By Jessy Kate Schingler, Primavera de Filippi, Tony Lai and Lou Viquerat
“It seems to me, what you’re trying to do is not to provide a scientific framework, but to provide the components of a normative framework… what you’re looking for is advice for people trying to build collective action.” — EL.
Extitutional theory is developing a new lens for looking at social dynamics, while also working to situate this theory in the broader traditional of sociology. A body of work that holds great interest for extitutional researchers is that of scholar Emmanuel Lazega. Lazega’s work builds on Weber’s concepts of collegiality and bureaucracy to introduce theoretical constructs that align closely with some aspects of extitutional theory.
Through the lens of institutional theory, Lazega has characterized bureaucratic and collegial dynamics: describing bureaucracy as the overarching container for the governance of social dynamics, and collegial pockets as places where decision making can happen outside of the formalities of rules and roles. The theory of bureaucracy and collegiality is distinct in its primary emphasis on the “organizational society” but also greatly helps to clarify some of our thinking on key extitutional concepts.
This essay explores the encounter between the two fields of scholarship. In particular we use Lazega’s concepts of collegial pockets, vertical lynchpins, and joint regulation to clarify and hone our thinking about the working of extitutional dynamics; the relevance and role of decision making and productivity in persistent social dynamics; and our convictions about the value of normative social science efforts.
Below we provide a brief introduction to both bodies of work, look at their similarities and differences, discuss the key insights for extitutional theory, and finally offer ways in which we can use collegiality to bolster the development of extitutional theory.
Introductions to Extitutional Theory
Institutional theory is interested in the study of structured and persistent social dynamics. It considers the processes by which systems of rules, roles, and procedures structure social behavior, and how social norms are established or evolve over time.
However, some persistent social dynamics are not well described by institutional logics. Social movements, communities, commons production, and many online interactions are frequently described as operating “outside of’’ institutions. Some scholars attempt to extend institutional theories to capture these dynamics, and to fit those dynamics into the formalisms of rules and roles. Others theorize these dynamics as wholly independent from institutional logics. Extitutional theory posits that these dynamics do have their own distinct ordering logics, but that they coexist with institutions in order to self-regulate the system as a whole. We suggest these complimentary ordering logics are oriented around the foundational concepts of identities and relationships. These primitives are animated by dynamics that share certain qualities with gravitational attraction as seen in physics, rather than the logics of persistent discrete structures. (Ephemera paper, forthcoming).
Extitutional theory does not see institutions and extitutions as distinct phenomena, but rather as distinct lenses that each filter out certain behaviors and enable us to see others. A major interest of extitutional theory is the interplay between institutional and extitutional dynamics, and how each interacts with and influences the other. Importantly, social behavior is not one or the other “type,” but is always a mix of both.
Extitutional theory posits that certain formal relationships exist between institutional and extitutional dynamics, which are central to the self-regulation of the system as a whole. Different institutional structures preference and reinforce certain types of dynamics over others. Enclosures refer to social dynamics codified and structured according to a specific set of rules and roles. All institutional dynamics are structured by enclosures which overlap, nest, and interface with each other in myriad ways. This consistency is what makes them intelligible to overarching institutional logics. Sometimes, a particular type of enclosure emerges, which acts instead as a protective boundary, keeping established rules and roles at bay, and enabling social behaviors to operate unencumbered by these surrounding institutional logics. We refer to these second-order enclosures as exclosures.
Introduction to Collegiality
In Lazega’s theory of bureaucracy and collegiality, organizations are governed by two separate types of dynamics: bureaucracy and collegiality, which together enable collective action and decision making at the organizational level. These two modalities interact with and influence one another, but they do not mix: collective action is either bureaucratically or collegially driven — but not both. Further, collective action is organized. That is, collective action is in some ways synonymous with the existence of some kind of organization.
Bureaucracy, as originally theorized by Weber, refers to a multilayered system of tasks and processes, designed to maintain uniformity and control within an organization. Bureaucracy often relies on hierarchical management, along with a set of roles and rules that are particularly well-suited for routine tasks and mass production. The drawback, however, is that creative thinking and innovation are often more difficult.
Bureaucracy was considered by Weber as an “ideal type” of social organization — a reference concept for understanding institutional dynamics. But Weber also introduced a second, lesser discussed ideal type of social organization, known as collegiality. Collegiality is oriented towards creative, innovative, and non-routine work. As opposed to bureaucracy, which relies on impersonal rules, collegiality builds upon personal relationships amongst peers, helping organizations achieve agreement through deliberation and committee work. Collegial pockets are specific governance tools that may emerge both as a result of a formal intervention (e.g. the establishment of an expert committee) or as a result of informal relationships (e.g. managers meeting at a golf course to discuss business strategies). A necessary feature of collegial pockets, in Lazega’s conception, is that they are decision making phenomena: a collegial pocket does not exist without something to make a decision about.
