Careful Rationality: Generational Shifts in Institutional Logics and Lessons for Caregiving Organizations

Guy Sack, M.A., Management Fellow (2013-2015)

Boston University Questrom School of Business

Department of Organizational Behavior



The shift away from pure rationality can be characterized in different ways in different fields, but the shifts all follow the same pattern, away from a purely rational model. This shift accompanies the shift in institutional theory from the old to the new institutionalism. The concept of creating generational groupings (eg-baby boomers, gen X, gen Y) based purely on convenient-sounding time spans has been replaced by a view of generations marked by the critical incidents generational members experience in common. I will argue in this paper that there was, indeed, a major shift that occurred at the turn of the century, marked by critical incidents. In order to demonstrate this shift, I will discuss an emerging military and business concept known as a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment.  I will also analyze the 1999 “Battle of Seattle,” in which anarchistically organized affinity group clusters successfully defeated the World Trade Organization’s attempts to hold negotiations. In the latter sections of the paper, I will discuss the failure of the implementation of the 1999 Foster Care Independence Act, noting lessons learned through both an analysis of the discussed generational shift in logics and the literature on institutional work.


“It was just like May 1968,”

-José Bové, sheep-farmer and French anti-globalisation hero, about the events in Seattle of December 1999 (Bleiker, 2002)


“I know they’re like busy busy, but you can tell they care about their interns and employees”

-Unsolicited personal communication from a New York City legal intern, April 24, 2014



I will frame my argument using four of the five of Friedland and Alford’s (1991) taxonomy of dominant Western institutions: the capitalist market, bureaucratic state, democracy, nuclear family, and Christian religion. My analysis will juxtapose the logics enacted in family and non-family organizations that exist within an environment of capitalist, bureaucratic democracy. The overarching theme will be that non-family logics have a tendency to represent dependence on a more purely rational model of action and family logics operate on a less rational basis. A thorough discussion of religious logics is beyond the scope of this paper.

Fifteen years ago, the winds fundamentally shifted. The relationships entry-level workers had with their organizations changed. The children of 2nd wave feminists and other activists and reformers of the 60s came to prefer the people for whom they work to treat them with more care than ever before. Not to be cared for necessarily, but to be treated carefully.

The use of affinity group clustering at the 1999 Battle of Seattle is also analyzed as an example of the way adults, many of them young adults, interface with large organizations, like the World Trade Organization. I will make the argument that the period between 1999 and 2001 marks a shift in logics. This shift in logics toward care was brought about by multiple factors, such as the maturation of the children of 60s reformers, such as civil rights protesters and second wave feminists. The use of affinity groups at the Battle of Seattle (Herbert, 2007) will be central to this component of the analysis, but comparisons will be made to the civil rights movements of the 1960s, as well as to the modern “Occupy” movement.

What can the use of affinity groups in these movements tell us about changes in the logics people bring to bear on their relationships with others in their organizations? What do these cultural movements say about the relationships individuals have with organizations, institutions, and each other? What do these movements tell us about institutional change in the way we think about work and family life and gender roles?

Caregiving organizations (Kahn, 2005) are defined as those in which clients are served via personal relationships between caregivers and care-seekers, such as hospitals, schools, churches, and social service agencies. What lessons can these types of organizations learn from an analysis of concepts rooted in institutional work?

The implementation of the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 in today’s caregiving organizations has failed. State Departments of Children and Families, social services, and health and human services departments, as well as private agencies need to pay attention to the recent shifts that have occurred in patterns of enactment of institutional logics from more purely rational to less rational. Taken in stride with recent research on institutional work, these bodies of research offer significant lessons to instruct institutional entrepreneurs enacting the change needed to realize the intentions of the legislators of the FCIA.

Private, for-profit organizations often operate under what Greenwood et al. (2011) refer to as a ‘market logic.’ States do not operate this way. This means that any organization that involves public-private interfaces, such as drug (McPherson & Sauder, 2013) and juvenile (Wakeham, 2012) courts in their dealings with private rehabilitation and foster care agencies, respectively, will involve institutional plurality.

