The institutionalization of expertise in university licensing

This article draws on ethnographic data from a field leading university licensing office to document and explain a key step in the process of institutionalization, the abstraction of standardized rules and procedures from idiosyncratic efforts to collectively resolve pressing problems. I present and analyze cases where solutions to complicated quandaries become abstract bits of professional knowledge and demonstrate that in some circumstances institutionalized practices can contribute to the flexibility of expert reasoning and decision-making. In this setting, expertise is rationalized in response to institutional tensions between academic and business approaches to deal making and professional tensions between relational and legal approaches to negotiation. Abstraction and formalization contribute both to the convergence and stability of routines and to their improvisational use in professional work. Close attention to these processes in a strategic research setting sheds new light on an interesting tension in sociological theories of the professions while contributing to the development of a micro-level, social constructivist institutional theory.