Free Access
Volume 14, Number 2, 2000
Page(s) 191 - 207
DOI: 10.1051/ejess:2000117

European Journal of Economic and Social Systems 14 N$^\circ$ 2 (2000) pp. 191-207

Organisational routines in the light of `old' evolutionary economics: Bringing politics back into the study of organisational learning

Edward Lorenz

Centre d'études de l'emploi, Noisy-le-Grand, France.


Research in organisational behaviour has largely focused on the cognitive features of organisational routines and learning to the neglect of their political determinants. This paper draws inspiration from J.R. Commons' theory of institutional change to develop a more integrated account giving due weight to the political dimension. The first section of the text develops the key analytical distinction Commons makes between habit and custom. Habit, much as the notion of routine, refers to repeated behaviour and to the individual learning processes that account for its emergence. Custom refers to the collective sanctions and pressures which channel such individual learning processes in socially acceptable directions. The paper shows how this distinction allows Commons to analyse the way repeated behaviour at the individual level is embedded in a wider group or social context. The second section of the text turns to Common's theory of dispute resolution. It is argued that his analysis contains the elements of a theory of organisational change, or of the processes which change routines, that involves a constant interplay between centralised intervention and the unplanned local emergence of practices and behaviours.

Keywords: Organisational routines, organisational learning, custom, habit.

Correspondence and reprints: Edward Lorenz

Copyright EDP Sciences 2000