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Blending and bridging in field formation

Dissertation
Author: Yu-Chieh (Jade) Lo
Abstract:
Compared to the literature on the effects of organizational fields, much less is known about how early pioneers struggle for recognition and resources during the course of field formation, and how benign resource mobilization strategies, if overused, may also produce unintended consequences at both individual and collective levels. This dissertation focuses on two complementary processes in the context of field formation: blending and bridging. Important breakthroughs often come from attempts to blend elements from disparate knowledge domains, and legitimating and promoting new ideas requires skill of building new coalitions by bridging multiple "worlds" that all stand to benefit from new ideas. When blending and bridging are not balanced, however, the efforts of entrepreneurs are likely to be subject to the familiar negative consequences of blending and bridging, including unclear identity and increased coordination and evaluation costs. Proper balances of blending and bridging enable those who participate in nascent fields to manage the apparent tensions between their positive and negative consequences. This argument is tested in two empirical studies and further expanded in a theory chapter. Using the NanoBank data on NSF grants in nanotechnology, the first essay asks how pioneers in a nascent field can use bridging strategies to overcome the liability associated with both the newness of their own ideas and the novelty of the emergent field in which they work, and how these strategies might also backfire if overused. With patent data from NanoBank, the second study inspects how a new institutional logic favoring interdisciplinary research enabled nanotechnology to emerge from the intersections of multiple knowledge domains by blending familiar elements in novel ways. Motivated by findings from these empirical inspections, I sketch a general theory about the role of blending and bridging in the process of field formation in the third essay. Overall, I find in this research support for my argument that the struggle between "being innovative" and "being recognizable" is indeed a real tension, but not one that is irresolvable: actors in a nascent field and the emergent field itself can maintain their viability with delicate balances between novelty and familiarity, breadth and focus, and diversity and coherence. By addressing some fundamental tensions associated with blending and bridging processes in the course of field formation, this dissertation hopes to contribute to organization theory and entrepreneurship studies.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Acknowledgements .......................................................................................................... ii

List of Tables ................................................................................................................. viii

List of Figures ................................................................................................................. ix

Abstract .............................................................................................................................x

Chapter 1. Introduction .....................................................................................................1

What We Know about Fields—and What We Don’t Know (Clearly) Yet ..............5

Blending and Bridging ............................................................................................9

Thesis Organization and Expected Contributions .................................................13

Chapter 2: Literature Review and New Definitions .......................................................16

Blending and Bridging Strategies .........................................................................18

Beneficial Effects of Blending and Bridging ........................................................26

Negative Effects of Blending and Bridging ..........................................................32

The Good, The Bad, and the Tensions ..................................................................34

Chapter 3. Nanotechnology—A Tale of a Field ..............................................................36

Blending and Bridging in Nano S&T—The Case of NSEC .................................40

Happily Ever After? Issues in Nano S&T .............................................................45

Chapter 4. Essay One: The Soft Art of Hard Science in the Emerging Field of Nanotechnology ..............................................................................................................48

Abstract of Essay One ...........................................................................................48

Introduction to Essay One .....................................................................................49

Scientists as Entrepreneurs: Mobilization Strategies ............................................52

Requirements for Successful Mobilization Strategies ..........................................56

Mobilization Strategies in an Evolving Field ........................................................63

Methods .................................................................................................................65

Discussion .............................................................................................................78

Chapter 5. Essay Two: Out of Many, One: Cognition, Context, and the Categorical Imperative in the Emergence of Nanotechnology...........................................................85

Abstract of Essay Two ...........................................................................................85

Introduction to Essay Two .....................................................................................86

Recognizing Innovation ........................................................................................88

Cognitive Limitations ............................................................................................89

Institutional Logic .................................................................................................91

Cognition and Context, Combined ........................................................................94

Research Site, Data and Methods ..........................................................................96

Discussion ...........................................................................................................120

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Chapter 6. Essay three: Too Much of a Good Thing? Blending, Bridging, Balancing .130

Diversity, Coherence and Field Viability ............................................................133

Unintended Consequences at the Field Level .....................................................142

Blending, Bridging, Balancing and Timing ........................................................146

Discussion and Conclusion .................................................................................154

