E.J. (Jacomijn) Klitsie

RSM - Rotterdam School of Management
Erasmus University Rotterdam
ERIM Doctoral Student
Field: Strategy & Entrepreneurship
Affiliated since 2012

PhD Project

Strategic renewal in institutional contexts: the paradox of embedded agency

Organizations’ simultaneous urge to change as well as to maintain stable is a broadly studied
paradox in management literature (e.g., March, 1991; Leana and Barry, 2000; Barreto and
Baden-Fuller, 2006; Klarner and Raisch, 2013). Change is pursued to achieve or maintain
competitive advantage while a desire to reduce uncertainty drives resistance to change. Managers
and firms will be better able to influence institutions if they understand how they are formed as
well as how they are changed.
If actors are subject to processes that make them similar, how are they able to devise and carry
out new practices? Institutional entrepreneurship literature attempts to address this paradox by
combining institutional theory with the concept of agency, and investigating how new
institutions are formed or existing ones are transformed (Maguire et al, 2004). Institutional
entrepreneurship literature often explains institutional entrepreneurship as the result of
circumstances that allow a company to vary its behavior, either due to network position
(Greenwood and Suddaby, 2006) or paradigm uncertainty (a.o.Dorado, 2005; Seo and Creed,
2002). Yet this variation in behavior is also bounded by an actor’s embeddedness. Leca and
Naccache (2006: 628) note that ‘to remain coherent with institutional theory, a model of
institutional entrepreneurship must provide a model of change in which actors can create and
change institutions without disembedding from the social world.’ A theory that incorporates a
firm’s embeddedness as well as motivation for change is not yet fully formed.
Institutional entrepreneurship literature has been criticized for using an overly voluntaristic point
of view (Battilana et al., 2009). Especially accounts at the organizational level of analysis often
portray institutional entrepreneurs as a specific class of people (Garud et al. 2002; Greenwood et
al. 2002; Lounsbury 2002; Maguire et al, 2004). However, as Lounsbury and Crumley (2007:
1007) state ‘a more complete account of institutional entrepreneurship (…) would attend not
only to the variety of actors that contribute to a particular change to be explained, but also to
their relation to wider meaning systems and theories embedded in cultural elements such as
categories, conventions, and discourse’. More recent work focuses on macro level, where the
institutional conditions that frame engagement are taken into account (Dorado, 2005). These
include technological disruptions (Greenwood & Suddaby, 2006) and policy and regulatory
changes (Kellogg, 2009). In a review of institutional entrepreneurship literature, Battilana et al.
(2009: 90) conclude that the levels of analysis used by scholars in this field should be expanded.
The authors urge future research to include individual and community levels next to
organizational and organizational field-level research. Dorado (2013: 534) adds that ‘a focus on
macro-conditions (…) advances our understanding of institutional entrepreneurship by
explaining why individuals can become institutional entrepreneurs, not why they will’. Instead,
the author suggests that the group-level is most appropriate to analyze institutional
entrepreneurship as it expands understanding of the conditions under which individuals assume
the risks of institutional entrepreneurship (Dorado, 2013). These varying views on the
appropriate level of analysis to study institutional entrepreneurship indicate that, although many
instances of the phenomenon have been analyzed, there is controversy as to the mechanisms that
underly the occurrence as well as the success of institutional entrepreneurship. As most scholars
focus on one level of analysis, studies that attempt to remedy this controversy are sparse. In order
to address this gap in the literature, the objective of this PhD project is;
To increase academic and managerial understanding of the drivers and performance effects of
institutional entrepreneurship at micro-, meso- and macro-levels of analysis
To attain this objective, we investigate institutional entrepreneurship at several levels of analysis. To
structure our enquiry, we formulate a number of research questions that are addressed in four related
and complementary studies, see Table 1. The four studies in this table together constitute the PhD
thesis and are interrelated through their aim to further the managerial and academic understanding of
institutional entrepreneurship. In addition the studies are complementary in that they approach the
topic using several levels of analysis, various theoretical perspectives and different research designs.

Strategic renewal, strategic actions, institutional entrepreneurship, coercive isomorphism, normative isomorphism, mimetic isomorphism, institutional change, environmental selection, organizational adaptation.
Time frame
2012 -
  • M. Stienstra, E.J. Klitsie & H.W. Volberda (2014). The influence of institional (mis-)fit on performance. In EGOS. Montreal
Past courses


Visiting address

Office: Mandeville Building T07-01
Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
3062 PA Rotterdam

Postal address

Postbus 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam

Latest publication

M. Stienstra, E.J. Klitsie & H.W. Volberda (2014). The influence of institional (mis-)fit on performance. In EGOS. Montreal

Supervisory team

Jacomijn Klitsie
Professor of Strategic Management & Business Policy