DOI: 10.2307/3556620 ISSN:

Reconceptualizing Organizational Routines as a Source of Flexibility and Change

Martha S. Feldman, Brian T. Pentland
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

In this paper, we challenge the traditional understanding of organizational routines as creating inertia in organizations. We adapt Latour's distinction between ostensive and performative to build a theory that explains why routines are a source of change as well as stability. The ostensive aspect of a routine embodies what we typically think of as the structure. The performative aspect embodies the specific actions, by specific people, at specific times and places, that bring the routine to life. We argue that the ostensive aspect enables people to guide, account for, and refer to specific performances of a routine, and the performative aspect creates, maintains, and modifies the ostensive aspect of the routine. We argue that the relationship between ostensive and performative aspects of routines creates an on-going opportunity for variation, selection, and retention of new practices and patterns of action within routines and allows routines to generate a wide range of outcomes, from apparent stability to considerable change. This revised ontology of organizational routines provides a better explanation of empirical findings than existing theories of routines and has implications for a wide range of organizational theories.

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