Lazega describes bureaucracies as existing in multi-level strata, and identifies what he calls vertical lynchpins: individuals who cut across strata, often via collegial pockets, to assist with the effective regulation of the larger system as a whole (Lazega, 2020).
The relationship between
Scope: containers vs. fields
Extitutional scholars see collegial pockets as an example of extitutional dynamics, and are particularly interested in exploring the nature of social interactions within these collegial pockets. Extitutional theory would posit that both bureaucracy and collegiality inevitably feature a mix of institutional and extitutional dynamics, but acknowledges that bureaucracies tend to be characterized by a stronger density of institutional dynamics, whereas collegial pockets tend to be dominated by extitutional dynamics.
Trying to understand the notion of collegiality within the framework of extitutional theory brings us back to the notion of enclosures and exclosures. Some collegial pockets can be regarded as extitutional exclosures, created to carve out space for a particular subset of people to coordinate and make decisions based on emergent relational dynamics, without being encumbered by the institutional rulesets that encompass the organization as a whole. These extitutional dynamics are protected from the institutional framework, in order to leverage their ability to efficiently seek common agreement through deliberation and interpersonal relationships.
Let’s take the example of an expert committee established by an organization in order to supervise and facilitate the hiring of new employees. While the job application procedure might be subject to a stringent set of bureaucratic rules, the expert committee that is responsible for evaluating the candidate operates according to a different set of logics, which is based on deliberation and consensus-building amongst peers — not strict generic rules. The influence of these individuals is determined by their mutually recognized expertise in a particular topic, rather than their assigned role within the organization. Hence, within the collegial pocket, we observe a greater density of extitutional dynamics over institutional ones. In this environment, the right to have a say in a decision is not conferred by an institutional role, but by an identity. There is only a very limited set of rules that dictate the interactions among members, and most of the committee’s work is based on relationships between the experts operating as an extitutional group.
Lazega describes how sometimes, collegial pockets may emerge outside of the realm of an organization. For instance, a group of managers might develop a strong interpersonal relationships by recurrently meeting to play together at the golf course. While these meetings are not part of the bureaucratic system of decision-making, many important agreements might be formed during these meetings, which will affect the governance of the organization as a whole. These meetings can be very efficient because they are not encumbered by standard bureaucratic processes. At the same time, they are also more vulnerable to the potential drawbacks of extitutional dynamics, including peer influence and manipulation, nepotism, or corruption. Thus, these collegial pockets escape — for better and worse — from the institutional rules of the organization, and can therefore operate almost exclusively according to extitutional dynamics.
For Lazega, collegial pockets are formed specifically in order to make decisions over resources, and based on a need to deliberate and form agreements. In many cases, these collegial pockets are created by bureaucratic institutions in order to benefit from the extitutional dynamics that often subsist in these pockets, with a view to achieve a greater degree of creativity and innovation. But, ultimately, Lazega argues that all collective action takes place in an organizational setting. Extitutional theorists, on the other hand, see collective action as being possible across a broader landscape.
In extitutional theory, extitutional dynamics are not limited to the realm of governance and decision-making, but exist everywhere. For example, many academic centers have programs that create protected environments for scholars and their collaborators to work together fluidly without having to worry about bureaucratic obligations or play specific roles in the institutional structure. Extitutional theorists see this as an exclosure, i.e. a protected environment where the institutional rules don’t apply. Yet, these protected environments would not be considered collegial in Lazega’s sense, because those participating in them are not necessarily making decisions together. They would simply be “outside” of the bureaucratic machinery.
This is an important point of distinction between the theories. Lazega says, “it is important to start with bureaucratization because it has driven both the rise of the modern state and the rise of the modern corporation.” (Lazega 2020, p.7). While extitutional theorists agree with the central importance of bureaucratization in shaping our contemporary world system, extitutional theory is in large part motivated by wishing to understand a class of emerging social phenomena that do not have meaningful bureaucratic components, yet are nonetheless having a significant impact on social dynamics and collective action. These emerging phenomena tend to be facilitated and intermediated by technology and new forms of organizing, featuring non-zero-sum thinking, fluidity, and narrative over discrete decision making as their ordering logics — yet still result in the movement of resources and the cultivation of influence and power.
