Proudly elitist and undemocratic? The distributed maintenance of contested practices

Mia Raynard, Farah Kodeih, Royston Greenwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines the maintenance of highly institutionalized practices during periods of vehement contestation and changing external demands. Employing a cross-level longitudinal research design, we explore how the recruitment model of elite French Business Schools persisted, remaining fundamentally intact despite serious questions raised about its functional utility and social legitimacy. Comparing three periods of contestation, we document shifting coalitions of dispersed actors that were incentivized to ‘thematically’ maintain the practices in the focal field with little formal orchestration. Our findings indicate that practices which contribute to social stratification often foster meta-routines that cajole constituencies in multiple fields to, collectively and self-interestedly, promote and regulate conservative change. We identify three meta-routines – referential comparison, generative improvisation, and distributed monitoring and policing – that introduced flexibility and encouraged ‘unforced’ adaptations. In elaborating these meta-routines, we contribute to extant theory on the mechanisms of institutional maintenance, and shed further light on the role of complex embeddedness as a constraint on institutional processes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganization Studies
Early online date29 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Oct 2019


  • contested practices
  • institutional infrastructure
  • institutional maintenance
  • organization theory
  • qualitative methods

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