Chapter 7. Conclusion ...................................................................................................156

Intended Contributions to Theory .......................................................................157

Intended Contributions to Practice and Policy ....................................................160

Limitations and Future Research .........................................................................163

References .....................................................................................................................167

Appendix. Descriptive Statistics and Correlations .......................................................185

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LIST OF TABLES Table 2.1. Blending and Bridging: A Summary ..............................................................35

Table 4.1. Effects of Mobilizing Strategies on Logged Grant Amount ..........................72

Table 5.1. Analyses of Patent Pending Time for Patents in Nanotechnology ............... 111

Table 5.2. Analyses of Forward Citations for Patents in Nanotechnology .................. 116

Table 6.1. Problems with Unbalanced Blending and Bridging Activities ....................152

Table A.1. Variables Used in Chapter 4 ........................................................................185

Table A.2. Variables Used in Chapter 5 ........................................................................186

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LIST OF FIGURES Figure 3.1. U.S. Government Nanotechnology R & D Expenditures, 1997-2009 .........39

Figure 3.2. Nano Patents, 1980-2000..............................................................................40

Figure 3.3. Collaboration Network at NSEC ..................................................................43

Figure 3.4. Broader Impacts of NSEC ............................................................................45

Figure 4.1. Predicted Effect of Similarity on Grant Amount (NSF Grants) ...................77

Figure 4.2. Predicted Effect of Breath on Grant Amount (NSF Grants) .........................77

Figure 5.1 Multi-PI Awards as a Percentage of All NSF Awards, 1982-2006 ..............108

Figure 5.2. Changing Effects of Patent Classes on Pending Time ................................ 113

Figure 5.3. Changing Effects of Patent Classes on Forward Citations ......................... 118

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ABSTRACT

Compared to the literature on the effects of organizational fields, much less is known about how early pioneers struggle for recognition and resources during the course of field formation, and how benign resource mobilization strategies, if overused, may also produce unintended consequences at both individual and collective levels. This dissertation focuses on two complementary processes in the context of field formation: blending and bridging. Important breakthroughs often come from attempts to blend elements from disparate knowledge domains, and legitimating and promoting new ideas requires skill of building new coalitions by bridging multiple “worlds” that all stand to benefit from new ideas. When blending and bridging are not balanced, however, the efforts of entrepreneurs are likely to be subject to the familiar negative consequences of blending and bridging, including unclear identity and increased coordination and evaluation costs. Proper balances of blending and bridging enable those who participate in nascent fields to manage the apparent tensions between their positive and negative consequences. This argument is tested in two empirical studies and further expanded in a theory chapter. Using the NanoBank data on NSF grants in nanotechnology, the first essay asks how pioneers in a nascent field can use bridging strategies to overcome the liability associated with both the newness of their own ideas and the novelty of the emergent field in which they work, and how these strategies might also backfire if overused. With patent data from NanoBank, the second study inspects how a new institutional logic favoring

xi

interdisciplinary research enabled nanotechnology to emerge from the intersections of multiple knowledge domains by blending familiar elements in novel ways. Motivated by findings from these empirical inspections, I sketch a general theory about the role of blending and bridging in the process of field formation in the third essay. Overall, I find in this research support for my argument that the struggle between “being innovative” and “being recognizable” is indeed a real tension, but not one that is irresolvable: actors in a nascent field and the emergent field itself can maintain their viability with delicate balances between novelty and familiarity, breadth and focus, and diversity and coherence. By addressing some fundamental tensions associated with blending and bridging processes in the course of field formation, this dissertation hopes to contribute to organization theory and entrepreneurship studies.

