The niche as a theoretical tool

For several decades, the concept of the niche has enriched sociological theory. The niche represents the position or function of an entity, such as an organization or population of organizations, within a larger community environment. Using the concept of the niche allows researchers to go beyond classifying entities to understanding (a) their life chances under different and changing environmental conditions and (b) how they interact under the competitive conditions induced by a finite environment. We briefly review the intellectual history of the niche concept as it came from bioecology to sociology. The bulk of the article reviews the two major streams of sociological research that use the niche concept: the population ecology of organizations and McPherson's ecology of affiliation. Finally, we survey commonalities between these approaches and highlight new directions, including applications that take the niche concept well beyond its origins in organizational studies.
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