On Institutions

When people hear the word institution they often first think of large old buildings with lots of marble.  Even in this limited meaning, we could say that much of our lives are lived in “in the shadow” of these  buildings, and we tell ourselves “you can’t fight City Hall.”

In our courses, we use the word institution in a far wider sense.  In Wikipedia we find a useful definition from a political scientist: institutions are stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior.  Yet are they all really valued?  Let’s take a look at this Dilbert comic strip:

dilbert on institutions

Dilbert points out an example of the phenomenon of unwanted recurring behaviors we encounter in our lives, one that should be familiar to all of us – as familiar as City Hall.  Rather than valued recurring patterns of behavior, we may think of these as stuck or entrenched.

In our attempts to make the world a better place, we are bound to bump up against institutions.  What is the nature of this phenomenon of institutions, these ‘things’ that seem to live a life of their own and have an agenda of their own?  We pursue this question in the Grace with Institutions sequence of courses.

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1 Response to On Institutions

  1. I’m struggling with this. People seem to be unable to think outside of institutions. I have a great way to transform politics, which is a huge, dysfunctional institution. Very few people can hear it. And those who do who have any resources, time, money, connections, immediately launch into thinking from the institution of startups.


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