Understanding mechanisms in organizational research: Reflections from a collective journey

Peter J.J. Anderson, Ruth Blatt, Marlys K. Christianson, Adam M. Grant, Christopher Marquis, Eric J. Neuman, Scott Sonenshein, Kathleen M. Sutcliffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Social mechanisms are theoretical cogs and wheels that explain how and why one thing leads to another. Mechanisms can run from macro to micro (e.g., explaining the effects of organizational socialization practices or compensation systems on individual actions), micro to micro (e.g., social comparison processes), or micro to macro (e.g., how cognitively limited persons can be aggregated into a smart bureaucracy). Explanations in organization theory are typically rife with mechanisms, but they are often implicit. In this article, the authors focus on social mechanisms and explore challenges in pursuing a mechanisms approach. They argue that organization theories will be enriched if scholars expend more effort to understand and clarify the social mechanisms at play in their work and move beyond thinking about individual variables and the links between them to considering the bigger picture of action in its entirety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-113
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Management Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Mesotheorizing
  • Organizational research
  • Social mechanisms
  • Theory building


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