The Dominant Logics of Strategy Research


Based on our remarks in chapter two, we demonstrate in this chapter how research on strategy context, process, and content is embedded in dominant logics. To reach beyond rhetoric and to avoid oversimplified arguments, we show not only that dominant logics exist in some strategic realities but particularly in those realities that strategy scholars most often refer to. If we believe Prahalad and Hamel (1994: 6) that many assumptions that traditional and recent strategic realities rest on may be incomplete and/or outdated, we need to become familiar with these assumptions before unfolding critical arguments. Discussing these beliefs is inevitable if we are to value the novelty of alternative ways of reasoning later on.


Strategic Management Strategy Research Strategic Management Journal Industry Structure Fourth Level 
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  1. 32.
    The two closest ranked journals are the Harvard Business Review with 13% and the Academy of Management Journal with 12%. Further evidence of the dominance of the Strategic Management Journal can be found when referring to Starbuck’s widely cited ranking of social science journals where the Strategic Management Journal ranks 40th (out of 509 journals). For further information see Aware of the limitations of previous studies of journal influence (e.g., the focus on a single sub-area of research over a restricted number of years and the inconsistency in using evaluation criteria such as subjective ratings of department chairpersons), Podsakoff et al. (2005) use the ‘objective’ measure of citation frequency to account for the influence of management journals. Out of a sample of 28 journals over a time period of 19 years (1981–1999) the Strategic Management Journal shows an increase in influence (from rank eight during 1981–1984 to rank four during 1995–1999 in terms of total citation counts in the 28 journals). Based on a survey among tenured professors in strategic management, MacMillan (1989, 1991) and MacMillan and Stern (1987) even rank the SMJ as the most outstanding outlet for research in strategic management.Google Scholar
  2. 33.
    There may be a variety of other influences (including colleagues, former professors, life experience) as Tahai and Meyer (1999: 279) note. However, citing an article or book represents a public acknowledgement of an influence, while other factors cannot be measured as easily as citations. In addition, a citation analysis does not reveal whether the cited document is treated positively in the text and whether the document is central or peripheral to the content of the analyzed text.Google Scholar
  3. 34.
    The SMJ increased output from 4 issues in 1980 to 12 issues in 2000 and increased the average number of citations from 25,57 in 1980 to 75,27 in 1999 (Phelan et al. 2002: 1163).Google Scholar
  4. 35.
    Take the following example: Barney’s (1991) article has a total citation frequency of 88 and has been published for 10 years (1991 until 2000), which yields 8.8 citations per year for the 10-year period. Andrews’s (1971) book, by contrast, has a total citation frequency of 80 and has been published for 30 years (of which only the 1980 to 2000 period is of relevance to this bibliometric study), which yields 3.81 citations per year for the 21-year period. Barney’s (1991)’ success’ is mostly due to the fact that his contribution is a trail-blazing one for the resource-based view that gained much popularity during the 90s when there were three times as many issues of the SMJ per year as in the 80s and each article contained three times as many citations as in the 80s. Although, Andrews (1971) had more time to collect citations in the SMJ than Barney (1991), he was not among the advocates of a paradigm during the overall publication period of the SMJ as Barney (1991) was in the 90s. Andrews’s breakthrough came with the planning paradigm of the 60s (see also Learned et al. 1969) and is thus not sufficiently represented by SMJ-citations. It thus needs to be argued that articles that are commonly associated with a paradigm (e.g., Barney 1991 with resource-based thinking) get heavily cited as long as the paradigm is en vogue. In the end, this would lead to an overrepresentation of the authors of the market and resource-based view, as these are the paradigms that fall into the publication period of the SMJ. Without an adjustment, works that are published toward the end of the 1980–2000 period’ suffer’ from the fact that they had little time to collect citations.Google Scholar
  5. 36.
    Strategy scholars have followed this contingency approach as the following statement indicates: “The field needs to begin to ask and test scientific questions: if a manager finds conditions X, Y, and Z, then he is most likely to be more effective if he follows strategy ‘A’ than ‘B’.” (Fahey and Christinsen 1986: 169) Hofer (1975) even outlines a contingency theory of business strategy.Google Scholar
  6. 37.
    Thompson’s (1967) notion of adaptation reaches beyond a simple determinism. He states that “[w]e must emphasize that organizations are not simply determined by their environments. Administration may innovate on any or all of the necessary dimensions, but only to the extent that the innovations are acceptable to those on whom the organization must and can depend.” (Thompson 1967: 148) The environment may be altered, however, only to the extent that the environment accepts these ‘rules of the game’. In other words, Thompson does not reach beyond the assumption that there is only one environment that is relevant for all organizations.Google Scholar
  7. 38.
    The limitations of this ‘command and control’ model are discussed by Levy et al. (2003: 98) and Stoney (1998: 4).Google Scholar
  8. 39.