1

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION Society deserves to see a return on its investment in science, but researchers need help to make their case. Editorial, Nature. Volume: 465. May 2010 In 2005, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced creation of a new cross-reference class for nanotechnology, defined as applied sciences and technologies that fit one of three criteria: working at a very small scale—on the order of 1 to 100 nanometers; creating structures or devices whose size gives them novel properties or applications; and / or manipulating matter on an atomic scale. This official recognition of nanotechnology as a new class of research and development was the culmination of many prior steps in making nanotechnology a reality. In 2000, the U.S. government launched the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). In the 1990s, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began funding research related to what would now be called nanotechnology. During the 1980s, foundational research gained momentum thanks to the development of enabling tools such as the scanning tunneling microscope and the atomic force microscope (Darby & Zucker, 2006a), and the general idea captured the public imagination thanks to messengers like Eric Drexler, who wrote popular science books that popularized utopian visions of nanotechnology’s potential and actively promoted the idea of molecular nanotechnology to various communities, or like Mike Roco, who mobilized resources for the then-obscure nascent field of anotechnology by bridging the academia, industrialists, and government agency. (McCray, 2005). The nanotechnology is an example of what organizational scholars call a field— that is, a group of actors that constitutes a recognized area of human activity, a definition

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built on DiMaggio and Powell’s (1983) classic definition of an organizational field. Although defined in terms of the ability to manipulate things at nano-scale, much more is required to build a field around the label “nanotechnology” and its associated technologies. Specifically, as already implied in the general definition of field, the very existence of a field involves recognition—that is, the formation of a field requires not just scientific and engineering activities that lead to nano-scale materials, but also recognition from different kinds of social actors—individuals from industrialists, regulators and the public and organizations from large corporations to startups to universities and government bureaucracies. In other words, in order to be even called or perceived as a field, field participants have to see each other — and to be seen— as sharing a new identity. They are collectively recognized for what being associated in some way with what that label came to mean—which is manipulating matter at a scale of 100 nm or less. Fields like nanotechnology are thus a group of actors recognized for their participation in a commonly understood set of unifying activities 1

1 As this research explores the formation of fields rather than their effects on organizations and actors, I define field more narrowly than in the literature that emphasizes field effects. In that literature, for example, Scott (1991; 2001) defines organizational field as “a community of organizations that partakes of a common meaning system and whose participants interact more frequently and fatefully with one another than with actors outside the field.” In this sense, a field typically consists of constituents such as the government, funding sources, professional or trade associations, special interest groups, and the general public-any actor that imposes a coercive, normative, or cognitive influence on a given focal organization or population of organizations (also see Hoffman, 1999). While constituents such as regulatory or funding agencies are important in my analyses, too, they play a role that is closer to audiences than to players. I emphasize the direct participants--inventors and innovators—because they bear the brunt of the burdens of defining a new field’s boundaries and identity. . As new fields form, they typically do so around sets of activities considered innovative enough that they span existing fields rather than fitting into them cleanly, so innovation is essential to field formation.

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This raises an important question that is the focus of this dissertation: innovations, by definition, are new and unfamiliar when they first appear. For those involved in those new activities, therefore, the question is how to get “recognized” when what they are doing and even the field itself are unfamiliar? As the quote from the journal Nature editorial suggests, in order to gain recognition and resources, it is important for scientists to reach out and to connect to different constituents, making the case that their research enhance the benefits of larger communities. In fact, one of the most influential funding agencies in the world, the US National Science Foundation (NSF), would not even consider a proposal unless it explicitly includes activities to demonstrate the project's “broader impacts” on science or society at large. Part of the reasons why nanotechnology can evolve from something obscure to “the next big thing” to fuel future economic development is that it fits this bill: since its inception, nano-scale materials and engineering have been promoted as having a wide variety of potential uses, including electronic, magnetic and optoelectronic, biomedical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, energy, catalytic, and materials applications. In sum, nanotechnology has been framed as something that will help humans live better, longer, and happier. It thus should not be surprising that government funding devoted to R&D in nano-scale science and technology has grown 15 times in a mere twelve years. However, the lucrative prospects associated with nanotechnology have also generated a new “nano rush,” a rush not only creating new meanings for old technologies and generating new opportunities for existing disciplines, but also blurring the boundaries crucial for the new field to take shape. “Nanotechnology” has been socially constructed

