John W. Meyer

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John Wilfred Meyer (born 1935) is an American sociologist and emeritus professor at Stanford University, located in Palo Alto, California. Beginning in the 1970s and continuing to the present day, Meyer has contributed fundamental ideas to the field of sociology, especially in the areas of education, organizations, and global and transnational sociology.


  • Many formal organizational structures arise as reflections of rationalized institutional rules. The elaboration of such rules in modern states and societies accounts in part for the expansion and increased complexity of formal organizational structures. Institutional rules function as myths which organizations incorporate, gaining legitimacy, resources, stability, and enhanced survival prospects. Organizations whose structures become isomorphic with the myths of the institutional environment-in contrast with those primarily structured by the demands of technical production and exchange-decrease internal coordination and control in order to maintain legitimacy. Structures are decoupled from each other and from ongoing activities. In place of coordination, inspection, and evaluation, a logic of confidence and good faith is employed.
  • The authors analyze the nation-state as a worldwide institution constructed by worldwide cultural and associational processes, developing four main topics:
(1) properties of nation-states that result from their exogenously driven construction, including isomorphism, decoupling, and expansive structuration;
(2) processes by which rationalistic world culture affects national states;
(3) characteristics of world society that enhance the impact of world culture on national states and societies, including conditions favoring the diffusion of world models, expansion of world-level associations, and rationalized scientific and professional authority;
(4) dynamic features of world culture and society that generate expansion, conflict, and change, especially the statelessness of world society, legitimation of multiple levels of rationalized actors, and internal inconsistencies and contradictions
  • John W. Meyer, et al. "World society and the nation‐state." American Journal of sociology 103.1 (1997): 144-181.

"Reflections on institutional theories of organization,." 2008[edit]

John W. Meyer. "Reflections on institutional theories of organizations." The Sage handbook of organizational institutionalism (2008): 790-811.

  • Contemporary institutional theorizing in the field of organizations dates back thirty-odd years. This particularly describes what are called new or neo-institutionalisms. These terms evoke contrasts with earlier theories of the embeddedness of organizations in social and cultural contexts, now retrospectively called the ‘old institutionalism’ (Hirsch & Lounsbury, 1997; Stinchcombe, 1997). They went through a period of inattention, so that when institutional thinking came back in force after the 1960s, it seemed quite new.
    Institutional theories, as they emerged in the 1970s, received much attention in the field, along with other lines of thought emphasizing the dependence of modern organizations on their environments. Perhaps surprisingly, they continue to receive attention, and seem to retain substantial measures of vigor.
    • p. 790
  • Most institutional theories see local actors – whether individuals, organizations, or national states – as affected by institutions built up in much wider environments. Individuals and organizations are affected by societal institutions, and national-states by a world society.
    • p. 790
  • Some institutionalist lines of thought, arising particularly in economics and political science, retain very strong notions of society as made up of bounded, purposive, sovereign, and rational actors. In economics, these might be individuals or organizations, operating in market-like environments. In political science, they might be sovereign national-states operating in an almost anarchic environment. Institutionalism, in such schemes, involves the idea that some fundamental institutional principle must be in place before systems of such actors can effectively operate. The classic core principle required in economic versions is property rights (North & Thomas, 1973). In international relations theory it is the principle of nation-state sovereignty (Krasner, 1999).
    • p. 790
  • Moving further away from realist models, we come to some core ideas of modern sociological institutionalism (see DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Powell & DiMaggio, 1991; Scott, 2001; Jepperson, 2002; Hasse & Kruecken, 2005). Here, actors are substantially empowered and controlled by institutional contexts, and these contexts go far beyond a few norms or network structures. Further, these contexts are by no means simply constructions built up by the contemporary actors themselves, but rather are likely to have prior and exogenous historical origins.
    • p. 791-92

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