    The formulation/implementation distinction is most evident in Ansoff’s book Corporate Strategy which is divided into two parts: Strategy Formulation and Strategy Implementation. Ansoff’s (1987b) belief in the rational capacity of human beings to forecast — a view from which he rarely deviates (Ansoff 1991) — becomes obvious when considering the advice he gives for diagnosing environmental turbulence: “The procedure for diagnosing environmental turbulence is to circle the observed values which best describe the condition of each of the eleven attributes [which cause environmental turbulence]. For purposes of capability diagnosis, the circled values should represent the anticipated condition of the environment five to seven years into the future.” (Ansoff 1987b: 207, annotation added) Over the years, Ansoff (1979: 31) also critically reflected upon this mode of thinking but never replaced his basic presupposition of a linear strategy process.Google Scholar
  9. 40.
    The resource-based view remains notably silent on these issues as well. Even though Barney (1991: 113) recognizes that a formal planning system enables a firm to recognize and exploit its resources, he does not provide any precise statements on the nature of the planning process. He only highlights the role of informal strategy-making processes in achieving competitive advantage. Following Barney, such informal processes may be of value because they are rare and less likely to be imitated.Google Scholar
  10. 41.
    Ironically, Cyert and March’s decision model, although still based on a thinking/action type of perspective, leaves us with a framework that radically downplays the importance of organizational goals in general. This is why Ortmann (1976: 59) concludes that Cyert and March leave the impression that organizations are goalless and problems are simply solved as they occur. Cyert and March (1963: 119) argue: “We assume that organizations make decisions by solving a series of problems; each problem is solved as it arises; the organization then waits for another problem to appear.”Google Scholar
  11. 42.
    The authors of the economically based strategic realities share this critique. Nelson and Winter (1982) criticize the economic perspective that often conceptualizes economic man as a perfect mathematician; they argue that “[t]his affront to realism is not innocuous. It opens the door to full reliance on the notion of fully preplanned behavior, even in contexts where the level of complexity involved is such as to overwhelm the aggregate capacity of Earth’s computers.” (Nelson and Winter 1982: 66) Similarly, Scherer (1980) argues: “Decision makers cannot know precisely how strong and how elastic demand will be in the next period, let alone ten years hence, or how far labor unions will carry their struggle for higher wages in forthcoming negotiations, or how rival sellers will react to a price increase, or what the prime interest rate will be next June.” (Scherer 1980: 29) In addition, we do not discuss in which way ‘individual’ and ‘organizational’ rationality are linked to each other. Simon (1971: 80, 96–109) puts great emphasis on this topic, yet also remains rather vague in describing their relation. Basically, he assumes that organizations ‘permit’ individuals to approach problems reasonably and even closer to objective rationality (Simon 1971: 80).Google Scholar
  12. 43.
    “In a strict sense, a decision can influence the future [i.e. action] in only two ways: (1) present behavior, determined by this decision, may limit future possibilities, and (2) future decisions may be guided to a greater or lesser extent by the present decision.” (Simon 1971: 97, annotation added)Google Scholar
  13. 44.
    Porter (1985: 4) even speaks about ‘rules’ while arguing that “strategy must grow out of a sophisticated understanding of the rules of competition that determine an industry’s attractiveness.”Google Scholar
  14. 45.
    We should note that Porter (1991) has written an article called Towards a Dynamic View of Strategy in which he separates his own thinking about strategy in a cross-sectional problem (the causes of superior performance) and a longitudinal problem (the dynamic process by which competitive positions are created). However, in discussing the importance of the longitudinal problem, Porter (1991: 109) only pushes back the chain of causality. He writes about the origins of the origins of competitive advantage and acknowledges the importance of the local environment in shaping strategy.Google Scholar
  15. 46.
    What, for instance, if we consider the ever increasing role of information technology? Information systems considered by Porter (1985: 43) to be a support activity, often play a major role in firms’ sales activities and their aftersale assistance, and thus eventually qualify as a primary activity in Porter’s terminology. Another example regards ‘inbound logistics’ which, according to Porter (1985: 40), is a primary activity that can be found in every firm (at least to some extent). Inbound logistics is concerned with receiving, storing, and disseminating inputs to the product. But what about corporations that do not need or have inbound logistics, such as a web-designer. There is no material handling, storing, vehicle scheduling or similar operations in such a firm. After all, Porter’s analysis is guided by the notion of an idealized firm which does not always exist, especially if we consider that the nature of firms constantly changes with societal trends (e.g., the use of the internet).Google Scholar
  16. 48.
    This highlights the relation between normal science and dominant logics. Whereas normal science occurs within a paradigm, dominant logics cut across paradigms (see also section 1.1 and the glossary). Kuhn (1970: 245) heavily criticizes researchers for taking too lax an attitude towards normal science: “If [...] some social scientists take from me the view that they can improve the status of their field by first legislating agreement on fundamentals and then turning to puzzle solving, they are badly misconstruing my point.” See also the essays in Lakatos and Musgrave (1970).Google Scholar
  17. 49.