First, I will introduce institutional logics, clustering specific logics under paradigms of ‘rational’ and ‘non-rational.’ Next, I will explicate logics of care and resilience, emphasizing the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment that make these logics more useful than ever. I will contrast them with more dominant and rationalized logics of market, justice, science, and prevention/anticipation and make note of the blended gender dynamics inherent in the enactment of these new care and resilience logics. This gender dynamic points to the relationship among care, resilience, and family logics. Then, I will elaborate on the concept of affinity groups and the way care and resilience are enacted within them, focusing on the 1999 Battle of Seattle. Lastly, I discuss the concept of institutional work and discuss specific lessons for foster care agencies, based on observed shifts in societal-level institutional logics enacted in organizations.


Institutional Logics

Thornton and Ocasio (1999) draw on Jackall (1988) and Friedland and Alford (1991) in defining institutional logics as ‘the socially constructed, historical pattern of material practices, assumptions, values, beliefs, and rules by which individuals produce and reproduce their material subsistence, organize time and space, and provide meaning to their social reality’ (p 804). Thornton and Ocasio also emphasize the importance of historical change in any analysis of institutional logics.


Clustering Logics Under Rational and Non-rational

Few scholars in the institutional logics literature write papers solely about one type of logic without at least mentioning another type of logic with which to contrast it. Logics are easier understood when juxtaposed, and it is for that reason that my explications of the logics that follow does so by both giving definitions of the logics in the literature, as well as contrasting them with differing kinds of logics.

Market, justice, science, and prevention logics are all linked by an underlying common factor of rational, instrumental beliefs regarding relationships in the workplace. Thornton and Ocasio (2008) associate the linear progression of science with market rationalization. In this passage, these two ‘rational’ logics are characterized as embedded in an ever growing global religious discourse that does not fit this simple, rational, linear pattern, which characterizes both market and science logics.

Lawrence and Maitlis (2012) characterize a justice perspective as emphasizing the application of timeless and universal principles. This description sounds similar to Friedland and Alford’s (1991) characterization of science as a search for truth. If something is really ‘true,’ then it must be universally applicable, like justice. In this respect, justice shares similarities with science and, through the association drawn in the previous paragraph, with a market logic.

Regarding a logic of prevention, Goodman et al. (2011) note that scholars and practitioners who take a prevention-oriented stance conceive of ‘zero tolerance’ for errors as a reasonable, achievable organizational goal. The popularity of this concept is waning in favor of a resilience logic, which recognizes uncertainty. The oversimplified, overly certain perspective implied by a logic of prevention aligns it with other rational logics, such as market, science, and justice.


Rational Logics


It is difficult to nail down a discrete and concise definition of a market logic, and as a result, few scholars attempt to do so. Friedland and Alford (1991) state that a logic of capitalism emphasizes accumulating and commodifying human activity. Later in the paper, their language shifts to that of a ‘logic of the capitalist market’ (p 256) without any specification of difference from the logic of capitalism they defined earlier. Thornton and Ocasio (1999) contribute a list of ‘ideal’ attributes of a market logic oriented firm. These include such attributes as drawing legitimacy from market position and profit margin, as well as attaining growth through acquisition and focusing attention on the activity of marketing.

Ocasio (2011) contrasts a market logic with a professional editorial one in the field of educational publishing. He characterizes them in such a way as to emphasize the externally-focused criteria of CEO succession within a market logic, as opposed to the internally focused criteria of an editorial one.



Smets, Morris, and Greenwood (2012) examine institutional change in an international law office by focusing on competition that ensued between what these authors refer to as an ‘expertise logic’ and a justice logic. The expertise logic is characterized as a ‘business-oriented’ logic that helps clients ‘get the deal done.’ For this reason, the expertise logic resembles a market logic. In this paper, the merging of German and English law firms forces a confrontation between the expertise logic of the English legal system and the justice logic of the German one. These authors characterize a logic of justice as a fiduciary responsibility to uphold the law “in a higher and more disinterested sense” (Keillmann, 2006: 311). These authors focus on the aspects of this expertise logic which emphasize the importance of CEOs, corporations, and shareholders, as opposed to the ‘higher level,’ societal emphasis of the justice logic.



Friedland and Alford (1991) simply associate science with a search for truth. Dunn and Jones (2010) associate a science logic with the innovation of new procedures. Reflecting this idea of scientific innovation, Thornton and Ocasio (2008) denote a science logic as focusing on a linear developmental pattern of progress. Friedland and Alford contrast science with such logics as that of religion, stating that the former follows a linear development and the latter does not. This framing further aligns science with other logics I have denoted as rational, such as market, justice, and prevention.



