How Institutions Think

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How Institutions Think
How Institutions Think.jpg
AuthorMary Douglas
SubjectCultural anthropology
PublisherSyracuse University Press
Publication date
Preceded byIn the Active Voice (1982) 
Followed byConstructive Drinking (1987) 

How Institutions Think (first published 1986) is a book that contains the published version of the Frank W. Abrams Lectures delivered by the influential cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas at Syracuse University in March 1985.


In How Institutions Think, Douglas offers a critique of the rational choice theory [1] rooted in social anthropology and a structural functionalist approach. She aims at explaining how humans cooperate, and the role of building and maintaining institutions to shape ways of thinking useful to cooperation. To achieve this, she builds on the work of Émile Durkheim and Ludwig Fleck and examples drawn from anthropology.[2]

She argues that rational choice theory that humans cooperate because this is individually advantageous can not explain empirically observed phenomena, such as self-sacrifice or non-authoritarian, 'latent', groups. The book aims at discussing alternative explanations, such as the building of analogies to support common understandings from early human communities.[3]


In 2019, Marc Ventresca argued this is Douglas' best-known book.[4]



  1. ^ Hacking, Ian (1986-12-18). "Knowledge". London Review of Books. 08 (22). ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  2. ^ Kearl, Michael C. (1988). "How Institutions Think.Mary Douglas". American Journal of Sociology. 94 (1): 206–208. doi:10.1086/228980. ISSN 0002-9602.
  3. ^ Logue, Danielle M; Clegg, Stewart; Gray, John (2016-07-01). "Social organization, classificatory analogies and institutional logics: Institutional theory revisits Mary Douglas". Human Relations. 69 (7): 1587–1609. doi:10.1177/0018726715614637. hdl:10453/43962. ISSN 0018-7267.
  4. ^ "46: Classics of Management and Organization Theory - AoM 2018 Workshop LIVE". Talking About Organizations Podcast. 2018-09-12. Retrieved 2021-03-20.