The „collective behavior“ approach to the problem of institutionalization has recognized that many of the characteristic features of the major institutions of modern Western society — economic, political, religious — have their origins in, and are partly maintained and rejuvenated by, relatively unstructured collective processes. This perspective views the generation of institutional structure in terms of a natural history, which starts from a situation of „social unrest“ and a tendency toward breakdown or rejection of existing tradition and institutional controls, and proceeds through various forms of spontaneous collective behaviors (crowd or mob actions, public discussion, and opinion formation) to more organized forms of collective decision-making and action (social movements, political party formation, or revolution), culminating in some cases in the institutionalization of a new order. There is no implication, however, of unilateral sequences or necessary stages.
Such an orientation, developed particularly by social interactionists, complements the structuralist approach particularly by attempting to fill in the social-psychological dynamics. Central concern is given to the processes whereby, in minimally structured — usually stressful — situations, new perspectives, definitions, symbols, norms and values are collectively generated in a more or less spontaneous, though not random, manner. On the other hand, as a theory of institutionalization, it does not deal with the more deliberate, „rational,“ socially structured, and less directly disruptive processes of institutional elaboration. Consider for example, the qualitative changes in modern economic and political institutions which are the cumulative results of the largely uncoordinated, often unlegitimized, plans of action of the constituent organizations. An integration of both structural and collective decision analysis, such as that found in some of the recent work in complex organization theory, is needed to tap this area.
What is required, in particular, is to make more explicit the recognition that institutionalization is an ongoing, circular, systemic process, and not an open-ended chain of events with clear-cut antecedents and consequences. From a systems view, we might see it as a feedback, or pseudo-feedback, process that contains both negative (stabilizing or rigidifying) elements and positive (structure-elaborating, or increasingly disorganizing) features. (See Figure 5-1) As some of the newer views are beginning to suggest, such closure is essential for a fully dynamic model of the sociocultural system. In one way or another, the point is being made that institutional structures help to create and recreate themselves in an ongoing developmental process. The modern systems perspective is providing conceptual tools that are taking the mysticism out of the notions of „immanent change“ and the harboring of „seeds“ of an institution’s own destruction — or construction. Whether directly inspired by the modern perspective or not, current theory is moving in similar or compatible directions.