Goodman et al. (2011) discusses logics of action in high-reliability organizations, such as nuclear power plants and space shuttles, in which the margin for error is minimal and organizational failure often results in disaster. In this paper, the authors sketch a logic of prevention (also referred to as anticipation) as emphasizing rules and safeguards to ensure the success of programs. This is contrasted with a logic of resiliency, in which mitigation, rather than prevention of errors, is the focus. Within this logic, improvisation, creativity, and quick thinking are highly valued.


Non-rational Logics


Dunn and Jones (2010) focus on historical developments in the social context in which modern medical education and the plural logics of care and science developed. The primary explanatory factor offered by these authors, the growth in public health, is a historical development with plenty of face validity, in terms of having a major impact on the medical field, but the surge of women into medicine (and into higher education and the workforce, more generally) has not only been a major factor in the development of these plural logics in healthcare, but also warrants further examination in the ways it has affected plurality of logics in organizations more generally, especially regarding the enactment of care.

These authors’ focus on the contrast between controlled laboratory work that is emphasized within a science logic and aspects of care logics that include patient quality of life, as well as physician clinical skills, which could also be conceptualized as the art of medicine. These fuzzier, more abstract notions, like quality of life or clinical skills do not have the same, rationalized and certain procedural steps that laboratory science does. This difference emphasizes the place of science in a cluster of rational logics and care in a cluster of non-rational logics.

If women were able to be so influential in healthcare, they would also have been influential in other spheres, as suggested by Lawrence and Maitlis’ (2012) recent focus on the schism between justice and care in organizations more broadly. These sorts of trends can be seen in such tangible ways as through the increasing commonality of dual earner couples, women making up larger and larger percentages of the workforce, and an increasing attention to topics such as corporate social responsibility, which many would call “irrational” (Keim, 1978).



Resilience is deployed in the moment as things unfold (Goodman et al., 2011). This makes it a dynamic, micro-level logic that is deployed in a relatively small window of time and is relatively unaffected by bureaucratic control and prevention. Care is a more static logic that can be enacted in the relationships among organizational members. Bureaucracies tend to create environments in which enactment of care can be viewed as deviant, but this does not completely preclude its enactment (Waldman, Carmeli, & Haveli, 2011). To emphasize this point, Carrol (1998) notes that executives are focused on prevention, while operators and craftspeople take a resilience mindset. Goodman et al. (2011) explains that a logic of prevention involves “sinking resources” into defenses against specific, hypothesized adverse events, while a resilience logic requires “retaining resources” to maintain the flexibility to deploy them in unexpected ways when the time arises.

Goodman et al. (2011) also note that, while some researchers frame prevention and resilience as opposing forces, they may be synergistic. In addition, Dunn and Jones (2010) make the distinction between a viewpoint of competing logics in which one overthrows the other and plural logics, in which multiple logics exist side by side. These notions support the idea of a hybridized logic of care and prevention logics in organizations, in general, similarly to the way Dunn and Jones present care and science as existing simultaneously in medical education.

Kellogg (2009) analyzed the differentially successful implementation of institutional change in surgical resident hours in hospitals. In the study, disruptions in patient care were labeled as a primary reason why institutional change was successful at one hospital and not the other. It was not the new regulations per se that disrupted patient care, but an inability for those who actually wanted the new system to succeed to have the space to work out solutions to ‘dropped balls’ when issues arose in front-line work. In the Kellogg paper, the senior level defenders of the old system were being rational, self-serving actors in that the new regulations, at least in the short term, often made more work for them; ignoring the new rules saved them time. They justified their decisions to uphold the status quo by appealing to important patient outcome issues, which became moot at one hospital but not the other, due to the flexibility of reformers to mitigate these issues within the successful change process. This demonstrates an important facet of healthy relational systems: they have the space and flexibility to develop solutions to problems, based on information about the system derived from local, front-line staff. In Kellogg’s paper, the unresilient hospital failed in making the necessary institutional and organizational changes because they relied too heavily on a bureaucratic justice logic, which constrained the agency of individuals on the ground (Stinchcombe, 2002) and prevented them from developing flexible and resilient responses to the possibility of “dropped balls.”

