Actors and institutions in the emergence of a new field : a study of the cholesterol-lowering functional foods market

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2007-12-19
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Date
2007
Department
Major/Subject
Kansainvälinen liiketoiminta
International Business
Mcode
Degree programme
Language
en
Pages
246 s.
Series
Acta Universitatis oeconomicae Helsingiensis. A, 319
Abstract
Rapid scientific and technological progress has resulted in the blurring of traditional industry boundaries and in the emergence of new product markets and broader organisational fields. Despite recent scholarly interest in field emergence, there is still little knowledge on how new fields emerge at the intersection of established industries and on the multi-local nature of the phenomenon. The purpose of this study is to increase the understanding of the interaction between actors and institutions in field emergence at the intersection of established industries and spatial scales ranging from local to global. This will be accomplished by building mainly on the literature on institutional entrepreneurship and importing conceptual ideas from social network theory and international business research. The main research question this study aims to answer is “How do new fields emerge from the interaction between actors and institutions at the intersection of established industries and spatial scales?” The study explores the topic through the emergence of the cholesterol-lowering functional foods market during the last two decades. Cholesterol-lowering functional foods represent a science-based field between the food and pharmaceutical industries. The societal relevance of studying functional foods is high as their medicine-like effects challenge conventional institutions regarding regulation, norms and consumer awareness of the relationship between food and health. The primary source of data is 32 semi-structured in-depth interviews carried out in Finland and the U.S. between late 2004 and April 2007. The interviewees consist of managers of MNCs and smaller startups, top scientists in the field, national public health authorities and regulative authorities. Further, a limited amount of participant observation data and a collection of secondary data such as trade journals and patent data is used. Finally, a comparative data set on nanotechnology was used in two co-authored essays on field emergence. This doctoral thesis is divided into two parts. The summary part concentrates on the theoretical and methodological foundations, while the second part consists of four essays, each exploring field emergence through different conceptual lenses. In Essay 1 we investigate the role of micro level activities induced by scientists in the emergence of a spatial cluster. The key contribution of the essay is an analytical division of the various roles played by scientists in cluster formation from the perspective of institutional change. In Essay 2, we depict how depending on their network positions, specific individuals and organisations may act as brokers that span structural holes between previously unconnected industries and disciplines, and hence trigger the emergence of new cross-industry and cross-disciplinary networks and influence the emerging institutions of a new field. The contribution of the essay is to combine social network theory and the literature on institutional entrepreneurship. In Essay 3, we discuss how institutional entrepreneurs in science-based fields mediate between globally circulating discourses and local institutions and competencies. The contribution of the essay is to investigate agency across spatial scales in order to address the central weakness of the institutional entrepreneurship approach, namely that of the concentration on geographically distinct and delimited areas. In Essay 4, I examine the cross-border transferability of the cholesterol-lowering functional foods concept. By building on neoinstitutional theory and on the recent advancement in international business research, I propose a novel concept of industry institutional distance, which is able to consider industry-specific dynamics in emerging fields. In summary, this research deepens the existing understanding on field emergence as a multi-local phenomenon. The results of this thesis indicate the fundamental importance of individual and organisational agency in field emergence. Scientists, enabled by their network position, knowledge and legitimacy, were found to transmit knowledge and practices between disciplines, established industries, and spatial scales. Successful field emergence further necessitates the collective mobilisation of a wide group of field participants and the receptiveness of the institutional environment. The results suggest that the ability to see beyond the boundaries of disciplines and industries and to operate in different institutional environments is crucial in field emergence and in building new product markets. The thesis concludes with a model of field emergence at the intersection of industries, disciplines and spatial scales demonstrating the complexities of the emergence of a new science-based field
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Supervising professor
Salmi, Asta, professor
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