New Institutional Theory And The Cinema Field…

Just came across an interesting article in the New Media and Society Journal entitled, “Shielding Idiosyncrasy from Isomorphic Pressures: Towards Optimal Distinctiveness in European Filmmaking”. I was initially attracted to the article by the abstract, which seemed to fall in line with my own thoughts on this subject of film production and its homogenising and stifling effect on creativity. Here’s a quote from the abstract:

This paper advances a micro theory of creative action by examining how distinctive artists shield their idiosyncratic styles from the isomorphic pressures of a field. We argue that, in a cinema field, managing artistic pressures for dis- tinctiveness versus business pressures for profits drives filmmakers’ quest for optimal distinctiveness.

Anyway, have just been reading further and the article mentions New Institutional Theory, which, again, touches upon some of the points I have been struggling to conceptualise myself  – defining institutions as “social structures that have attained a high degree of resilience. [They] are composed of cultural-cognitive, normative, and regulative elements that, together with associated activities and resources, provide stability and meaning to social life… This way of conceiving  institutions as being comprised of both material and ideological aspects is very interesting. Alvarez et al. take their analogy further “institutions are transmitted by various types of carriers, including symbolic systems, relational systems, routines, and artefacts” going on to describe institutions as being both stable and volatile “institutions by definition connote stability but are subject to change processes, both incremental and discontinuous”. 

The article then goes on to define some of the keywords used by New Institutional Theory,  such as the word ‘field’. Here’s what it says about ‘fields’. “To a large extent, it [a field]  is ‘coterminous with the application of a distinctive complex of institutional rules’ (Scott, 1995: 135), which constitute ‘coercive’, ‘normative’ and ‘mimetic’ isomorphic pressures (DiMaggio and Powell, 1991). To gain acceptance and inclusion, organizations tend to abide by those rules and conventions leading to standardization of practices and isomorphism (Strandgaard Pedersen and Dobbin, 1997).” 

The article then makes parallels with the film industry, making the point that although film projects are temporary systems “that pull together cultural, financial and material inputs” they operate in the same way as more permanent ‘fields’, such as those to be found in traditional industrial models. The journal article then goes on to describe some of the elements  of the ‘cinema field’ in this way – ”the central actors in a national cinema field would be the national Film Institute and its consultants, film schools, film producers, distributors, cinema theatre owners, film critics and so forth. A film  project is one of the most important events in the field because it brings together most of the various players in a field.” 

“A cinema field experiences a range of isomorphic forces. Film-making conventions, endorsed throughout formal schooling and/or with award giving, provide a normative ground for standardisation.” 

The books I have been reading (the article I mention at the start and all the other ones I have just downloaded about New Institutional Theory) all look very interesting and relevant. From what i can gather the ideas are based upon the writings of sociologist  Max Weber from early last century and his critiques of rationalism and the protestant work ethic. Anyway, here is a seemingly relevant quote I just liberated from google images and a suitably stern Mr Weber.

References 

Alvarez, J. L., Mazza, C., Pedersen, J. S., & Svejenova, S. (2005). Shielding idiosyncrasy from isomorphic pressures: Towards optimal distinctiveness in European filmmaking. Organization12(6), 863-888.

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