The emergence of organizational forms: A community ecology approach

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Citation: Martin Ruef (2000) The emergence of organizational forms: A community ecology approach. American Journal of Sociology (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1086/318963
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1086/318963
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1086/318963
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): The emergence of organizational forms: A community ecology approach
Tagged: Sociology (RSS) population ecology (RSS), social movements (RSS)


Martin Ruef's paper attempts to provide an ecological account of the emergence of new organizational forms. In doing so, he introduces the concept of an organizational community which is a like a population of populations. In his empirical example, the community is the health care community where he looks at the emergence of new forms like HMOs.

Reuf created a list of forms in the health field that initially was 90 forms. He then pruned that list by eliminating "quasi-forms" which were generally not independent or structurally autonomous, forms on the periphery of the field, examples of subtypes (e.g., military hospitals) and forms classified by cross-cutting secondary dimensions (e.g. the type of insurance taken). His final list was 48 forms and he found data sources for each of them.

Ruef describes two examples (HMOs and birth centers) and describes the process of their emergence. He then described patterns of form emergence using these examples that he argued described the larger dataset. He argues that social movements were pivotal in the creation of the form and that these movements culminated in new law legitimating the form. He explains that new forms do not emerge, they are created.

Ruef also discusses the relationship between firm emergence and density dependence and concludes that data suggests a model that features both density dependent and density independent components. He suggests that there is a latent carrying capacity and that social movements can be seen of as increasing the carrying capacity of the form.

In the second half of the paper, Ruef presents an ecological model of form emergence. The model shows the basic legitimation/competition effect from elsewhere in population ecology. He shows that up until a point, new forms are helped by the density of other forms within the community that are similar. These other forms tend to legitimate the identity of the new forms. After that inflection point, however, niches become saturated and tend to deter the appearance of new forms due to competition.