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Work and Family: Institutional Logic Term Paper


Institutional logic is an important concept in sociology, as it provides a perspective for examining norms and behaviors systematically and with a wide range of considerations. Institutions can be defined as “both supraorganizational patterns of activity by which individuals and organizations produce and reproduce their material subsistence and organize time and space…[and] symbolic systems, ways of ordering reality, thereby rendering the experience of time and space meaningful” (Friedland and Alford 232). The institutional approach thus allows for a more comprehensive analysis of how societies work than by means of a separate exploration of beliefs and activities.

The recognition of the practical and theoretical benefits of the institutional approach led to the creation of the notion of institutional logic, which comprises “the socially constructed, historical patterns of material practices, assumptions, values, beliefs, and rules by which individuals produce and reproduce their material subsistence, organize time and space, and provide meaning to their social reality” (Thornton and Ocasio 101). It is important to acknowledge that such patterns are not fixed conditions; indeed, they have developed with different dynamics, have origins and influences, and continue to evolve. Existing institutional logic and its transformation is in a way one of the main focuses of sociology.

In addressing the topic of work and family, the institutional logic approach offers an examination of these two institutions as a set of norms and practices that influence human labor relations and personal relations at the societal level. Such a perspective encompasses not only regulations and policies on how people’s work should be organized but also an important recognition of the role that family as an institution plays in one’s social performance. This understanding has changed over recent decades, as the patterns of both labor and family are being transformed in the modern world. Social scientists have been attempting to address this transformation because it is important to examine its nature in order to effectively approach the issues of work organization in the 21st century. A change in institutional logic means that what was normal has become marginalized or what was frowned upon has become encouraged. These developments should be studied for the purpose of improving various social interactions.

In order to address the issues of work and family from the institutional logic perspective, it is necessary to discuss the institutional logic of families, paid workplaces, and public policy. Also, an analysis should be performed on the ways in which social and institutional actors strive to achieve different goals and values both within and across the frameworks of the institutional logics mentioned above. To ensure that the subject is addressed effectively, such an approach will encompass regulatory, legal, and conceptual perspectives.

Institutional Logic in Families

Addressing the issues of the family requires perspectives different than those of the individual or societal level. Families are unique structures. If a family consists of two people, it is more than the sum of those two people—it is about specific interactions and specific internal and external relationships. Understanding how families work is important for the effective management of work relations as well as many other social regulations.

In families, people care about each other, are attached and connected, and have obligations that they may prioritize over labor obligations or other perceived duties. All this constitutes an important element of the institutional logic of families. However, what sociologists have been paying particular attention to within recent decades is how families are composed in terms of power and authority, meaning how family responsibilities are distributed and how dominance is perceived within households. Moore turns to the so-called “invisible” families of gay Black women to explore how power and hierarchy are constructed in them. The author also argues that the patterns observed in lesbian families can be used to assess family relationships in heterosexual couples, too. Moore concludes that in families of lesbian couples with children, the biological mothers “use the ‘doing’ of housework and authority over child-rearing as a trade-off for significant control of household finances and organization” (178). However, it is also recognized in this study that there are two equally probable possibilities: on the one hand, those who run the household may perceive their power to be greater than that of their partners; on the other hand, male privilege or male comparative income advantage in heterosexual families may decrease the importance seen in family power.

One of the most significant aspects of Moore’s study is that it demonstrates how the “conventional model in which individuals in families exchange domestic services for financial support may not hold in certain contexts” (179). This critical assessment shows that a variety of ways in which people organize their families and households may be overlooked, which hinders the effectiveness of policymaking. Indeed, the institutional logics of different families can be significantly different, which in turn affects their economic activities, such as managing finances, hiring help, and spending money (both planned and unplanned).

One of the main shifts in the social perception of family institutional logic occurred in the late 1980s when the concept of the “second shift” was introduced. This term encompasses ideas associated with the role of a working mother in her household and in society. Hochschild addresses this issue closely, exploring “the interplay between…particular gender ideologies [in couples], the economic realities of their lives, and the gender strategies through which they consciously or not reconcile these” (77). Gender ideologies play a particularly important role here. They describe the scope of behaviors, actions, and roles expected from a person—either by himself or herself or by his or her partner—based on the person’s gender. Hochschild studies how “the emotional stream behind a certain version of womanhood and manhood [is created]” (78) and finds many interrelated factors, including early life experiences.

An example of a historical change in family institutional logic is the perceived role of a woman in the family of a heterosexual couple. Hochschild identifies three types of wives: traditional, egalitarian, and transitional. A traditional wife “wants to identify with her activities at home (as a wife, a mother, a neighborhood mom)” (Hochschild 15). An egalitarian wife is one who “wants to identify with the same spheres her husband does and to have an equal amount of power in the marriage” (Hochschild 15). Transitional wives fall somewhere in the wide range in between. The very existence of this third category demonstrates how addressing family issues is complicated today due to the vast array of its forms and manifestations.

