Putting the World in Orders: Plurality in Organizational Evaluation

Christof Brandtner
Sociological Theory
Putting the world in orders: Plurality in organizational evaluation

Sociologists have shown that external evaluation stimulates convergent organizational behavior, yet many evaluative practices are superficial or susceptible to manipulation. When does external evaluation lead to convergence in organizational fields? Organizations regularly and increasingly experience fragmented social orders based on orthogonal notions of value, or so-called plurality. I propose that the plurality of evaluative landscapes, that is, the universe of rankings, ratings, and awards in an organizational field, compromises the potential homogenizing influence of any single evaluative practice. Plurality in the evaluative landscape weakens the causal channels through which evaluative practices influence organizational behavior. Because evaluative activities are responsive to social conditions, plurality is suggested to be highest when organizations face multiple audiences, when the meaning of value is contested, and when access to evaluation is unregulated. Neoinstitutional organizational theory and the sociology of valuation, both of which inform this article, would benefit from a more integrated account of evaluative landscapes.