Sociology Insights


Embedding and Associational Organizations: Theoretical Frameworks Drawn from the Ethnographic and Case Study Literature

Author(s): Carl Milofsky

The focus of this paper is on the operating principles of associational organizations. Associational organizations often are not incorporated, they often are loosely bounded, it may be unclear who owns them or how the hierarchy of authority works. They often are informal, but the main argument of this paper is that usually they are embedded with larger organizations, institutions, or communities. These larger entities have strong norms about operating procedures and the associational organizations we focus on must follow the rules laid out by these larger systems. The problem is that there usually is a functional logic about tasks associations want to carry out but the larger systems in which they are embedded do not allow the associational organizations to develop, or evolve, this functional logic. 
This paper examines two bodies of organizational case studies. One is drawn from a study of about 60 faith-based organizations existing within different religious denominations in the United States. The second collection of case studies is taken from studies of a variety of local communities where local movements take on different organizational forms. From these two collections of case studies, this paper develops theoretical ideas and principles about how associational organizations work.

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