Unexpected mechanisms

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Julian Barg https://jbarg.net

Mark suggested something unexpected to me on Monday. Unintended consequences of action are an important them in Gidden’s work (e.g., Giddens 1979). A more recent iteration can be found in MacKay and Chia (2013) and is also featured–as unexpected outcomes–in Leibel, Hallett, and Bechky (2018), because it is such an important outcome of discourse and institutional processes over a meso time scale. What are unexpected mechanisms? Take for example Guérard, Bode, and Gustafsson (2013). The authors track how diesel particulate filters gained legitimacy in the German car industry. Of course one could first of all object by saying that at the point where French automakers had rendered the filters financially viable, further opposition was pointless. But the Volkswagen emission scandal highlights a different, more nefarious pathway–in the same industry, but regarding a different car part. For catalytic converters in diesel vehicles, too, the German car industry after a long period of resistance had also signaled that it would yield. Mercedes had shown that it could be done–but that it would be expensive. VW opted to develop its own solution–and famously cheated the test to meet legal requirements. VW’s public presentation of the employed technology gave no indication of the deceit, and what was going on behind the curtain–of course. At the surface, the new catalytic converters had attained legitimacy, and VW had acquiesced. In reality, VW utilized an avoidance strategy (Oliver 1991). The unexpected machanism is deliberate decoupling.

An unexpected mechanism could be many things. Most importantly, the above is an example of an unexpected mechanism that is entirely internal. Many unexpected mechanisms are external, for instance when an organization chooses a channel for action that the audience or adversary has not anticipated.

Giddens, Anthony. 1979. Central Problems in Social Theory. Action, Structure, and Contradiction in Social Analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Guérard, Stéphane, Christoph Bode, and Robin Gustafsson. 2013. “Turning Point Mechanisms in a Dualistic Process Model of Institutional Emergence: The Case of the Diesel Particulate Filter in Germany.” Organization Studies 34 (5-6): 781–822. https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840613479237.
Leibel, Esther, Tim Hallett, and Beth A. Bechky. 2018. “Meaning at the Source: The Dynamics of Field Formation in Institutional Research.” Academy of Management Annals 12 (1): 154–77. https://doi.org/10.5465/annals.2016.0035.
MacKay, R. Bradley, and Robert Chia. 2013. “Choice, Chance, and Unintended Consequences in Strategic Change: A Process Understanding of the Rise and Fall of NorthCo Automotive.” Academy of Management Journal 56 (1): 208–30. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2010.0734.
Oliver, Christine. 1991. “Strategic Responses to Institutional Pressures.” Academy of Management Review 16 (1): 145–79. https://doi.org/10.5465/AMR.1991.4279002.



For attribution, please cite this work as

Barg (2021, Aug. 9). Julian Barg: Unexpected mechanisms. Retrieved from https://www.jbarg.net/posts/2021-08-09-unexpected-mechanisms/

BibTeX citation

  author = {Barg, Julian},
  title = {Julian Barg: Unexpected mechanisms},
  url = {https://www.jbarg.net/posts/2021-08-09-unexpected-mechanisms/},
  year = {2021}