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Two Essays on the Relationship Between Actors’ Field Position, Meaning Construction and Action During Transformational Field Change: The Case of Market-Based Reforms in English Legal Services

  • Author(s): Jha, Harsh Kumar
  • Advisor(s): Beckman, Christine M.;
  • Okhuysen, Gerardo
  • et al.

The relationship between actors’ field position, meaning construction and action during change is one of the central questions in literature. In my dissertation I examine these relationships in the context of recent market based reforms in English legal services, which led to the enactment of Legal Services Act (LSA) 2007 in England & Wales. I bring together Bourdieu’s and Fligstein & McAdam’s sociological theories of fields in a novel way to conceptualize actors’ field position and categorize four types of legal professional actors – barristers, small law firms, corporate law firms and in-house lawyers – in four distinct field positions, based on their centrality within the legal services field (central or peripheral) and membership of the overlapping client field (public or corporate clients).

In essay 1, I analyze actors’ sensemaking of change (through content analysis of legal trade media coverage) and organizational action (based on patterns of formal responses to various regulatory commissions – individual organizations versus associations). My analysis suggests that actors’ field position both (1) independently influences sensemaking and actions; and (2) mediates the influence of sensemaking on actions. In essay 2, I undertake frame analysis of responses submitted by professional actors to various regulatory commissions to examine how frames and framing strategies adopted by actors evolve over time. My analysis suggests that the shifts in frames and framing strategies adopted by actors during contested change are influenced by actors’ field position (which influences actors’ choice of meta-frames) and perceived threats to interests (which influences the diversity of frames adopted and shifts in framing strategies).

Overall, this dissertation contributes to our understanding of actors’ cognition and discursive strategies; specifically, how these processes may be related to actors’ contextual embeddedness (field position). Essay 1 examines various mechanisms through which actors’ field position, sensemaking and action may be related, and in doing so advances our current understanding of the relationships between actors’ context, cognition, and actions. Essay 2 extends our understanding of framing processes by drawing attention to the fact that use of frames and framing strategies by actors is only partially agentic; and actors’ frames and framing strategies are influenced by their respective field positions and perceived threats to their interests. This dissertation also makes an overall contribution to the literature on organizational fields, by suggesting that analysis of fields may require a richer specification of actors’ position; instead of unidimensional categorizations, such as incumbent or challenger.

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