Transformational Organizations and a Burst of Scientific Breakthroughs: The Institut Pasteur and Biomedicine, 1889–1919


We use a historical case study of the Institut Pasteur to articulate the concept of the transformational organization in science, an organization with the capacity to make a large number of scientific breakthroughs in a short period of time. In considering the potential characteristics that explain a burst of scientific innovations, we attempt to move beyond the standard arguments in the management and organizational sociology literature that typically focus on complex research teams with cross-fertilization of ideas. Rather, we discuss the organizational characteristics that facilitate the development of these types of mechanisms. In doing so we address the dilemma faced by organizations seeking to assemble complex teams, that is, increasing cognitive distance. To illustrate the concept of a transformational organization, we explore the formative years of the Institut Pasteur, 1889–1919.