Institutional Logic in Paid Workplaces

There are many elements in the institutional logics of paid workplaces, and, similar to family institutional logics, they are constantly being redefined and updated today due to changes in labor relations and the emergence of new forms of employment. The principal components are profit and efficiency, meaning that the work performed by an individual should produce value, and such value production should occur according to a reasonable and constantly improving ratio of resources spent and results achieved. In addition, product quality is a major consideration, as it is a pivotal component of competition that often drives various market forces. However, as employment has evolved, many other concepts and considerations have gained significance in the institutional logic of the workplace. For example, there is a growing appreciation for managerial authority and different managerial practices because it is acknowledged today that the strategic goals of any workplace cannot be achieved without appropriate management. Particularly, human resources management has come to play a special role, as it encompasses such phenomena as recruitment and retention.

A particularly remarkable addition to the institutional logic of paid workplaces is the recognition of the importance of various sociological factors, such as demographics, culture, and gender. For example, Eaton observes that “key features of clerical work from workers’ perspective include[d] its basis in relationships and emotional labor, its frequent invisibility, and its gendered character” (292). The author strives for a critical assessment of the workplace’s institutional logic through the perspective of gender, and one of her main conclusions is that gender-related considerations should be incorporated into corporate policies rather than seen as disrupting them. In her pursuit, Eaton examines the issues of feminism and unionism, stating that “feminists’ and unionists’ efforts to change the way ‘women’s work’ is conceptualized could be more closely aligned than they are today, rather than assumed to be in opposition” (293). Her recommendations in this regard were a sort of a breakthrough in describing the institutional logic in workplaces.

In a study of a luxury hotel—designed to explore workers’ symbolic boundaries from the perspective of strategy, contradiction, and organization—Sherman shows that “workers constituted themselves as superior to their peers…[and] emphasized the perks associated with their jobs and the status of the hotel and its guests” (155). The author also describes how some workers developed a perception of themselves as being above the hotel guests based on a feeling of condescension and negative judgments of them. This study provides a valuable perspective on how the relationships between workers and guests are mutually constructed, which shapes the workplace environment to a large extent.

Sherman goes on to state that “hotel workers consent not only to managers’ and owners’ appropriation of labor power for economic gain but also to guests’ appropriation of workers’ interactive self-subordination for guests’ psychological and physical fulfillment” (113). Sherman’s concept of “games” has been very influential, as it illustrates how “worker practices are significantly shaped by the contexts in which they occur and are not determined solely by attitudes imported from outside” (152). The success of workers’ performance depends on “the sense of self the worker brings to the workplace” (Sherman 153). It is also shown how these games bring certain rewards, such as “a sense of autonomy, competence, professionalism, and independence, as well as money” (Sherman 153), all of which are already perceived as desirable. Through these various perspectives, the institutional logic in paid workplaces appears to be increasingly complicated. However, what can be generally seen is the need for further research and a broadening of the range of considerations in addressing related issues.

Institutional Logic in Public Policy

Since the role of the family in work relationships has been more explicitly recognized, policymakers in many countries have made various efforts to create public policies that consider these relationships and thus provide an adequate framework for addressing any related issues that might arise. Such policies have been developed at various levels, from corporate and organizational to national and international. Starting from the highest level, governments of different countries have been attempting to address the issues of work and family effectively because overlooking the relationship between these two institutions has proved to deteriorate performance and limit the number of tools that state authorities can use to explore, regulate, monitor, and evaluate work relations in various spheres.

These public policy attempts have been displayed in many forms. For example, several policies have been designed to create public benefits programs for individuals to receive direct assistance from the government based on an acknowledgment of their family-related needs. Taxation policies have been reconsidered, too, to take into consideration different aspects of relationships among people, as well as between people and organizations or people and public authorities.

A key role in this process was played by the notion of the values of family, as the employment relationship assessment model continued to evolve. Instead of describing employment relationships as particular connections between an individual and an employer (which may be an organization or any other structure), new models suggested viewing individuals as bearers and representatives of many other connections associated with personal statuses, backgrounds, and attitudes. In particular, individuals were regarded as presumably or potentially parts of families, which is why work-related sociological relationships and related policies should take into account the institutional logics of both work and family. In other words, members of organizations may also identify as members of families, and this fact has been acknowledged to affect their behaviors, thus creating the need for policies to address this duality.

