Can anyone suggest sociological readings on institutions?

Posted by Abigail Ocobock, community karma 69

Can anyone recommend sociological readings on institutions - specifically about the social power of institutions? My work is on marriage (specifically same-sex marriage) and I want to do some background reading on institutions more broadly, how sociologists think about them, what institutions are meant to do, institutional change etc.

Any suggestions greatly appreciated. I'm happy to share a compiled list if anyone else is also interested in the topic.


over 12 years ago


Brian Cody, community karma 163132

I think the main trajectory to know is Weber => Berger and Luckmann => Powell and Dimaggio. I'm sure organizational theorists will bemoan this destructive reduction, but I think you can triangulate most the literature around these three works on institutionalization. Below is a slightly more fleshed out (or, slightly less destructive reduction) reading list.

Classic institutional theory:

  • Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 1905. Translated by Talcott Parsons, 1958. (also see any works referencing Weber's "iron cage" of institutionalization)
  • Selznick, Philip. TVA and the Grass Roots: A Study of Politics and Organization. University of California Press. 1949.
  • Goffman, Erving. Asylums. Anchor Books. 1961.
  • Berger, Peter L. and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Anchor Books. 1967.
  • Castoriadis, Cornelius. The Imaginary Institution of Society. MIT Press. 1989. (also see Jans Hoas' review in AJS:

 New Institutionalism:

  • Meyer, John W., and Brian Rowan. "Institutionalized Organizations." American Journal of Sociology 87 (1977):340-63.
  • Powell, Walter W and Paul J. DiMaggio. The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis. University of Chicago Press. 1991.
  • Fligstein, Neil. 1996. "Markets as Politics: A Political-Cultural Approach to Market Institutions." American Sociological Review 61:656-673.
  • Scott, W. Richard. 2001. Institutions and Organizations. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (also see a short overview of new institutionalization by Scott on his site:

Also see this syllabus from John Levi Martin on institutionalization and cognition that crosses a wide range of social spheres:

over 12 years ago
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Abigail Ocobock, community karma 69

Thanks Brian. It's helpful to get a good sense of what the main readings are. I think the problem for me is that a lot of this stuff if more organizational and may not really be very helpful for thinking about marriage but I guess I'll have to see! I know of a few readings about whether marriage has become de-institutionalized or not but that's about it. Family scholarship tends not to be very theoretical! 

over 12 years ago
You're right that much of the later institutional literature is about organizations, but earlier works like Burger and Luckmann (and some of Goffman's work, now that I think about it, specifically "Asylums") are about institutionalizing social practices and norms, so worth looking at. That said, check out this syllabus from John Levi Martin on institutionalization and cognition that crosses a wide range of social spheres:
Brian Cody – over 12 years ago
Awesome, thanks! This is all new stuff to me, so really appreciate all the suggestions!
Abigail Ocobock – over 12 years ago
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