Boundary Labeling During Field Emergence: Inclusion and Exclusion in Nanotechnology

in Organizational Change, Research Day
May 14th, 2012

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Stine Grodal

Strategy and Innovation

Author: Stine Grodal

Field emergence is a pivotal question in organizational theory. Yet, how the boundaries of organizational fields emerge has received little attention. In the literature examples occur of both boundary contraction and expansion during field emergence, but the mechanisms that facilitate this change are still uninvestigated. I address this gap in the literature through an in-depth longitudinal study of the emerging nanotechnology field. I show that boundary labeling plays a pivotal role in field emergence. In particular I show that the oscillation between expansion and contraction within nanotechnology happened through two boundary processes, which relate to the symbolic and social boundary respectively: amending the definition and conferring membership. I identify the mechanism underlying these two boundary processes to account for the change in the boundaries of nanotechnology over time. Lastly, I discuss how the boundary labeling mechanisms place the locus of institutional change both within the mundane everyday actions of regular field participants and dedicated institutional entrepreneurs.