Sutcliffe and Vogus (2003) discuss resilient organizing, but almost no empirical work has been done on the concept. Kahn’s (2005) work on resilient caregiving organizations focuses more on microprocesses within such organizations and lacks a well-developed explication of a broader theory of resilient organizing. A major reason for this paucity in empirical research is the difficulty of gathering data on adversity because resilience can only be demonstrated in the face of adversity, so if an organizational system is not facing adversity it, by definition, cannot be resilient. However, as I plan to demonstrate, it can still be careful. This conceptualization of resilience as individually customized and seldom observed places it in a bucket of uncertainty, along with other non-rational types of logics, such as care and, as I will show in the next section, family logics.



In addition to non-rationality, organizational enactments of care and resilience logics represent an intrusion of family logics into non-family organizations, such as business firms. Friedland and Alford (1991) note that family logics emphasize ‘unconditional loyalty’ to members. Unconditional loyalty represents an endless time horizon that is considered when making family decisions; there is no contract that can bound unconditional loyalty in a discrete time period. Unconditional loyalty does not adhere to a rational logic. As the time horizon extends, uncertainty regarding the effects of decisions increases. The increased uncertainty of unconditional loyalty creates a situation in which the deployment of rational logics is less efficacious than in a situation characterized by conditional loyalty, such as is the case in contract-dependent non-family organizations.

Friedland and Alford (1991) also note the way feminists have begun to apply market logics to their roles in families, emphasizing such aspects as the cost it would take to hire an outsider to perform the tasks of a mother. Thornton and Ocasio (1999) characterize the professional editorial logic of education publishing during the 1950s and 1960s as one being enacted by many small organizations, owned and operated by families. Their juxtaposition of this editorial, family-oriented logic with a market logic further emphasizes the place of family logics in the non-rational logic camp, along with care and resilience, while market, science, justice, and prevention occupy the rational camp.


Old to New Institutionalism

This shift in institutional scholarship from the old to the new institutionalism accompanies rejection of the purity of the “rational actor” model (Fligstein, 1997) and are part of a broader recognition in society of the lack of utility of rationality-based thinking, at least in terms of the way neoclassical economics has taught use to conceive of rationality.

Not only has the focus on rationality shifted in academia, as evidenced by the rise of this new institutionalism, but even within neoinstitutional theory there appears to be a continuing shift from more rationally-oriented institutional logics to those that represent a further adulterated model requiring a reinvigorated dismissal of “rationality.”


Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity

The 21st century is a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) place (Gerras et al., 2010). The concept of the VUCA world was developed at the US Army War College, in their attempt to help military leaders deal with networks of terrorist cells that are capable of waging a different kind of war from those we fought against traditional, hierarchical enemies of wars past. Non-military organizations have begun to use the VUCA concept to denote the ever-changing environment, in which predictions about future challenges and adverse events have become particularly unhelpful (Horney, Pasmore, & O’Shea, 2010).

Institutional theorists, to date, have failed to adequately address how institutions may be able to shift enacted logics in a direction that would allow them to respond more resiliently to the shockwaves experienced in a VUCA environment. In order to address this gap, I will focus on institutionalization in caregiving organizations (Kahn, 1993, 2005), specifically in the implementation of the Foster Care Independence Act (FCIA) of 1999, which established the Federal John H. Chaffee Foster Care Independence Program.

Some institutional scholars might wonder why we would want to examine the implementation of foster care legislation in order to build theory regarding strategies for institutional work and practice originally aimed at killing terrorists. There are three reasons. First, as I will argue, resilient responses to a VUCA environment require enactment of a logic of care, which organizational and institutional scholars have associated with women (Lawrence & Maitlis, 2012; Dunn and Jones, 2010). Resilient responses are appropriate for VUCA environments because, as Goodman et al. (2011) point out, enactment of a resilience logic involves a focus on deployment of resources in an uncertain future, while a prevention logic emphasizes specific and immediate allocation of resources to the solution of illusory certain, predictable issues. Due to traditional child-rearing responsibilities having been assigned predominantly to women, foster care is a prime environment for analyzing institutional work practices that may increase the enactment of a logic of care, rather than prevention.