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as a rather broad label (Grodal, 2007). Just as the prefix “nano” can be applied to a wide range of technologies and products, the current landscape of “nano-community” consists of a large, diverse body of participants, including both opportunists and serious advocates, both real players and “nano-pretenders.” Some observers have worried that the current hype associated with nanotechnology may impede its development for two reasons: first, the multi-facet of nano-related technologies and the unclear boundaries of this nascent field have made it increasingly difficult for insiders to define themselves and for outsiders to evaluate their claims and offers. Second, potential funders and investors have started to doubt whether the underlying technology can live up to the hype and whether the promises being made can be delivered within a reasonable time frame. It is not obvious if nanotechnology will maintain its momentum (Berube, 2006). This observation raises a fundamental tension in the process of getting recognized: because early innovators in an emergent field are often penalized for doing things that don’t fit squarely into any established field, they often have to make extra efforts to connect to multiple domains and speak to a larger audiences to mobilize resources and to gain recognition. As they do so, however, the identities of both their own projects and the nascent field as a whole are often diluted as well, and the expectations of the new things that they promote may be raised to a level that is essentially unattainable. As I will elaborate in the following chapters, both consequences can be detrimental—not only to those entrepreneurial individuals, but also to the nascent field as a whole. To introduce my exploration of this problem, I briefly review existing research on fields and their emergence to highlight both the starting points and the points of departure

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for this thesis. Organization theory has had much to say about how fields affect organization, but less has been said about the fundamental tensions encountered by early pioneers when they first start experimenting with new ideas that later become building blocks of a new field. I then propose two complementary mechanisms in the processes of field formation, blending and bridging, and argue how a better grasp of them would contribute to our understanding of the dilemmas encounter early field participants in their struggle for resources and recognition. Next I preview how the two empirical essays in this dissertation address some of the most pressing issues in the process of “getting recognized” that have not yet been satisfactorily addressed in prior literature. I then discuss how these lower-level activities and struggles can shape higher-level phenomenon and propose a series of field-level propositions. I conclude this introduction with expected contributions. What We Know about Fields—and What We Don’t Know (Clearly) Yet The notion of fields (or other related concepts such as forms, populations, markets, or industries) and the underlying theoretical assumptions about these organizational collectives used to be more about constraining than about liberating, more about stabilizing than about changing, and more about keeping things in order than about asking how those orders emerge in the first place. For example, new institutional theory focuses on isomorphism and conformity to prevailing field-level orders, suggesting “a static, constrained, and oversocialized view organizations” (Powell, 1991: 183). The primary premise of organizational ecology is that organizations are constrained by their environments and can hardly change; even if they do, the process of change itself is so

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disruptive that it will result in higher rate of mortality. Therefore, the broader changes in the organizational landscape and the emergence of new organizational forms are better explained by the entry and selective replacement of organizations, which are mainly a function of various features of the environment (Hannan & Freeman, 1977, , 1984, , 1989). With very few exceptions (for example, Lounsbury & Rao, 2004; Pontikes, 2008), most students of organizations accept established categories and classification systems such as SIC or NAICS as the status quo without asking how they are formed in the first place, and how a group of new things come to be seen as being for real and are naturalized as part of the classification system. However, this static and constraining view of field and related concepts has been gradually changing over the past two decades. With rapid growth in studies of institutional entrepreneurship and field dynamics (e.g. Garud, Jain, & Kumaraswamy, 2002; Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001, just to name a few; Lounsbury et al., 2004; Maguire, Hardy, & Lawrence, 2004; Rao, 1998; Rao, Morrill, & Zald, 2000; Weber, Heinze, & DeSoucey, 2008), the focus has been shifting from structure to agency, from the constraining power of fields to the construction of fields themselves, especially in the tradition of institutional analysis. In inspecting the role of entrepreneurial action in legitimating new activities and field identities, research suggests that entrepreneurs can often change institutional arrangements or construct new fields through savvy recombination of existing elements (Clemens, 1993; Rao, Monin, & Durand, 2005), or mobilize resources and enhance perceived legitimacy by framing their endeavors to build