    The creation of facts is also discussed by the literature on management fashions (Abrahamson 1996; Kieser 1996; Miller and Hartwick 2002). Yet, whereas the literature on management fashions deals with publications that are supposed to address practitioners (e.g., ‘Total Quality Management’), Latour’s (2002) remarks focus on the stabilization of facts within the scientific community. Management fashions have a mass appeal even outside the scientific community (Abrahamson 1996), while scientific facts usually are only discussed in the scholarly community.Google Scholar
  18. 51.
    See, for instance, Pilkington and Liston-Heyes (1999) who show that production management possesses a European and American research agenda. Their argument is based upon a citation analysis demonstrating that European and American authors in production management cite from different sub-fields in the literature.Google Scholar
  19. 52.
    Not all empirical work inevitably fosters positivistic assumptions. There is need to distinguish between qualitative and quantitative data analysis. Whereas qualitative work often relies on single case studies that are investigated by means of different methodologies (e.g., ethnomethodology), quantitative work is based on larger sample sizes and mostly quantitative modeling. Using the number of samples as an indicator for quantitative and qualitative work, we can claim that SMJ-content has been largely influenced by quantitative studies of larger sample size. Phelan et al. (2002: 1166) find that SMJ-authors using primary data utilize 175 cases on average while authors who rely on secondary data use an average of 1250 cases per study. These findings are in line with Lampel and Shapira’s (1995) claim that strategic management research is dominated by large database research (for some critical arguments on the use of statistical modeling see the discussion by Mingers 2003). Shook et al. (2003: 1233) report that general linear models remain the most dominant data analytic technique used by SMJ-authors. The issue of empirical versus non-empirical research pops up every once in a while in discussions about and in the SMJ. Bartlett and Ghoshal (1991: 7) argue that strategy research tends to have a too narrow perspective dominated by economical methodology. They claim that the field “has become narrower [...] in its search for stronger and more rigorous theory.” In a direct reply, Schendel (1991: 2) criticizes their critique for painting “a narrow and temporarily limited view of the development of the strategy field.”Google Scholar
  20. 53.
    Pettigrew et al. (2002: 6) put it in a nutshell: “Both SMJ and SMS have had their critics and there have been periodic questions about the lack of critical reflection and narrowness of the epistemological, methodological, and theoretical base of writing in the field of strategic management. It is now common to talk of the post-Porter era in strategy, perhaps as we shall see the more general changes in epistemological and theoretical discourse in the social sciences at the beginning of the 21st century [...] will collectively push the field of strategy and management in some fruitful new directions?”Google Scholar
  21. 54.
    Compare for instance the international ‘business ethics’ discourse that has no predominant association, relies on a variety of high-ranked journals (e.g., Business Ethics Quarterly or the Journal of Business Ethics) and is much concerned with discussing and questioning its underlying assumptions (Spence 1998). Hence, business ethics can be described as a conversational field of research. Although there are certain facts (viz. legitimized pieces of knowledge), for instance the idea of stakeholder dialogues, the assumptions that are attached to these facts are heavily debated by the community. Mitchell et al. (1997), for example, suggest that it is not self-evident that managers perceive the attributes that enable a classification of stakeholders in the same way and thus started a debate about epistemological issues in stakeholder theory.Google Scholar
  22. 55.
    For instance, compare works that criticize scholars’ management-centered perspective (Levy et al. 2003: 96), the ill-defined nature of the concept of competitive advantage (Klein 2001), the neglect of emotions in theorizing (Calori 1998: 295), and the disregard of influences from stakeholders (Shrivastava 1986: 368).Google Scholar
  23. 56.
    Scholars use various disguises for the term dominant logic. Prahalad and Hamel (1994: 6) talk about ‘outdated assumptions’, Bettis (1991) calls it a’ straight-jacket’, and Daft and Buenger (1990: 83) speak about ‘normal science’. The latter notion may be misleading, at least in the context of this study, as normal science, when following Kuhn (1996), occurs with a regard to a paradigm. However, the metatheoretical assumptions that are attached to a paradigm need to be distinguished from a paradigm itself.Google Scholar
  24. 57.
    See, for instance, Calori (1998: 286), Farjoun (2002: 578), Lowendahl and Revang (1998: 762), McKiernan (1997: 795), and Vaara and Kakkuri (1999: 13).Google Scholar
  25. 58.
    See Borgeouis (1984: 588), Franklin (1998a: 318), Göbel (1997: 12), Knights (1997: 5–7), Parnell (2002: 2), Seidl (2003a: 6), Shrivastava (1986: 369), Statler and Roos (2002: 10–11), Thomas (1998: 11), and Vaara and Kakkuri-Knuuttila (1999: 5–7).Google Scholar
  26. 59.
    Czarniawska (2005: 130) describes this in a less formalized way: “The image of human beings as rational decision makers controlling the environment requires a linear vision of the world, in which conflict and ambiguity are temporary aberrations to be removed by the next rational action. Much can be said about the practical advantages of such a vision of the world; as usual, however, focusing on certain aspects forces us to gloss over others. In this case, the inherent paradoxicality of human and social life is the victim.”Google Scholar

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