Second, the concept of resilience, which began to build traction in organizational theory around the turn of the 21st century (Coutu, 2002; Sutcliffe & Vogus, 2003), was originally developed through empirical study of the psychology of at-risk youth (Werner & Smith, 1992). This makes the study of institutional systems aimed at assisting at-risk youth, such as foster youth, a natural place for examining enactment of logics of care and resilience. And third, the failure of the Federal and state governments and associated agencies to successfully implement the FCIA, which I document in a later section, begs the question, if we can’t enact logics of care in organizations established for the sole purpose of providing care, then where can we do it?


VUCA Shifts Accompanied by Other Generational Shifts

Not only do millenials, those born between 1980 and 2000, view career changes and the goals of starting a new job in a different way, but they also do not care about the same things in a job as people of older generations do. They care less about money. They also care more about work/life balance (De Hauw, 2010). In addition, they have an astonishing amount of information at their fingertips. Which companies are best to work for? Which companies are in trouble for polluting the environment or have executives who are embezzling money or misleading shareholders? That is the type of information today’s entry-level workers want to know.


Rationality Shift

What I intend to demonstrate is a shift in logics away from purely “rational” logics toward a hybridized blend of rational and non-rational logics. The fall of an unadulterated rational worldview can be seen in the developments in the philosophy of science over the past 50 years. Kuhn (1962, 1969) compared scientific paradigm shifts with religious conversions. Statements like this were followed by the writings of such characters as Paul Feyerabend, who condemned most of the academy for being “ratiofascists” (1982). Perhaps it is no coincidence that Feyerabend was writing during the same time period that Dunn and Jones (2010) claim medical education experienced an insurgence of a logic of care, as opposed to rational science.

The revolution in such areas as emotional and positive psychology, including Positive Organizational Scholarship (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003), also signals a shift away from rationality. In the wake of the publication of Emotional Intelligence, the best selling social science book of all time, by Daniel Goleman in 1995, cognition no longer reigned supreme in the quest to understand how people (internally) make sense of the world. Modern models of decision-making now typically consist of a blend of affective and cognitive processes, signaling a shift in metacognition: we have changed how we think about thinking; this has accompanied the shift in logics toward a hybridized enactment of rational and non-rational logics.


Careful Rationality

A ‘rational actor,’ even in a model of ‘bounded rationality’ (Simon, 1972) seeks to optimize economic resources. It stands to reason that these rational actors have no relationships that are ends in and of themselves, as opposed to being simply a means to economic gain.   For this reason, the ‘rational’ logics discussed above can only remain rational under assumptions of independence (Selznick, 1992). On the other hand, care and resilience logics, as well as family logics, involve a similar rejection of purely rational notions of society in favor of a model of interdependence.

Institutional actors representing a logic of care embrace interdependence and are in line with such developments as feminist therapy (Burstow, 1992) and Carol Gilligan’s (1982) work on interdependence. Gilligan’s work is often contrasted with William Pollack’s (1999) work on a concept he calls the “boy box.” The male members of our organizations grew up in this boy box and many continue to stay there in a “man box” of rationality. The boy box includes such mantras as “don’t show emotion,” “don’t think too much,” and “show toughness.”

Overly rationalized, instrumental thinking may be related to men’s tendency to externalize by acting out violently and abusing substances because the action of taking substances is rationalized in that it is a specific, tangible action that is assumed by the abuser to (on some level) make him feel better. This would be in line with the boy box mentality. This shows a lack of mindfulness, similar to Weick and Roberts’ (1993) ideas about care as it is enacted on aircraft carriers. The primary difference between Weick and Roberts’ version of mindfulness and that offered by others is that it is collective; it emphasizes the importance of being mindful to others. The enactment of care goes hand in hand with collective mindfulness, while the enactment of resilience is similar to Weick and Roberts’s concept of heedful interrelating, the communication that happens in the midst of the action.

Weick and Roberts also note that care can appear as relational redundancy, further supporting the notion that careful systems contain excess capacities and slack resources. These authors make the important point that being careful is a social, rather than a solitary act, further underscoring the importance of recognizing interdependence. These authors also claim that care only exists in action. This does not necessarily mean action on the front lines as organizational members deal with adversity, as in the enactment of a resilience logic. Care can be enacted in conversations among higher level officials that then cascades down to the front line in a process Kahn (1993) calls “flow” (To clarify, this is a different use of the term “flow” than that of Csikszentmihalyi (1997)).

