Isomorphism (sociology)

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In sociology, an isomorphism is a similarity of the processes or structure of one organization to those of another, be it the result of imitation or independent development under similar constraints. The concept of institutional isomorphism was primarily developed by Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell. The concept appears in their 1983 paper The iron cage revisited: institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields.[1] The term is borrowed from the mathematical concept of isomorphism.

Isomorphism in the context of globalization, is an idea of contemporary national societies that is addressed by the institutionalization of world models constructed and propagated through global cultural and associational processes. As it is emphasized by realist theories the heterogeneity of economic and political resource or local cultural origins by the micro-phenomenological theories, many ideas suggest that the trajectory of change in political units is towards homogenization around the world. Policy convergence is another example of isomorphism across nation states, for example in the European Union where states harmonise policies driven by structural pressures such as directives, regulations, cohesion funds and collaboration mechanisms.[2] This is in contrast to theories of policy transfer or diffusion which generally give more agency to states in adopting policies.[2]

Types of institutional isomorphism[edit]

There are three main types of institutional isomorphism: normative, coercive and mimetic. The development that these three types of isomorphism can also create isomorphic paradoxes that hinder such development. Specifically, these isomorphic paradoxes are related to an organization's remit, resources, accountability, and professionalization.[3]

Normative isomorphic change is driven by pressures brought about by professions. One mode is the legitimization inherent in the licensing and crediting of educational achievement. The other is the inter-organizational networks that span organizations. Norms developed during education are entered into organizations. Inter-hiring between existing industrial firms also encourages isomorphism. People from the same educational backgrounds will approach problems in much the same way. Socialization on the job reinforces these conformities.

Normative isomorphism is in contrast to mimetic isomorphism, where uncertainty encourages imitation, and similar to coercive isomorphism, where organizations are forced to change by external forces.

Coercive isomorphic change involves pressures on an organization from other organizations in which they are dependent upon and by cultural expectations from society. Some are governmental mandates, some are derived from contract law or financial reporting requirements. "Organizations are increasingly homogeneous within given domains and increasingly organized around rituals of conformity to wider institutions".[4] Political organizations normalize this concept definitively. Coercive isomorphism is in contrast to mimetic isomorphism, where uncertainty encourages imitation, and similar to normative isomorphism, where professional standards or networks influence change. Large corporations can have similar impact on their subsidiaries.

Mimetic isomorphism in organization theory refers to the tendency of an organization to imitate another organization's structure because of the belief that the structure of the latter organization is beneficial. This behavior happens primarily when an organization's goals or means of achieving these goals is unclear.[1][5][6] In this case, mimicking another organization perceived as legitimate becomes a "safe" way to proceed. An example is a struggling regional university hiring a star faculty member in order to be perceived as more similar to organizations that are revered (e.g., an Ivy League institution). Mimetic isomorphism is in contrast to coercive isomorphism, where organizations are forced to change by external forces, or normative isomorphism, where professional standards or networks influence change. The term had been applied by companies such as McKinsey & Co as part of their recommendations to companies undergoing restructuring or other organizational transformations.[7]

Such similarities so called isomorphic changes are found by researchers, explaining, despite all possible configurations of local economic forces, power relationships, and forms of traditional culture it might consist of, a previously isolated island society that made contact with the rest of the globe would quickly take on standardized forms and appear to be similar to a hundred other nation-states around the world. Isomorphic developments of same conclusion are reported from nay nation-states' features, that is, constitutional forms highlighting both state power and individual rights, mass schooling systems organized around a fairly standard curriculum, rationalized economic and demographic record keeping and data systems, antinatalist population control policies intended to enhance national development, formally equalized female status and rights, expanded human rights in general, expansive environmental policies, development-oriented economic policy, universalistic welfare systems, standard definitions of disease and health care, and even some basic demographic variables. These isomorphisms are difficultly accounted by theories reasoning from the differences among national economies and cultural traditions, however, they are sensible outcomes if nation-states are enactments of the world cultural order.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b DiMaggio J., Pau; Powell, Walter W. (1983). "The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields". American Sociological Review. 48 (2): 147–160. doi:10.2307/2095101. JSTOR 2095101 – via JSTOR.
  2. ^ a b Stone, Diane (2012). "Transfer and translation of policy". Policy Studies. 33 (6): 483–499. doi:10.1080/01442872.2012.695933. ISSN 0144-2872.
  3. ^ Caemmerer, Barbara, and Marck, Michael (2009). The Impact of Isomorphic Pressures on the Development of Organisational Service Orientation in Public Services. Paper presented at Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy, 30 November – 2 December, Melbourne, Australia.
  4. ^ Dimaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48(2), 147–160.
  5. ^ Han, Shin-Kap (1994). "Mimetic Isomorphism and Its Effect on the Audit Services Market". Social Forces. 73 (2): 637–664. doi:10.2307/2579824. ISSN 0037-7732.
  6. ^ Li, Shu-Chu Sarrina; Lee, Chen-Yi (1 September 2010). "Market uncertainty and mimetic isomorphism in the newspaper industry: a study of Taiwan's mainstream newspapers from 1992 to 2003". Asian Journal of Communication. 20 (3): 367–384. doi:10.1080/01292981003802218. ISSN 0129-2986.
  7. ^ McDonald, Duff. The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business (2013). 57-58.
  8. ^ Lechner and Boli, Frank J. and John (2012). The Globalization Reader (4th ed.). Wiley-Blackwell, A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. p. 81.
  9. ^ Meyer, Boli, Thomas, and Ramirez, Johm, John, George M., and Francisco O. (1997). "World Society and the Nation-State". American Journal of Sociology. 103: 144–181. doi:10.1086/231174. S2CID 145389958.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)