European Journal of Economic and Social Systems 14 N
2 (2000) pp. 191-207
Organisational routines in the light of `old' evolutionary economics: Bringing politics back into the study of organisational learning
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.
Organisational routines, organisational learning, custom, habit.
Correspondence and reprints: Edward Lorenz
Copyright EDP Sciences 2000