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The Johnnies Onions of Roscoff: the survival of a local anchoring institution.

Abstract : Onion Johnnies are seasonal and itinerant sellers from the area of Roscoff in France, organized in company on a specified territory in the United Kingdom, walking and then cycling from door to door to sell their strings of entwisted red onions. Many were called Jean, which gave rise to the "Johnny" nickname. The first Onion Johnnies company was supposedly founded by Henri Ollivier, when he first set foot to Plymouth in 1828. Having returned with tales of how quickly and well he had sold his onions, he established a tradition that was to maintain through two centuries. To a British point of view, the Johnnies are peddlers. Even though there has long been a suspicion of dishonest or petty criminal activity associated with peddlers, the Johnnies were considered as respectable and deserving workers.Today, the Johnnies are 70 years old in average but new and young Johnnies become interested in maintaining the tradition. The Johnnies embodie a real institution and the onion is a key element of this institution. For Bartley and Tolbert (1997, p.99), institutions are “historical accretions of past practices and understandings that set conditions on actions”. This definition emphasizes the historical dimension of institutions that draw on past events to constrain present actions. The issue of change in institutional literature has been increasingly studied these last years and has mainly crystallized around the analysis of institutionalization process and the institutional entrepreneur (amongst others: Barley & Tolbert 1997; Holm 1995; Lanzara & Patriotta 2007; Maguire, Hardy & Lawrence 2004; Perkmann & Spicer 2008). Similarly, the temporal effects of institutional mechanisms have been underestimated, and have rarely been systematically analyzed (Lawrence, Winn and Jennings 2001). We assume that institutional work (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006) is dynamic and inscribed in a momentum. Jansen (2004) distinguishes statis-based momentum and change-based momentum. In both cases, actors’ efforts are inscribed in a specific path and course of actions. Little is known about the role of materiality in this succession of sequences. More specifically, few research study how actors use artefacts and materiality to maintain an institution. Thus the purpose of this research is twofold. First, we can bridge a gap in the literature about the role of materiality in institutional change. Second, this case illustrates how institution has to evolve to be maintained. In this case, boundary organization and materiality leads to the maintenance of an institution promise to the disuse.
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Contributor : Hélène Peton <>
Submitted on : Friday, March 20, 2015 - 3:00:15 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, March 19, 2020 - 12:28:02 PM


  • HAL Id : hal-01133848, version 1



Hélène Peton, Pascale Chateau Terrisse. The Johnnies Onions of Roscoff: the survival of a local anchoring institution. . EGOS, 2015, Athènes, Greece. ⟨hal-01133848⟩



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