The Population Ecology of Organisations

Student ID No. 1619853

Contemporary Issues in International Management (MOD004160)

List (A) – The Population Ecology of Organisations


The journal paper of Hannan and Freeman (1977) looks at the relationship between organisations and the environment and how organisations emerge, grow and die over a long period of time. They apply the population ecology theories to the population of organisations, which they use as their level of analysis, as opposed to the organisation or community level.

Their research is debating that the selection model is favoured over the adaption model, which at the time of their research, the majority of literature was focussed on the adaption model. They favour the selection model due to the structural inertia limiting the organisations ability to adapt to changing environments. They mention the inertial pressures that arise from both internal structural arrangements and environmental constraints and argue that in order to deal with the various inertial pressures the adaption perspective must be supplemented with a selection orientation (pp. 933).

Two broad issues are considered, the first regarding the unit of analyses where they argue for an explicit focus on populations of organisations, rather than the view of a single organisation and the environment. The second is the application of population ecology models to the study of human social organisations.

All the above they hope to answer their research question ‘why are there so many kinds of organisations?’

Literature Review

The fundamental part of their research started with Hawley’s (1950, 1968) statement on human ecology, they state that Hawley’s perspective serves a useful starting point for population ecology theories when extended to include competition models and niche theory.

When reviewing competition theory they continue to focus on the process of selection, in that isomorphism happens because nonoptimal forms are selected out of a community of organisations (pp.939) and that competition is a mechanism for producing isomorphism (pp.940). They use the literature of Hummon, Dorian, and Teuter (1975) and Blau and Scott (1962) to construct their ecological model of competition by stating the nature of the population growth process and to support their view that the rate of growth or decline in populations of organisations is due to environmental changes.

They represent this environmental change by using Hutchinson’s (1957) formulation model to show Levins (1962, 1968) theory of niche width.


The paper is a conceptual paper and does not include any empirical research to support their theories. Throughout the paper there are several references to empirical research and at one point the authors expressed their frustration at the lack of empirical research available on rates of selection in populations of organisations (pp.959).

Rather than start from the beginning, Hannan and Freeman (1977) chose to adopt the methodology of Hawley’s (1950, 1968) work and extend it further in two ways. One by using competition models to specify the process producing isomorphism between organisational structure and environmental demands, the second by using niche theory to extend the problem to dynamic markets. In their competition model they used the Lotka-Volterra equations to represent the growth stage of competing populations of organisations.

Findings and Discussion

In their search to answer the research question they consider Hawley’s (1968) answer which suggests that the reason there are so many kinds of organisations is due to the diversity of organisational forms being isomorphic to the diversity of environments. Their views are that this doesn’t satisfactorily answer the research question for two reasons. One being that the principle of isomorphism must be supplemented by a criterion of selection and completion theory. The second being the need to consider the multiple, dynamic environments which organisations face.

Through their exploration into selection and competition theory they found that competition among populations of organisations strive when there are fixed resources and an unlimited capacity to expand. Through their ecological model of competition, first they established a model that indicated the growth of populations of organisations. They then re-introduced competition into that model and their findings were that the greater the similarity of the competitors, the less likely that the environment can support both of them in equilibrium.

The niche theory explored the capacity levels within organisations and how they reacted and adapted to uncertain environments to either form generalist or specialist forms. Their findings indicated that in stable environments, taking the generalist approach is costly and the organisations will be outcompeted by specialist organisations. When introducing the idea of the organisations facing two environments and showing this using the “fitness set”, their findings contributed to the theory that, in cases where the two environmental states are similar (convex cases) then generalism is optimal. However when the two environmental states differ (concave cases), specialism is optimal.

Reflective Conclusion

On reflection, I found this paper quite difficult to comprehend. It took several attempts to identify what they key areas of research were and this only became clearer when the research question was discussed at the end of the paper. Although the structure of the paper seemed clear on first glance, once you began to read each section it diversified into several other areas which made it difficult to pinpoint what arguments the research were contributing to.

I believe that the paper achieved the key points it was addressing in the majority of instances. It was clear from their examples using the banks (pp. 946) and the organisations on the Fortune 500 list (pp. 959), that those organisations that become incompatible with the environment are eventually replaced through competition with new organisations better suited to external demands. I found their research around niche theory particularly interesting and believe their use of Levins (1962, 1968) fitness-set theory enhanced the quality of their argument.

However, an area where I do not think the paper achieved the key points it was addressing was in relation to the inertial pressures and constraints that organisations face. It was outlined at the beginning of their paper however this area was not fully explored therefore hindering the strength of their argument. This could also be said for the lack of empirical research around the rates of selection in populations of organisations.

It could be argued that only when follow-on empirical research is conducted can their theories be fully supported and the answer to their research question be identified.

Word Count – 969


Hannan, M., and Freeman, J., 1977. American Journal of Sociology. The Population Ecology of Organizations, [e-journal] Vol 82, No. 5, pp.929-964. Available through: JSTOR <> [Accessed 7 October 2017].

