Edited by Daniel Hjorth
Chapter 5: Evolutionary theory
The evolutionary approach may be described as a meta-theory because it is an overarching framework that permits the comparison and integration of other social scientific theories. Theories as diverse as population ecology (Hannan and Freeman, 1977), new institutionalism (Zucker, 1977; DiMaggio and Powell, 1983), resource dependence (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978), and transaction cost economics (Williamson, 1985, 1991) explore evolutionary processes in organizations. In the context of organizations and organizational science, evolutionary processes arise from the interaction between strategies, structures, and environmental conditions and forces (Martinez and Aldrich, 2011). A struggle by organizations to obtain scarce resources, both social and physical, drives the process (Campbell, 1969). This struggle is characterized by competition among social actors to obtain resources ahead of their competitors or to avoid competition altogether (Barnett et al., 1994). In fact, many activities, from marketing to the development of inter-organizational alliances, stem from organizations’ attempts to shield themselves from competitive pressures. Evolutionary analyses posit that outcomes result from interactions between organizations and environments, rather than being attributable to either organizations or environments, taken separately. Every explanation is thus contingent. The effect of organizational properties depends upon environmental contexts and the effects of contexts are unknowable until organizational properties are specified. Understanding how a “fit” arises between organizations and their environments is therefore the key to comprehending trends in organizational foundings, transformation, and disbandings. Entrepreneurs and scholars usually evaluate “fit” in terms of outcomes like survival, profitability, and growth. A fit need not be perfect, but rather just the best fit, under the circumstances.
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