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Sociological Institutionalism and Education Scholarship  

Callie Cleckner and Tim Hallett

Research on schools has long been central to the development of institutional theory. Scholars from the tradition now labeled “old institutionalism” used historical case studies of educational institutions to examine how organizations pursue social values and how those values and the organization change in the process. The subsequent shift to new institutionalism entailed a more macro-level approach, as scholars began to view schools as organizations nested within a broader field or environment. Instead of analyzing how organizations pursue values, new institutionalists examine how organizations conform to macro cultural “myths” or “logics” to maintain legitimacy in their respective fields. For instance, national and global education reforms compel schools to adopt remarkably similar organizational forms, despite the diverse needs of schools and their divergent practices. Inhabited institutionalism, which explores the recursive relationships among institutions, organizations, and social interactions, provides a consolidated approach and incorporates a symbolic interactionist lens to examine the meaning and implications of institutions at a more local level. Educational settings have been important sites of empirical investigation in the development of inhabited institutionalism, specifically by showing how schools incorporate cultural mythologies such as “accountability” in context-specific ways.