List (B) – The long-term trajectories of institutional change in European capitalism


The paper presents case studies on the path of institutional change over a 30 year period from 1979 to 2009 in selected European Countries and the United States. The paper contributes to four key areas on comparative capitalism, these are:

1. the long-term historical perspective of institutional change

2. the links between the four levels of institutions that regulate the economy (international, macro, meso and micro)

3. the changes and links across six core institutional domains (finance, corporate governance and responsibility, industrial relations, education/skill formation, industrial policy and the welfare state)

4. how institutions are shaped by different sets of socio-political comprises.

Their aim of the paper is to contribute to the understanding of institutional change in comparative capitalism and below demonstrates how they have achieved this.

Literature Review

First the authors reviewed existing conceptual typologies within comparative capitalism literature, where they covered Hall and Soskice 2001 ‘varieties of capitalism’ approach. This theory identifies two types of capitalism, liberal market economies and co-ordinated market economies where the degree of co-ordination is linked to the political strength. Due to some criticism of this theory they also explored alternative frameworks to contribute to the understanding of institutional diversity. These alternative frameworks stem from literatures on governance (Crouch and Streeck 1997; Hollingsworth and Boyer 1997), national business systems (Whitley 2007) or social systems of innovation (Amable 2003).

The authors use their own previous work (Jackson and Deeg 2006) which describes the six institutional domains in terms of institutional typologies alongside the work of Jackson and Wylegala 2012 which shows a basic political chronology of significant institutional reforms within each of the domains.

When reviewing the four levels of institutions that regulate the economy, again they used their own previous work (Deeg and Jackson 2007) which categorised what the four levels were. By the authors using their own previous research papers it helps to build their main arguments and contributions to the literature on comparative capitalism.


Section 2 of the paper provides a brief conceptual overview of the frameworks used to map the diversity of institutions and their change over time. The authors acknowledge that there are many differentiating theories on various aspects that they are exploring, including the distinct types of capitalism and the institutional domains that constitute those distinct types. Following the conceptual overview, the paper then goes on to summarise their main findings based on the empirical research that they have identified.

The methodologies adopted by Jackson and Deeg (2012) follow a common approach to ensure a comparative understanding of the patterns and drivers of institutional change. They allowed for easy comparison in two ways. First, by setting out each institutional domain, its general classification and providing examples of the key areas for political reform in each domain. Second, by mapping the paths of change across those six institutional domains for each country within the case study.

Findings and Discussion

Their methodologies used allows for easy identification of the key findings in relation to the four areas their paper is contributing to. The first two common patterns they identified were the growling liberalisation in relation to the role of the state and a growing segmentation in terms of employment conditions and social protection (pp. 1113). They explored these two areas further by looking at the links across the institutional domains.

To gauge how institutions are shaped by different sets of socio-political comprises they reviewed the links between the four levels of institutions that regulate the economy. They found that there was a decline in international policies due to the fragmentation across a multi-level political regime (pp.1120) and at the national level the consideration of whether the political system was consensual or majoritarian needed to be taken into account when looking at how the institutions were shaped. At the meso level there were clear findings on how the institutional domains were connected and a change within one domain may impact/support another. Finally, their findings at the micro level identified that institutional change is shaped by how different types of organisations utilise, avoid or strategically respond to dominant institutions (pp. 1121).

Reflective Conclusion

The structure and style adopted by the authors made the paper very easy to digest and analyse. The beginning of the paper clearly set out the four areas that the authors were contributing to as part of their research. Within each section of the paper you were then able to clearly identify which of the four areas were being discussed. By adopting the style of setting out their findings in tables, it made for easy review and reflection for the reader.

Throughout the paper the authors ensured that they were consistent in displaying their findings in a comparable way. I believe that this contributed to the strength of their findings as the reader is able to compare the information set out in the tables with their further discussions and highlights which followed.

When reviewing the literature in relation to the conceptual typologies not only did they explore existing literature they also identified limits to these theories. In doing this I feel that it improves the quality of their paper as they are able to take into account all views when applying it to their work.

To allow for the level of comparison that they wanted to achieve they had to ensure that there were clear definitions around areas such as the institutional domains and the international, macro, meso and micro levels. To do this they made reference to their own previous work. To ensure their arguments were fair, when providing examples linked to these areas they also referenced the work of several other literatures.

By clearly setting out the four key objectives at the beginning of their paper it is clear to see that they have achieved what they set out to do. Throughout the paper there is a clear distinction between each area that they are reviewing and they summarise each section as they progress through their paper. This is clearly visible in their use of the two tables of information as well as their discussions around liberalisation and segmentation and the international, macro, meso and micro levels of institutions that regulate the economy.

The only improvement I could suggest is to have a summary outlining the key contributions that they have made across the four areas they identified, within a conclusion section at the end of the paper.

Word Count – 1,016


Deeg, R., and Jackson, G., 2012. Journal of European Public Policy. The long-term trajectories of institutional change in European capitalism, [e-journal] 19:8, pp.1109-1125 Available through: Anglia Ruskin University Website <> [Accessed 14 October 2017].

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