Institutionalizing civic engagement: Shifting logics and the cultural repackaging of service-learning in US higher education

Lounsbury, M; Pollack, S


Volume Issue Pages DOI / ISBN / ISSN
8 2 319-339 DOI: 10.1177/1350508401082016


Language Country
English Other


Institutionalists in organizational sociology have developed a good deal of evidence about the role of field logics in shaping the practices of organizations. In this paper, we extend this imagery to multiple fields, highlighting how shifting logics in a superordinate field enable the infrastructural development of a subordinate field. in particular, we track how initially marginal, anti-institutional service-learning practices became a legitimate component of mainstream curricula in the field of US higher education. While service-learning proponents have always made claims about the importance of generating knowledge and insight by helping others in the community, service-learning entrepreneurs had to build a field infrastructure to support their claims and culturally repackage the aims of service-learning in a way that articulated with broader logics in the field of higher education. We argue that the shift from an unarticulated closed-system logic to a situation of contending closed-system and open-system logics in the field of higher education facilitated the cultural repackaging of service-learning practices, enabling civic engagement to become a more accepted part of university curricula. Despite this apparently ‘successful’ institutionalization, however, competing logics in the field of higher education have instantiated contradictions in the service-learning field, raising important issues about the future of service-learning as well as the US educational system.


higher education; institutional theory; logics; service-learning

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