Kroezen & Heugens (2018). What Is Dead May Never Die: Institutional Regeneration through Logic Reemergence in Dutch Beer Brewing

Jochem J. Kroezen – Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge
Pursey P. M. A. R. Heugens – Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University

Elizabeth Trinh – Stanford University
Yun Ha Cho – University of Michigan

Article link:

All questions were answered by Jochem Kroezen.

Question 1. You have been working on this dataset for about a decade. What was the story arc for this piece? How did it develop from your previous work?

My entire Ph.D. dissertation ended up being on craft beer brewing. And I think that the best answer is to just tell the story of how my research evolved in chronological order – how it happened. I got drawn in doing a research master’s and that involved setting up your own research. I had no idea what I wanted to study at that stage. Actually, I joined an ongoing project that dealt with the microbrewery movement in the Netherlands. The original focus of the project was around organizational identity. It sounded interesting to me, so I went into it. I was just very curious, because at that stage, I had no idea about what was going on in the industry. Basically, all I knew about was Heineken and some similar types of large competitors. I was completely surprised by the passion and entrepreneurship that was behind all these small microbreweries that were starting up that were really just unknown to the public at that time.

It was quite an uncomfortable process for me because I basically identified myself as a more quantitative person. This project clearly required a qualitative approach initially just to understand what was going on. We went in doing semi-structured interviews with many, many people in the field. At some point, I felt comfortable saying that I knew all the breweries in the Netherlands. Today, I can’t say it anymore. So, originally our focus was on identity. It was something that I sort of inherited due to the early stages of the project having been set up without me. It was very interesting, but I always felt there was a lot more going on that I wasn’t able to capture by just focusing on the organization identity part of it.

And another piece, which actually was a quantitative piece, in the dissertation picked up on this process where breweries were reusing historical elements or remnants from the past. All of that sort of started to come together for a third piece – there’s something else, there’s a massive transformation going on in this field that represents something bigger in society. And then I found something that was the most interesting in the data. It really took me a long time to get there. It took me all these other papers until I realized like, yes, this is this is really the story that I’m interested in.

There was a bit of soul searching. I didn’t really know at first. I was starting out influenced by the environment that I was in. At some point, for me it was realizing that this is something that I’m curious about, that I want to learn about, that I’m interested in. And I needed to start a new paper in order to be able to do this.

Question 2. For students who are also interested in moving from quantitative research to more qualitative research, would you describe to us what the process is like?

Very, very uncomfortable, but I enjoyed it. I guess, in general, most people who do qualitative research probably feel some sense of the discomfort. To certain degree, there’s always a bit of a gap between what you’re claiming and what you can really show you may feel. In any case, with quantitative research, there’s an aura of sort of more certainty, I guess. I struggled with it for quite a while. When I went into coding, I was quite meticulous and almost deductive in the way I wanted to approach it. And the two things – one thing that was really good was that I forced myself to very deeply engaged with the interviews in very great detail. I had very complex elaborate coding schemes, which was great because I really got to know my data. The downside was that I had no idea how to make sense of it and turn it into something useful. There was so much going on. It really took me a while to take distance from the data and just work on other things, interact with the literature, before I realized the aha moment, this is a story that I should be telling. Then I went back to code and reused some of the codes that I did before to apply to my new theoretical idea. We always say, you read these papers, and clearly for presentation sake, it all looks clean, but most papers in the writing will admit that the process was messy and iterative. This was no exception. The thing was, at some point, you need to let go a bit of all the structure and control, and there needs to be space for creativity. Luckily, I found that space, and then I was comfortable enough to go back and find supportive evidence in my data because I had done the coding in such a meticulous fashion earlier on.

Question 3. What was your experience in the field like?

I had a lot of fun doing in the field work. People obviously always make jokes about what field work in the beer brewing industry must be like. But actually the most fun part for me was interacting with people who were so passionate about what they were doing. I would say it was transformational. There was a lot of positive energy. These people found what they really cared about and sacrificed a lot. So, when I was there interested and asked them to show me more of what they were so passionate about, they would say “sure!” I am grateful how I was able to interview almost the entire field, and I could still say “I miss your perspective” and they would let me come around.

It was really nice to be part of something that was hidden from the general public as well. I was already studying it, and now, everybody is consuming craft beer on weekly basis in my circle. I feel fortunate to have been part of that process and see how it played out.

Question 4. What is it like co-authoring, especially in a qualitative project? What is the process in a qualitative project where you have to split up interviewing and coding?

In most of these projects, I think the more junior author will be the most deeply engaged with the context, especially when it is dissertation-based research. There’s something that actually helps to find the right balance through co-authoring. There’s the person that knows data inside out and a person that can take a bit more of an outsider perspective, an informed outsider. There are things that you just cannot see in your data because you’ve been so deeply immersed in it. Having someone that can look at it and make the connection between the conversation out there, taking potentially, what to you may feel like, a little bit of a leap with your data, that’s where the conversation starts. You need to have that. My challenge with this paper was that I saw so many things that I thought were interesting. I was trying to tell five stories in one paper. I needed that co-author, in this case Pursey, who was slightly removed to sort and sift through and say – this is the stuff we should push on; this is the stuff that maybe you can let go. Having that relationship with a co-author can be very helpful and I was very fortunate to have such a good working relationship with Pursey in that sense.

