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


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 transac-tions 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 show 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 work-ing practices come to constitute a form of institutional agency that is situated, emergent, dialectic and, therefore, embedded.

Divisions: Aston Business School > Economics, Finance & Entrepreneurship
Aston Business School
Additional Information: Carolyn Dexter Award Nominee (Best International Paper, Academy of Management Meeting, Chicago)
Event Title: 2009 Academy of Management annual meeting
Event Type: Other
Event Dates: 2009-08-07 - 2009-08-11
Uncontrolled Keywords: institutional policies,institutional logics,practice theory,institutional work
PURE Output Type: Paper
Published Date: 2009
Authors: Smets, Michael



Version: Draft Version

Access Restriction: Restricted to Repository staff only

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