Credit and Classification: The Impact of Industry Boundaries in 19th Century America

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In this article, we examine how issues of multi-category membership (hybridity) were handled during the evolution of one of the first general systems of industrial classification in the United States, the credit rating schema of R. G. Dun and Company. Drawing on a repeated cross-sectional study of credit evaluations during the post bellum period (1870-1900), our empirical analyses suggest that organizational membership in multiple categories need not be problematic when classification systems themselves are emergent or in flux and when organizations avoid rare combinations or identities involving ambiguous components. As Dun's schema became institutionalized, boundaries between industries were more clearly defined and boundary violations became subject to increased attention and penalty by credit reporters. Our perspective highlights the utility of an evolutionary perspective and tests its implications for the salience of distinct mechanisms of hybridity. © 2009 by Johnson Graduate School, Cornell University.





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Ruef, M, and K Patterson (2009). Credit and Classification: The Impact of Industry Boundaries in 19th Century America. Administrative Science Quarterly, 54(3). pp. 486–520. 10.2189/asqu.2009.54.3.486 Retrieved from

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Martin Ruef

Jack and Pamela Egan Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship

My research considers the social context of entrepreneurship from both a contemporary and historical perspective. I draw on large-scale surveys of entrepreneurs in the United States to explore processes of team formation, innovation, exchange, and boundary maintenance in nascent business startups. My historical analyses address entrepreneurial activity and constraint during periods of profound institutional change. This work has considered a diverse range of sectors, including the organizational transformation of Southern agriculture and industry after the Civil War, African American entrepreneurship under Jim Crow, the transition of the U.S. healthcare system from professional monopoly to managed care, and the character of entrepreneurship during early mercantile and industrial capitalism.

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