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The Emergence of a Proto-institution

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This paper investigates the bringing into existence of a proto-institution, that is, a new practice, rule or technology that diffuses beyond the innovative setting, but which is not yet taken-for-granted in a field. A case study, conducted real-time, shows how a collaborative group of business actors deliberately develop a proto-institution. They transpose an institutional logic from another field and combine it with an institutional logic in the focal field to resolve a field-level problem. Enabling factors include a high level of institutional heterogeneity in the focal field, the use of inter-organizational networks, and actors embedded in multiple fields. The making of the proto-institution is intentional, yet the institutional building blocks and the apparent interests of actors are institutionally embedded. The results from this micro-dynamic analysis suggest revisions to current conceptualizations of institutional change processes. Keywords: Institutional change, proto-institution, cognition, institutional entrepreneurship, innovation, collaborative networks.

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Eva Boxenbaum

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