Care can only be enacted when organizational members act carefully. It is possible to be careful without being caring, but it is not possible to be caring without first being careful. By this, I mean that, in order for one organizational member to care for another, mindful attention first needs to be paid to the collective. Only then can caring occur. An analysis of the enactment of care in Weick and Roberts’ (1993) context of an aircraft carrier is useful for splicing these ideas apart. Careful attention is paid by the commanding officer to each pilot and ground crew member. Only when this commanding officer can assure the ‘collective mind’ of the system will each individual crew member have the ability to tend to individual pilots. This emphasizes the idea that rational logics should only be enacted carefully.


Affinity Groups at the “Battle of Seattle” Signal Shifting Logics

The 1999 event is viewed by most as a battle against globalization, but it can also be viewed as a battle against bureaucracies and the overly rational logics they tend to enact. It is considered to be a turning point in the globalization movement. The temporal proximity of the 1999 protests to the popularization of “Web 2.0,” which focuses on user-generated content in websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Craigslist, is no coincidence. In addition, the protests immediately predate a series of events that signaled a landslide in which the relatively undisputed domination of the American bureaucracy in the world essentially vanished (Friedman & Mandelbaum, 2011). These events include, the burst of the dot com bubble, the 9/11 attacks, the 2001 crash in the real estate market, and corporate scandals in such firms as Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and Arthur Anderson. In addition, after the primary period of change, continued evidence of the trend could be seen in such instances as the heavily criticized government responses to hurricane Katrina, congressional gridlock regarding such issues as the debt ceiling, the financial crisis of 2008 (which also signaled the massive failure of post-2001 legislation designed to curb corporate corruption), and the Occupy Wall St. movement.

These affinity groups use a pseudo-anarchistic model of consensus reaching which is drastically different from the rationalized control enacted in many organizations today and especially in the past. This type of consensus reaching was also heavily utilized during the ‘Occupy’ movement. This was seen on the news whenever groups of protesters would communicate with each other by wiggling their hands in the air to indicate agreement or disagreement with a given statement. These affinity groups, and the media attention they received across the different occupy movements drew a stark contrast between the occupy movement and the long-since bureaucratized Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) of the 1960s.

The Battle of Seattle signaled a victory in the use of media and technology to gather clusters of affinity groups in order to successfully defeat traditional, hierarchical organizations, characterized by overly rationalized logics. This represents a shift in the beliefs of and tactics used by social movement organizers, and these Battle of Seattle protests had a significant impact on the way the occupy movement was organized.

In 2006, a reincarnation of SDS was founded, 7 years after the battle of Seattle and 5 years before occupy Wall St. This reincarnation is a perfect example of the intergenerational social movement activity that occurs when 2 things naturally happen at about the same time: the children of activists mature to “protester age” and the activists of the original movement attain powerful positions in society, in which they are able to leverage support on behalf of the new movement. In this way, social movements of the 21st century have been able to leverage power from the bureaucratized movements of the 60s.


Care in Affinity Groups

Logics can compete more directly in an affinity group than in a bureaucracy. This is a place where institutional work can be done more directly and quickly. When decisions must be reached by consensus, instead of by hierarchical command, the individual human actors are forced to actually confront each other’s logics, in an attempt to “hijack” (McPherson and Sauder, 2013) logics of the other. This hijacking is what results in the hybridization of rational and non-rational logics.

Affinity group members recognize interdependence and enact it in their consensus-based decision-making structures. Bureaucracy members operate on a largely independent and “rational” model, in which decisions are made and orders are given, with the expectation they will be carried out. As an example of the “rational” bureaucratic member, all one has to do is think to the last time he or she called a large bureaucratic organization and were redirected from person to person by members who seemed to have no rational reason to actually try and solve the problem.


The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999: Implementation Failure in a VUCA Environment – Rational Logics for an Irrational Time

Healthy transitions from state foster care to independent adult lives, enriched by education and full-time employment, are rare. Studies show that youth aging out of residential placements are at great risk for falling well behind their non-foster peers (Hook & Courtney, 2010).

The odds for a promising future are stacked against foster children in state custody due to abuse and neglect. Researchers in the state of Washington found that foster youth were 54% less likely to graduate high school than their peers (Burley & Halpen, 2001). Recent estimates place the proportion of foster youth who graduate from college below 10 percent and some as low as 1 percent (Dworsky & Courtney, 2010). An abundance of similar studies show dismal and alarming outcomes, such as high rates of: incarceration and court involvement, violence, welfare dependency, homelessness, poor medical care, and teen age pregnancy after emancipation from state custody at age 18 (Courtney, 2009).

