Capturing the Microfoundations of Institutions

A Confessional Tale of the Glorified Field

Authored by: Hendra Raharja Wijaya

The Routledge Companion to Anthropology and Business

Print publication date:  July  2020
Online publication date:  June  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138496422
eBook ISBN: 9781003052456
Adobe ISBN:


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Neo-institutionalism has long been making theoretically ambitious strides in seamlessly connecting social structure and agentic work. However, existing research is still heavily weighted on macro-level factors at the expense of the microfoundations of institutions, preventing scholars from making meaningful impact in the practical realm. While institutional theorists have begun to empirically look into the microfoundations, they predominantly rely on interviews alone. Yet microfoundations are multilayer, complex, and often incomprehensible, even for actors themselves. Through this chapter my main goal is to advocate ethnography as one of the most appropriate and powerful inductive methods to capture the totality of microfoundations. I will first reflect on the ontology and epistemology of microfoundations, then narrate my own ethnographic experience in a highly exclusive and confidential environment. Using a confessional mode of writing, I also aim to offer institutional fieldworkers, who are often under time and budget constraints, some recommendations on entering the field, collecting and handling data, and managing personal battles.

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