Conflict and Change in Category Identities: How Did the Internet Change What It Means To Be a Travel Agent?
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This research investigates evolution of the meanings assigned to the categories that designate and demarcate formal organizations of the same genre or type. I use grounded theory techniques to examine whether and how members and stakeholders relabel organizational categories and ascribe associated new meanings. Specifically, I uncover that what seemed to be an organizational category's change in direct response to the Internet was actually better explained as a confluence of gradual changes in response to socio-cultural, regulatory, and technological pressures. The empirical context for this study consists of the population of privately owned travel agencies as they confronted almost two decades of shifting consumer demands, the aftermath of deregulation, and the emergence of online competition. Data were gathered through interviews with agents and other individuals employed within the travel industry, archival accounts from various print and electronic sources, and nearly two decades of articles published in the category's primary trade journal. I pair discourse analysis of the agents' trade journal articles with other grounded theory techniques to build theory and document mechanisms through which both members and external stakeholders of an organizational category influence the meanings ascribed to a social construct.