by extending its operational reach.
Manuscript accepted by Thomas Roulet
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