A central proposition of neo-institutional theory is that exposure to institutional fields shapes the meanings actors within the field hold. We test that proposition by asking whether variations in exposure to field-level processes will lead to variations in meanings held by actors. To do so, we examine the implementation of a managerial practice - Manufacturing Best Practices Programs - across a large sample of manufacturing sites in Australia and New Zealand. We assess exposure to field-level processes both indirectly (through structural characteristics such as site size and technological sophistication), and directly (as contact with theorizing agents and communities of practice). To assess variations in meanings held by managers, we draw on psychological research findings to do three things: 1) to conceptualize the cognitive representation of a practice as a category, 2) to recognise that categories are graded - that is, that some members (or components of the practice, in our case) are more representative of the category than others, and 3) to recognise that the grading of the category is driven by the way the category is theorized. We find that sites which are more exposed to field-level meanings - using both our direct and indirect measures - adopt, on average, more representative components in their Manufacturing Best Practice program. We discuss implications, especially for how categories are understood within institutional theory.
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|Published - Nov 8 2007