Imprinting: Toward A Multilevel Theory

74 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2013 Last revised: 10 Mar 2013

See all articles by Christopher Marquis

Christopher Marquis

Cornell University; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

András Tilcsik

University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

Date Written: March 1, 2013

Abstract

The concept of imprinting has attracted considerable interest in numerous fields — including organizational ecology, institutional theory, network analysis, and career research — and has been applied at several levels of analysis, from the industry to the individual. This article offers a critical review of this rich yet disparate literature and guides research toward a multilevel theory of imprinting. We start with a definition that captures the general features of imprinting across levels of analysis but is precise enough to remain distinct from seemingly similar concepts, such as path dependence and cohort effects. We then provide a framework to order and unite the splintered field of imprinting research at different levels of analysis. In doing so, we identify economic, technological, institutional, and individual influences that lead to imprints at the level of (a) organizational collectives, (b) single organizations, (c) organizational building blocks, and (d) individuals. Building on this framework, we develop a general model that points to major avenues for future research and charts new directions toward a multilevel theory of imprinting. This theory provides a distinct lens for organizational research that takes history seriously.

Suggested Citation

Marquis, Christopher and Tilcsik, András, Imprinting: Toward A Multilevel Theory (March 1, 2013). Academy of Management Annals, 7: 193-243, 2013.; Harvard Business School Organizational Behavior Unit Working Paper No. 13-061; Rotman School of Management Working Paper No. 2198954. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2198954

Christopher Marquis (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

363 Sage Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.chrismarquis.com

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

András Tilcsik

University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management ( email )

Canada

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