Type: strata vs. lenses
According to Lazega, collective action is either bureaucratic or collegial, but it cannot be both. Bureaucracy and collegiality themselves do not “mix” but rather superpose through strata — what Lazega terms multi-level stratigraphy.
According to extitutional theory, similarly, neither the institutional nor the extitutional lens are said to represent the full picture. They each observe a particular subset of dynamics within the same social assemblage, which is ultimately governed by a mix of institutional and extitutional dynamics.
The difference is in the nature of the interfaces between the two, and how this influences what Lazega refers to as joint regulation. In relying on the metaphor of a lens, extitutional theory does not constrain the nature of the relationship between institutional and extitutional dynamics, whereas the idea of strata evokes a particular spatial, and itself structural, relationship between the two phenomena. Extitutional theory has not yet developed enough to understand if these approaches align.
Output: productive work vs relationships
According to Lazega, the outputs of collective action are inherently linked to production and work. Indeed, he posits that “building the community is a necessity to working and operating together [but] the outcome is common production.” Thus, collective action is assessed primarily through the extent to which it results in productive outcomes — thereby placing material outcomes as more “real” and de-emphasizing other the study of other sociological products. Extitutional theory, on the other hand, does not require collective action to be linked to work to be worthy of study, or to have significant influence on the net outcome of societal phenomena. Rather, extitutional dynamics create individual and collective value through interpersonal experiences and relationships.
Important in this regard is the fact that extitutional theory is (also) being applied in the context of social phenomena which center cooperation and collaboration, such as community members meeting each others’ needs through systems of co-creation and co-production that are not based in zero-sum thinking. Decision-making may be present but is focused on cultivating relationships and identities over tradeoffs about finite resources.
Motivation: descriptive vs normative
Both extitutions and collegiality rely on empirical work to understand social dynamics, and both propose that distinct ordering logics are present in different domains of social behavior. However, collegiality constrains itself to empirical work as a methodological commitment, whereas extitutional theory presents a normative component that seeks to emphasize certain potentialities in emerging social arrangements.
As discussed above, bureaucracy and collegiality are mainly used to analyze social interactions in the context of governance and decision-making from an empirical standpoint. They provide tools to understand, explain, and potentially predict social behavior, but are not intended to prescribe how people ought to interact. Conversely, while extitutional theory is also empirical and descriptive, it further aims to provide conceptual and analytical tools aimed at achieving a more balanced equilibrium between institutional and extitutional dynamics. As a result, extitutional theory considers it valuable to look at a larger variety of coordinated behaviors, not limited to those already understood to influence shared outcomes.
Conclusion: Key Insights for Extitutional Theory
The encounter between these two theories has been hugely important for extitutional theory. Although there are points of difference, both offer frameworks that include two different types of logics; tools for thinking about the interplay between the two; and a critique of the growing organizational state. The theory of bureaucracy and collegiality has provided an opportunity to clarify and nuance certain extitutional concepts, in particular the role of decision making and productivity. It has also validated some of our broad initial theses.
A significant point of intersection between the two theories has been the concept of collegial pockets. As discussed above, these can be seen as a specific instance of extitutional dynamics enabling decision-making and collective action within a given institution. In the theory of collegiality, the activity within a collegial pocket is free from the bureaucracy of the surrounding institutions, and collegial pockets themselves are seen as more or less “unstructured.” But a key insight from extitutional theory is that social dynamics which are not structured by institutions (bureaucracies) are not “not” structured — but rather differently structured, with distinct ordering logics that we seek to characterize. Those dynamics coexist and mix with institutional logics. In this, extitutional theory can also contribute to the theory of collegiality by offering a formalization of behavior within collegial pockets.
Beyond structural comparisons, a more subtle and overarching insight gained from the encounter between these theories is the ways in which productivity and collective action are implicitly presented as institutional outcomes in sociology. As a result, social dynamics are seen to exist, on some level, only to feed into institutional frameworks. Because of the deep similarities in these theories, the emphasis on institutions in Lazega’s theory is more clear. By centering institutions, sociology itself becomes co-opted by logics of productivity and a deep bias towards structure. And this limits what we can see, and what we know how to reason about, as being valid and legitimate social structures.
If we want to change this, we will also need to change our framework — to put on different lenses. Extitutional theory does not claim to see something new, but rather it seeks to normatively center non-institutional dynamics, in order to create tools to theorize new forms of social organization and relationships that are already under our feet, if only we had the right glasses.