An example of such policymaking has been the development of elaborate systems for allowing individuals to leave their work for certain periods of time in order to address their family issues, such as the birth of a child. Indeed, parental, maternity, and paternity leaves give permission for employees to leave work temporarily to take care of their children, whether they are newly born or require urgent attention and care. As an example of this policy, Fried notes the experience of Premium, a company that came to be recognized as family-friendly due to its adoption and extensive development of progressive family-related corporate policies and regulations throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

From the very beginning, Fried has held the belief that family-related corporate policies are highly important for organizations, writing, “Given the importance of infant-adult attachment, I was saddened at how short parental leaves were, both on a national scale and at Premium. Why was paid work so important? How real were people’s fears about not advancing in their careers or even losing a job if they took leave? Understanding the workplace culture provides some insights into these questions” (42). After analyzing corporate support for childcare in the organization, Fried concluded that this support not only contributed to a better image of the company but also improved the organization’s long-term performance and effectiveness.

Ways to Achieve Goals and Values of Institutional Logics

In the modern world, individuals may easily find themselves torn between the many different relationships to which they have to contribute and be dedicated. For example, a person can be regarded from the sociological perspective as simultaneously an employee and a member of a family. Both his or her work and his or her family have needs and issues that must be addressed. Instead of regarding the person as an employee for a certain time during the day and a part of a family during some other time, it can be proposed to combine these two perspectives and regard the person as an actor of complex intentions and driving forces. Although combining the institutional logic of these two considerations, work and family has been challenging, it should not be disregarded that most actors have multiple driving forces and considerations at the same time, each of which may affect their behaviors both in terms of work and in terms of family. For example, individuals may have strong feelings toward their communities, cultural backgrounds, or even certain personal identities, from religion to being a fan of a sports team.

This complexity is exactly the tool for various social and institutional actors to pursue goals and values associated with the institutional logic of families, workplaces, and public policies. An employee is not only an employee; his or her work relationships, performance, and dedication to work objectives may be affected by various considerations arising from the fact that the employee is also a supporter of a certain political group, a member of a certain community or group of interest, or a parent. Promoting a better understanding of the connections between workers and organizations, as well as among workers, within the perspectives and contexts in which they may place themselves is what has driven the evolution of institutional logics in the addressed spheres. Indeed, promoting these connections has brought about many benefits for both work and family relations that are widely praised today.

For example, issues of gender equality in the workplace have been raised by demonstrating how employees may be affected in their behaviors and the ways they are treated based on their gender identities (Eikhof 17). Due to this recognition, the struggle against all forms of gender-based discrimination in the workplace became possible. Another example is childcare as discussed above: regarding an employee on the institutional level as a parent as well as allowed for the creation of policies to allow individuals to combine work and parenthood in their lives. Finally, the recognition of the complexity of social and institutional actors has also contributed to the notion of fair and productive workplaces. Employers should not only consider the people who work under them as workers but also as individuals with various sociological considerations, such as identities, beliefs, and attitudes; recognizing these different factors is the optimal way to organize the work of individuals to provide benefits both for the individuals and the organizations.


To address the issues of work and family, the institutional logic perspective has been applied. Through this analysis, it has been shown that the institutional logics of families are diverse and constantly evolving, which highlights the importance of broadening the understanding of family in order to address the various issues associated with it effectively. Similarly, it has been shown that the institutional logics in workplaces and public policymaking are complex, too, and affected by various factors that may at first be overlooked or attributed to spheres outside of the issues of work and family. Incorporating these factors into a more comprehensive understanding of these institutional logics is arguably the tool to increase the effectiveness of regulating work and family relations on both an individual and organizational level.

Works Cited

Eaton, Susan. “‘The Customer is Always Interesting’: Unionized Harvard Clericals Renegotiate Work Relationships.” Working in the Service Society, edited by Cameron Lynne Macdonald and Carmen Sirianni, Temple University Press, 1996, pp. 291-332.

Eikhof, Doris. “A Double-Edged Sword: Twenty-First Century Workplace Trends and Gender Equality.” Gender in Management: An International Journal, vol. 27, no. 1, 2012, pp. 7-22.

Fried, Mindy. Taking Time: Parental Leave Policy and Corporate Culture. Temple University Press, 1998.

Friedland, Roger, and Robert Alford. “Bringing Society Back in: Symbols, Practices, and Institutional Contradictions.” The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, edited by Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio, University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp. 232-266.

Hochschild, Arlie. The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. Viking Penguin, 1989.

Moore, Mignon. Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships, and Motherhood among Black Women. University of California Press, 2011.

Sherman, Rachel. Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels. University of California Press, 2007.

Thornton, Patricia, and William Ocasio. “Institutional Logics.” Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism, edited by Royston Greenwood, Christine Oliver, Kerstin Sahlin, and Roy Suddaby, Sage, 2008, pp. 99-128.

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IvyPanda. "Work and Family: Institutional Logic." September 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/work-and-family-institutional-logic/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Work and Family: Institutional Logic." September 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/work-and-family-institutional-logic/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Work and Family: Institutional Logic'. 15 September.

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