Dworsky and Courtney (2010) compared college attendance and graduation rates between Illinois, where it is routine for youth to remain in care until age 21, with those of Wisconsin, where youth are considerably less likely to remain in care after age 18. They found that, although youth in the state where care is provided for longer were more likely to attend college, they were no more likely to graduate. This finding demonstrates that, while funding from the FCIA does make an impact, that impact remains minimal.

Sheila Akabas, Lauren Gates, and Virginia Oran-Sabia (2006) highlight the need for job development and community networking programs to help combat the above problems. Their research states that agencies must form relationships with community employers, in order to facilitate job placement and future employment. These authors also indicate the need for strong senior leadership guiding these innovative programs, especially for preparing the agency’s staff and environment for change from enacting a prevention logic by simply warehousing foster children and providing a safe haven to enactment of a resilience logic, initiating programs that prepare foster children to deal with the adversities of emerging adulthood and self sufficiency. This involves reframing the role of the foster care agency to include labor market intermediary. This amounts to a shift in logics, away from prevention and anticipation and toward care and resilience.


Institutional Work Requirements: Dissociation of Moral Foundations From Prevention to Care

Friedland and Alford (1991), as cited in Thornton and Ocasio (2008) claim that logics in “retreat from society” and emphasizing market mechanisms in order to determine organizational structures and decision-making are destined to fail. As I have demonstrated that market logics align with the dominant “warehousing,” prevention logic popular in foster care, it would behoove the foster care community to take heed of the shortcomings of this logic, based on Friedland and Alford’s warning.

Lawrence and Suddaby (2006) offer a framework for organizing different types institutional work practices, and institutional actors could learn lessons from their passages on the disruption of institutions, most specifically on the dissociation of moral foundations. A prime reason for the focus on this category of institutional change is the characterization of care as an ethic in moral theory (Lawrence & Maitlis, 2012), as opposed to simply being considered an institutional logic (Dunn & Jones, 2010). Their discussion of Ahmadjian and Robinson (2001) demonstrates the way institutional change regarding lifelong employment in Japan was done incrementally through hiring freezes, led by elite organizations. Greenwood and Suddaby (2006) and Sherrer and Lee (2002) made similar discoveries regarding large, elite institutions being the first to change their normative foundations.

Emirbayer and Mische (1998) focus heavily on individual action, but they examine agency in a very different way from the rational actor perspective. They discuss the interplay between the changes of structure and the individuals in the structure, introducing a temporal framework, which highlights the importance of historical contingency in institutional change.

The most useful component of the Emirbayer and Mische (1998) paper, for our purposes, focused on the projective element of agency. These authors do a particularly thorough job of contextualizing individual action within social structures, noting the iterative process of action changing structures changing action. They draw on Mead (1932) in discussing the intersubjective element of projective agency. He says it always involves our capacity to project ourselves into the experience of others. This ability of projection is important for organizational members to imagine the future consequences of their actions for members lower on the hierarchy, such that they can attempt to predict how their actions may affect the interactions between front line staff and clients.

Seo and Creed (2002) also have much to add to the discussion of embedded agency and how it affects institutional change. They posit institutional contradictions as the concept that will solve the paradox of embedded agency. They discuss the ways institutions develop contradictions, as environments, organizational fields, and social conventions change. This gives more reason to focus on historical contingency, in order to see how institutional entrepreneurs are able to leverage changes in the political and social environment in order to bring about institutional change. Their study suggests that the shift to a VUCA environment has created an appropriate contradiction with the dominant prevention logic of foster care, such that the field is ripe for change.

Seo and Creed (2002) cite Leblebici et al.’s (1991) study of the radio broadcasting industry as one example in which an institution developed contradictions with elements in its environment. They quote the Leblebici paper, noting that, even though institutional changes occur as a result of “practical consciousness,” (p 360) these changes produce future structures that have “unintended consequences” in terms of the congruence with endogenous factors. So, while agency is important, history has a way of altering trajectories of institutionalization, due to the schisms that develop along institutional boundaries. These schisms, then drive further institutional change.

