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Typecasting and Legitimation: A Formal Theory


  • Greta Hsu

    (University of California, Davis)

  • Michael T. Hannan

    (Stanford University)

  • Laszlo Polos

    (Durham Business School)


We develop a unifying framework to integrate two of organizational sociology’s theory fragments on categorization: typecasting and form emergence. Typecasting is a producer-level theory that considers the consequences producers face for specializing versus spanning across category boundaries. Form emergence considers the evolution of categories and how the attributes of producers entering a category shapes its likelihood of gaining legitimacy among relevant audiences. Both theory fragments emerge from the processes audiences use to assign category memberships to producers. In this paper, we develop this common foundation and clearly outline the arguments that lead to central implications of each theory. We formalize these arguments using modal expressions to represent key categorization processes and the theory-building framework developed by Hannan, Polos, and Carroll (2007). Categorization in market contexts has attracted considerable interest in recent years, spurred in large part by Zuckerman’s (1999) seminal work in capital markets. Empirical work on this subject covers a range of topics, including category emergence, proliferation, and erosion (Carroll and Swaminathan 2000; Ruef 2000; Rao, Monin, and Durand 2005; Bogaert, Boone, and Carroll 2006; Pontikes 2008), the consequences of different categorical positions and category structures for individual producers (Zuckerman and Kim 2003; Hsu, 2006; Negro, Hannan, and Rao 2008; Hsu, Hannan, and Koçak 2008), and the role of audience members in structuring understanding of categories (Boone, Declerck, Rao, and Van Den Buys 2008; Koçak 2008; Koçak, Hannan, and Hsu 2008). This paper focuses on two theory fragments, typecasting and form emergence, which exemplify the different emphases in research approaches. Typecasting theory focuses on well-established categories and considers the implications for individual producers of specializing in versus generalizing across categorical boundaries (Zuckerman, Kim, Ukanwa, and von Rittman 2003). Research suggests that audiences have an easier time making sense of specialists but that a clear association with a single category restricts the range of future opportunities. Form-emergence theory considers how the attributes of producers associatedwith an emerging category shapes its likelihood of gaining legitimacy among relevant audiences (McKendrick and Carroll 2001; McKendrick, Jaffee, Carroll, and Khessina 2003). Work in this area finds that a category is more likely to become a well-established form when new entrants have focused identities (as in the case of de-novo entrants, the producers who begin as members of the category). These theory fragments have progressed largely independently of one another. This is not surprising given differences in levels of analysis and key outcomes. Yet, they are clearly conceptually connected. Both theory fragments address the positioning of producers in a space of categories and the effect of such positions on an audience’s understandings. In this paper, we flesh out these connections to clarify the processes that lie at heart of theories of categorization. In particular, demonstrate that a common foundation, a theory of partiality in memberships, gives rise to predictions central to both of these fragments. We use the formal theory-building tools and framework developed by Hannan, Pólos, and Carroll (2007) and extended by Pólos, Hannan, and Hsu (2008). These accounts developed modal constructions that allow for subtle formalization of key sociological concepts such as legitimation, identity, and social form, which revolve around the beliefs held by relevant audiences. As we aim to illustrate, this approach to theory building has

Suggested Citation

  • Greta Hsu & Michael T. Hannan & Laszlo Polos, 2009. "Typecasting and Legitimation: A Formal Theory," Working Papers 2009_01, Durham University Business School.
  • Handle: RePEc:dur:durham:2009_01

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael T. Hannan & László Pólos & Glenn R. Carroll, 2007. "Language Matters, from Logics of Organization Theory: Audiences, Codes, and Ecologies," Introductory Chapters,in: Logics of Organization Theory: Audiences, Codes, and Ecologies Princeton University Press.
    2. Rodolphe Durand & Hayagreeva Rao & Philippe Monin, 2005. "Border Crossing: Bricolage and the Erosion of Categorical Boundaries in French Gastronomy," Post-Print hal-00457938, HAL.
    3. David G. McKendrick & Glenn R. Carroll, 2001. "On the Genesis of Organizational Forms: Evidence from the Market for Disk Arrays," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 12(6), pages 661-682, December.
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