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“bridges” to multiple audiences (Aldrich & Fiol, 1994; DiMaggio, 1991; Maguire, Hardy & Lawrence, 2004). This stream of research has contributed to prior literature, especially to mainstream organization theories such as institutional theory and organization ecology, by not only broadening the scope of investigation but also changing the philosophical assumptions about actors and structure. By asking not only how higher-order effects constrain individual actors and affect micro-level outcomes, this shift in research focus redirect attention to the power of agency. In other words, the relationship between institutions and actors, fields and entrepreneurs, and structure and agency has been re- theorized from one that is mainly constraining and stable to one that is more enabling and subject to change. This new wave of conversations then offers another imagination of structure: structure is now pictured as accumulation of experiences; that is, macro-level phenomenon is shaped, maintained, reproduced, and changed by micro-level activities and transactions (Clemens & Cook, 1999; Swidler, 1986; Tilly, 1999). According to this view, the linkage between the micro and macro is a dynamic and circular one, instead of a static and one way route. In spite of these major contributions, however, this emerging stream of research has also suffered from a few theoretical weaknesses. Besides the common critique that it tends to present an overly agentic view and ignore the broader institutional forces and structural configurations that constitute individual activities in the first place (Lounsbury & Crumley, 2007; Schneiberg & Lounsbury, 2007), by celebrating entrepreneurial capacity and emphasizing the beneficial effects of field construction strategies,

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researchers in this camp have not to date seriously examined potential downside or unintended consequences of these entrepreneurial actions. Based on this line of theorization, this is how changes happen or how new fields emerge: existing fields, are like institutions, provide schemas and resources (Schneiberg & Clemens, 2006). While existing arrangements are mostly constraining, changes and innovations are possible because of two conditions: first, most fields are composed of heterogeneous membership (although to different degrees), hence variations within the dominant schema; second, there exist multiple fields, hence multiple sets of schemas and resources to draw on. In other words, there are multiple “tools” in a toolkit that interested actors can make use of to create new things (Swidler, 1986). They can innovate by combine or recombine existing schemas from different sources, creating new schema; they can also overcome resource constraints by translating their ideas or framing their innovations in a way that resonates with a broader audience, mobilizing resources. In sum, “boundary works” that span multiple fields or bridge different spheres have been argued to benefit field formation. However, as foreshadowed in the preceding discussion, the reality in emergent fields (nanotechnology being one example) reveals an uneasy tension: a newly emerged group of actors or organizations have to connect to multiple domains, yet they also need to maintain a coherent identity. How do they do so? Prior works have not yet offered satisfactory answers, and my dissertation project focuses on this dilemma—specifically, the problem of appearing to straddle established boundaries and combining elements from different knowledge domains, which I label blending and bridging 2

2 Blending and bridging are closely related but analytically different mechanisms. I will define and discuss each in the section below and in Chapter 2. actions.

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Bridging helps would-be field pioneers speak to audiences potentially interested in supporting or participating in a fledgling field, while blending actually constructs the guts of the new field. Both are required for a field to take off and for those who participate in a field to have a viable and sustainable career. Below I briefly introduce and define these two notions, and how a better grasp of these two would help to address this fundamental tension often face early pioneers in the process of field formation. Blending and Bridging Existing theories suggest that innovations typically come from combining elements from different knowledge domains, and efforts that get them recognizable or recognized often involve translating foreign concepts into familiar ones or connecting the new idea with the broader world. A few examples from prior work: non-redundant information flows from different knowledge domains (Burt, 1992; Granovetter, 1973); novel ideas or breakthroughs often emerge from blending and recombining existing elements in new ways (Dollinger, 1984; Schumpeter, 1934; Tushman & Scanlan, 1981); and boundary-bridging efforts help to connect novel things with the familiar world, legitimating them (Aldrich & Fiol, 1994; Clemens, 1997; Hargadon & Douglas, 2001). Extant literature have used various terms to describe efforts crossing established boundaries, drawing on ideas from multiple domains, or connecting previously disconnected spheres, including recombination (Kogut & Zander, 1992; Schumpeter, 1934), blending (Hannan & Freeman, 1986), bridging (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Greenwood & Suddaby, 2006), bricolage (Baker & Nelson, 2005; Rao et al., 2005), and boundary spanning (Aldrich & Herker, 1977; Leifer & Delbecq, 1978; Rosenkopf &