Johnson (2007) focuses on cultural entrepreneurship in a socially embedded agency-driven process. It is through interaction with different stakeholders present in a particular culture and at a particular time, such as Louis XIV in the development of the Paris Opera, that these cultural entrepreneurs end up creating such structurally varying organizations. Johnson’s use of the term “cultural entrepreneurship” denotes both the initiative of the founding organizational member and the constraining and enabling forces of the shared cultural schemas in the organizational environment.

Regarding caregiving organizations, specifically, in addition to Dunn and Jones’ (2010) work, discussed above, Kellogg’s (2009) study of institutional change in hospitals revealed the importance of relational components of the change process. She drew the conclusion that the inability to successfully implement change at one of the hospitals was due to in inability to develop the relational identity, relational frames, and relational efficacy developed at the successful hospital.

Heimer and Staffen’s (1995) article on neonatal intensive care units emphasized the importance of recognizing interdependence, especially with disadvantaged others (certain parents of sick newborns, in this instance), who were critical in successful care delivery. Kellogg’s (2009) focus on relational attributes emphasize the importance of a logic of care, while Heimer and Staffen’s specific focus on the inclusion of disadvantaged others is particularly poignant for organizations implementing the FCIA. If the youth are not included in the process of preparing them for adulthood, it will be a failure.

Smets, Morris, and Greenwood’s (2010) study of the hybridization of institutional logics in an international law firm demonstrated that clashing logics produced small crises, which forced the hybridization of logics, in order to “get the deal done” (p 11). This offers an interesting insight for institutional entrepreneurs attempting to bring about an increase in enactment of care and resilience logics in caregiving organizations or other kinds of organizations, for that matter. The induction of crises not only forces a confrontation of logics but actually forces uncaring actors to demonstrate care and resilience, simply in order to overcome the crisis.

Greenwood et al. (2011) offer related advice for institutional actors to enact institutional change. They suggest that the amount of voice demonstrated by representatives of a given logic will help predict the adoption of that logic by their organizations. In addition, the status of those actors both within the organization and in relation to other high status actors in the field will drive the process of institutional change. Taken together, the lessons learned from Smets, Moriss, and Greenwood (2010) and Greenwood et al. suggest that the best way to initiate a hybridization of care/resilience (non-rational) logics with prevention/anticipation (rational) logics is for high status individuals to speak up and induce confrontations at strategic times.


Practical Implications

When communication with younger employees doesn’t happen right, they will leave. So, who is in charge of this? HR? The Manager? The CEO? Employee assistance programs don’t seem to be doing their jobs. EEO offices don’t seem to be doing their jobs. There is a schism. A decoupling. A myth and ceremony to these programs. This creates a context for unresilient relationships, and in the case of the FCIA, this leads to unresilient foster youth.

Toegel, Kilduff, and Anand’s (2013) paper on emotion helping demonstrates an accompanying shift in the management literature toward a more careful approach to employee development. These authors note that employee assistance programs, designed to meet the same needs as managerial emotion helping, are generally misused or not used at all. This example provides an additional illustration of the failure of a bureaucratically controlled program to be run carefully. Even in institutions like the military and prison system, in which the organizational members at the bottom (new soldiers and prisoners) are not necessarily to be treated with care, this does not preclude an organizational culture in which the members that are charged with the development of members of the bottom group can still be a caring one.


Future Directions

Angus (1993) discusses how a boys school gives instructions about treating women with care. In addition, Zilber (2002) discusses procedures at a rape crisis center that “take care of us.” Studies like these that help to explicate the microfoundations of the work done in institutions to shift logics will be key in further unpacking this concept. In addition to mentioning the promise of the above articles, Lawrence and Suddaby (2006) continue with a discussion of changes in the membership and other changes in the institutions and the field. They suggest discourse analysis, Actor Network Theory, and semiotics for examining institutional work.



In this paper, I have demonstrated that institutional logics can be clustered, based on their focus on either rational or non-rational dynamics. I have also demonstrated a general, societal-level shift in the way logics are enacted in organizations. This shift has happened in such a way plural logics compete and non-rational logics have become significantly more dominant than they were in the past. Currently enacted logics represent a hybridization of rational and non-rational approaches to institutional logics. Lastly, as an example of what can be learned from analyzing the shift in logics, I have demonstrated various lessons that can be learned regarding the institutional work necessary for a more successful implementation of the 1999 Foster Care Independence Act.




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