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Inertia Busters: Challenger Influence on Incumbent Adaptation

  • Location
    Tinbergen Institute, room 1.01
  • Date and time

    May 09, 2019
    12:15 - 13:15

Incumbent organizations typically resist challengers, drawing on their connections to other actors invested in the prevailing field order. However, challenger influence is possible when changes in proximate fields generate performance pressures to relinquish a declining position. As the alternatives become more economically feasible, ties to supporters of the status quo may also delay exit by incumbents. We investigate how challengers prod these inert companies to adapt more quickly. This mechanism broadens social movement theory to account for influence on targets that are otherwise impervious to activists because they are insulated from consumer pressures. It also deepens institutional theory’s understanding of incumbent reactions to challengers. We find support for our theory from an analysis of coal plant retirements in the U.S. from 2008-2015.