Question 5. Do you have any advice on co-authoring for graduate students?

Expand your co-authorship as earlier as you can. What I really enjoy is working in parties collaboratively. Especially what I found initially doing qualitative research, it can be quite isolating. As soon as I started expanding my network a bit, work on multiple projects with different kinds of people, it just had huge benefits all around. I was able to get back to my own dissertation research and get more fulfillment, more enjoyment out of it.

Question 6. Our understanding of the grounded theory approach is that you go in without specific hypotheses. Did you have some frames that guided your focus? How did your focus shift from the early stages of the research?

It was a series of papers that I have been writing. You cannot really see them in isolation. The fact that I’ve done these other two papers – one also grounded theory-based the other more quantitative – they had come together, and really on a hunch, I thought, wow, what I’m seeing here is not your standard institutional change story where something new is forced in. If you look at these craft breweries, what they’re bringing together, it’s just old ways of operating mixed in with some of the stuff that was what there due to modernization. That was a hunch I had, and that’s the story I wanted to write for the institutional audience.

So, then the question is, what does the process look like. How I work is I visualize. I have initially a rough idea. And I knew the data really well, so at that stage, I have now an idea for a paper. I started to draft the figure, and then I started again. I went back to the data tried to fit some of the coding from before and do additional coding.

Ultimately the goal objective is to build towards something that is a good tool to illustrate what you’re trying to say, what is in your data, and what the audience can interpret. You enter into an interactive process – you go into your data to try and fit it into initial structure that you created. Then you trying to add something or change something. You do that many, many, many times until you feel some degree of satisfaction with it.

It’s a very cyclical process. You come up with an idea, and you draw it up. There’s a bit of a leap in when you’re trying to theorize from highly, deeply qualitative data. You’re taking a leap and simplifying something, then you’re going back to your data and seeing if you can back it up.

In any case, you know, I’m a big fan of going through this process and not trying to dissect everything neatly into clean papers. My initial paper was probably at five different angles with five different seeds of different papers in it. You discard some ideas, and some of them may turn into separate papers. It’s part of the process, but it’s hard to predict it.

Question 7. Institutional logic is a concept that is hard to grasp – you define institutional logics as “sets of societal- and field-level principles that are taken for granted and shape organizational behavior” (Thornton, Ocasio, and Lounsbury, 2012). What are some difficulties you have working with “logic,” as people may define it in different ways and sometimes people compare it to other constructs?

We can probably talk for an hour on this stuff. Institutional theory in general for me, provides a very helpful and powerful framework. I think it’s such an important theory that allows you to understand how society works. I also like to bring it to my classes as much as possible because I want people to think critically, and to think critically and understand all the powerful ways in which society is shaping you or your organization, institutional theory really serves that purpose well.

When we talk about institutional logics, it may have some of the flaws that institutional theory generally has. Like trying to define what an institution is. Unfortunately, it is something that scholars tend to struggle with because everything can become an institution. To me, with these things, I see them as tools. I see it as a tool to make something clear. So, the institutional logics perspective provides a tool to theorize in a much clearer way than we were able to do before we had that concept. The idea is that institutionalization is not a binary process. There are competing forces out there. The fact that you can divide society up in orders, which is another different concept, we have orders that have institutionalizing effects on society. Each of those orders can have their own set of norms, their own set of values, getting to smaller concepts that are related. Together, you can say we cluster them and call them a logic. It’s a higher-level concept.

The downside is the popularization, a lot of things will become called a logic, which is potentially a risk. Some people become really critical, and they see it as a fad. I’m trying to be a bit more pragmatic, and I accept that we’re in a terrain that’s inherently fuzzy. But I see huge power in institutional theory in general and also the concept of logic as a way to try and make things clear. I decided to use the institutional logics literature to try and tell my story: what’s going on with the beer movement. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded and made good use of the term “logic.” In any case, it helped me to get new insight in terms of how the world works. Could we have replaced it with another term? Potentially. But to answer your specific question about norms and logics, for me, logics operate at a slightly higher level.

Question 8. Any difficulties you ran into, dealing with reviewers or audiences when you were presenting your work because of the fuzziness of the construct?

