While scholars have provided increasingly well-developed theoretical frameworks for understanding the role of institutional entrepreneurs and other purposeful actors in bringing about change in organizational fields, much less attention has been paid to the role of unorganized, nonstrategic actors in catalyzing change. In particular, the role of consumers remains largely uninvestigated. In this article, we draw on a case of the introduction of text messaging in the United Kingdom to explore the role of consumers in catalyzing change in organizational fields. Text messaging has become a widely diffused and institutionalized communication practice, in part changing mobile telephony from a voice-based, aural, and synchronous experience to a text-based, visual, and asynchronous experience. As consumers innovated and diffused new practices around this product, their actions led to significant changes in the field. We suggest how and under what conditions consumers are likely to innovate at the micro level and, with the subsequent involvement of other actors, catalyze change at the field level. Our primary contribution is to show how the cumulative effect of the spontaneous activities of one important and particularly dispersed and unorganized group can lead to changes in a field. By showing how change can result from the uncoordinated actions of consumers accumulating and converging over time, we provide an alternative explanation of change in organizational fields that does not privilege purposeful actors such as institutional entrepreneurs.

Case study, Consumers, Creation and diffusion of practices, Field-level change, Institutional theory, Mobile telephony, Text messaging
dx.doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1100.0595, hdl.handle.net/1765/31451
ERIM Top-Core Articles
Organization Science
Erasmus Research Institute of Management

Ansari, S.M, & Phillips, N. (2011). Text me! New consumer practices and change in organizational fields. Organization Science, 22(6), 1579–1599. doi:10.1287/orsc.1100.0595