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Nerkar, 2001). And these terms are often used interchangeably in prior works. However, in spite of their similarity and substantial overlaps, I argue that many of these concepts are analytically different and should be treated so. In this dissertation, I focus on two types of complementary processes: blending and bridging. Both are crucial in the course of field emergence, and both involve crossing established boundaries and spanning multiple spheres. Although they co-occur so routinely that their distinctive features have previously been overlooked, they are theoretically and empirically two distinct but complementary mechanisms important to field formation. While to blend means to combine several elements into a new integrated whole, to bridge two of more things that are distinct is to make connections between or among them while leaving their separate identities intact. I draw this distinction from the common understanding of these words. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “to blend” as meaning to “combine or associate so that the separate constituents or the line of demarcation cannot be distinguished.” Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines blend as “to mix (components) intimately or harmoniously so that their individuality is obscured in the product.” In contrast, these sources define “to bridge” as “to make a bridge over or across” (Webster) and “to span or cross as with a bridge” (OED), where “bridge” is “a structure carrying a pathway over a depression or an obstacle” (Webster) and “a structure … affording a passage between two points” (OED). Bridging and blending are complementary aspects of the field formation process. Whereas blending is about putting together the elements that make up a new field, bridging is about connecting to sources that can support and legitimate it. Said in reverse,

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bridging is more about building legitimacy and mobilizing resources, and blending is more about the activities those resources are secured to support—constructing the guts of a new field. As these definitions make clear, the two go together, but they are not the same. Distinguishing the two therefore holds the promise of clarifying common confusions about the apparently contradictory consequences of “boundary-crossing” activities: on the one hand, blending aids innovation (Fleming, 2001) while bridging helps resource mobilization and legitimacy building (Aldrich & Fiol, 1994); on the other hand, entrepreneurs are often penalized for not fitting in established categories when they attempt to redraw the lines (Hsu, Hannan, & Kocak, 2009; Zuckerman, 1999). At the field level, blending and bridging have been argued to facilitate field formation, while both can also dilute the identity and blur the boundaries of an emergent field, hurting its development. Understanding the underlying mechanisms associated with each process should help us get a better grasp of these tensions. Moreover, distinguishing between blending and bridging contributes to theory building for another reason: besides the problem about proper usage of each type of activities, we have another kind of tension which has not yet even been discussed in prior literature: the tensions between the two complementary processes. If entrepreneurs in a field are too busy engaging in bridging activities without delivering their promises through corresponding blending activities, a field may fail by being too successful in mobilizing resources in the first place. In contrast, field entrepreneurs can come up with important breakthroughs by blending seemingly unrelated elements, but cleaver innovations may be overlooked or undervalued

Full document contains 198 pages
Abstract: Compared to the literature on the effects of organizational fields, much less is known about how early pioneers struggle for recognition and resources during the course of field formation, and how benign resource mobilization strategies, if overused, may also produce unintended consequences at both individual and collective levels. This dissertation focuses on two complementary processes in the context of field formation: blending and bridging. Important breakthroughs often come from attempts to blend elements from disparate knowledge domains, and legitimating and promoting new ideas requires skill of building new coalitions by bridging multiple "worlds" that all stand to benefit from new ideas. When blending and bridging are not balanced, however, the efforts of entrepreneurs are likely to be subject to the familiar negative consequences of blending and bridging, including unclear identity and increased coordination and evaluation costs. Proper balances of blending and bridging enable those who participate in nascent fields to manage the apparent tensions between their positive and negative consequences. This argument is tested in two empirical studies and further expanded in a theory chapter. Using the NanoBank data on NSF grants in nanotechnology, the first essay asks how pioneers in a nascent field can use bridging strategies to overcome the liability associated with both the newness of their own ideas and the novelty of the emergent field in which they work, and how these strategies might also backfire if overused. With patent data from NanoBank, the second study inspects how a new institutional logic favoring interdisciplinary research enabled nanotechnology to emerge from the intersections of multiple knowledge domains by blending familiar elements in novel ways. Motivated by findings from these empirical inspections, I sketch a general theory about the role of blending and bridging in the process of field formation in the third essay. Overall, I find in this research support for my argument that the struggle between "being innovative" and "being recognizable" is indeed a real tension, but not one that is irresolvable: actors in a nascent field and the emergent field itself can maintain their viability with delicate balances between novelty and familiarity, breadth and focus, and diversity and coherence. By addressing some fundamental tensions associated with blending and bridging processes in the course of field formation, this dissertation hopes to contribute to organization theory and entrepreneurship studies.