I remember a long time ago someone said, “Great paper, I really like it, but these are not institutional logics.” Then there is a bit of split because it can be applied to many levels. The classic Thornton et al. one to the Friedland stuff… corporation, state, etc., right? Some people say you need to always link it to how the society structures things, logics should go all the way up to the most macro level. I got criticized for that, initially for not doing enough of that. Then later on in the paper I went much further in that direction because I realized it was actually quite powerful. My story was indeed about very high-level societal shifts I would say – back from the industrial mass production mode to traditional production modes. It helped me to sharpen my contribution, but reviewers pushed back on me saying that it was way to complex, that I have so many logics going on. But I was shifting the level of analysis. On the field-level, we have the field-level logics where we have the institutionalized logic of the industrial brewing versus the traditional craft brewing logic. Then as we look today, I would say it is again the craft brewing logic that is coming back, it is resurging, but it died first before it was regenerated, and this manifestation is still quite unique – it has allowed some blending between the two. I say again, this ties back to the higher-level societal changes. A lot of it has to do with the level of analysis and showing the cross-level effects.

Question 9. How do you see the relationship between the progressive institutional change and the institutional regeneration? Are they two types of the same thing, or do they have perhaps fundamental or irreconcilable differences?

The word “progressive” has the sense of almost political, or even normative evaluation to it. Anything that is closer to your ideal outcome could be interpreted as “progressive.” Sometimes even bringing stuff back from the past could be framed as progressive. But the tension we were trying to build was between what most previous researchers have looked at… how a field is configured in a particular way for a long time, and to “modernize,” something from outside is introduced, professionalized, now it is exposed to the market, so something from outside changes the configuration. What I saw in the brewing field and surrounding other fields was that sometimes this process is profoundly different. This is in fact related to who inspires me, which is the next question and we well get to that. But sometimes it starts from within when we bring things back from the past. So, in a purely empirical sense, I would say these two things are different. These are fundamentally different institutional change dynamics.

Then if you think about “progressive” as improvement or betterment, clearly you could say that the beer brewing industry has progressed as well by going through this process. So, the fact that things from the past comes back and start introducing things that were not considered modern at the time is a form of innovation. A lot of innovations happen because we reinterpret the past and bring back the past. In that sense it becomes hard to separate progressive change from what I called regeneration. I am giving you two interpretations here, one of which is in the paper.

Question 10. You could link this to the literature in cultural sociology where some people say that there is no perfect reproduction. Even when you think you are reproducing what already exists, the process involves some form of agency. What are your thoughts considering that perspective?

I have other work that is mainly about institutional reproduction and maintenance with Monika Zebrowska who is an incoming Ph.D. student at Cambridge. Maybe it ties more to that. We argue that cultural persistence is not just about stability and continuity, but it is also about change. If you want to maintain something, that something needs to stay relevant. It should evolve. If you have full, complete reproduction, it is bound to become heavily institutionalized at some point. And here comes the connection – if the beer brewing industry was so heavily regulated that everybody was forced to do the same stuff over and over again, I think it would ultimately probably lose its relevance. You would struggle to have new recruits because no matter what it is like, there is always some degree of competition. If there is no one coming into the system who is interested in the process, it is going to die out. The fact that the beer brewing industry was relatively open so that there is space for alternative reproduction partly enabled it, allowing for the regeneration. In industries like financial services, it might have been a lot more difficult.

Question 11. Any part of the paper that developed during the review process? How was the final product different or similar to what you expected in the beginning?

My experience with ASQ was very positive. I had great reviewers and editor, and the process was generally very pleasant. It was clear what was lacking in the paper and what I had to do. They were rarely contradicting. I know this is not always the case, so I was fortunate. When submitting to the journal, you don’t own it anymore. Part of the production of the paper is in the hands of others as well. I was starting to see it more as a collective project, which is helpful because you start to disassociate yourself from it a bit. I think that is a healthy attitude. Initially you are identifying yourself so strongly with the paper. I mean it is hard to do but perceiving it as a collective process I would try to accommodate reviewers’ comments rather than fight them. This means the paper changes quite a bit. I would say there was a substantial revision to get the paper to where it is now. There were so many changes that were not there originally.

In the last round with only one reviewer’s comment I still rewrote the entire discussion because we clearly saw that we were making a contribution to understanding the changes in the field level which sort of disappeared when we moved away from it to the more societal level changes. When writing a paper, telling the whole story may take 500 pages, which clearly you don’t have. So you can see it a bit like an accordion, I am borrowing that metaphor from Jennifer Howard-Grenville who introduced it to me, where you can decide which bits you fold out entirely and where you condense strongly. Part of the review process is playing around with this balance until everyone is happy. I like that analogy. When you are expanding some part of it you will have to reduce some other part of it, but it is fine. It is still part of the whole thing. You make the sacrifice. It is not all your baby.

Question 12. Our last question is about your academic role model for your inspiration. Where do you draw on and look to?

There are so many people who inspired me. In various different phases of the project I looked to different people, making it hard to name a single person. You will find a lot of them in the acknowledgements of the paper as well. One critical moment, one big “aha” moment was the paper written by Schneiberg (2007) which led me to this idea, and once I saw the connection between the idea and what I was seeing, things started to accelerate. I read that paper many times, and fortunately Marc was on my dissertation committee as well. There are so many papers to point just one out. You see papers that you like and try to follow examples.

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