Looking at resource-based theory (hereafter RBT) within the literature of the past two decades, the importance of firm resources for gaining sustainable competitive advantages and rents seems no longer questionable.1 The literature provides a number of protruding theoretical papers,2 as well as numerous empirical studies.3 Yet, the heated debate still continues whether RBT can even be considered a theory.4 Basically, opponents are questioning the empirical testability of its core tenets, also known as the tautology criticism: critics argue that the theory’s primary assertions are true by definition, i.e., the theoretical constructs are defined in ways that are tautological and therefore not empirically testable.5 The following exchange illustrates this argument:

As a potential theory, the elemental resource-based view (RBV) is not currently a theoretical structure. (Priem and Butler (2001a), p. 22)

[The authors conclude that the RBV], dealing directly with competitive advantage, is not amenable to empirical tests. (Priem and Butler (2001a), p. 27)

Given the lack of empirical content in the RBV, any test will be weak. More work on definitions of constructs will be required before strong empirical tests are possible. (Priem and Buttler (2001b), p. 62)

Measurement problems RBV researchers face, however, are similar to those other strategy researchers face, including those looking to test implications derived from transaction cost economics and agency theory. Moreover, Priem and Butler’s argument is not that assertions derived from the 1991 [paper] are difficult to test but, rather, they are, in principle, not testable. (Barney (2001), p. 44)

This type of theory can generate both testable empirical assertions and concrete managerial prescriptions... (Barney (2001), p. 52)

The critical issue is [...] whether at least some of the elements of that theory have been parameterized in a way that makes it possible to generate testable empirical assertions. (Barney (2001), p. 42)


Strategic Management Transaction Cost Economic Sustainable Competitive Advantage Strategic Resource Vote Counting 


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  1. 1.
    Cf. Hoskisson et al. (1999), p. 417; Wernerfelt (1995), p. 172; Das/Teng (2000), p. 32.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Among which I would like to emphasize the following: Wernerfelt (1984); Barney (1991); Rumelt (1984); Dierickx/Cool (1989); Grant (1991); Conner (1991); Mahoney/Pandian (1992); Peteraf (1993); Barney/Arikan (2001); Peteraf/Barney (2003); Barney/Mackey (2005).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Here, I would like to expose the following as being very good examples of empirical resource-based studies: Markman et al. (2004); Ray et al. (2004); Knott (2003); McEvily/Chakravarthy (2002); Sharma/Vredenburg (1998); Miller/Shamsie (1996).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Cf. Bromiley/ Fleming (2000); Priem/Butler (2001a+b); Barney (2001); Peteraf/Barney (2003); Foss/Knudsen (2003).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cf. Priem/ Butler (2001a), p. 23ff; Eisenhardt/Martin (2000), p. 1108; Barney (2001), p. 41ff.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Cf. Barney/ Arikan (2001), p. 124ff; Barney/Mackey (2005), p. 1ff.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Barney/ Mackey (2005), p. 2f.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Barney/ Mackey (2005), p. 9.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Barney and Mackey (2005) rely on approximately ten examples, whereas considerably more examples can be found with Barney and Arikan’s (2001), i.e., the authors outline 166 empirical RBT contributions according to their research area and major topic. Yet, Barney and Arikan do not give information on the propositions or on the operationalizations of the central constructs except for two articles (i.e., Henderson and Cockburn (1994) and Makadok (1999)); regarding the other 164 contributions, Barney and Arikan merely integrate and describe the major trends and findings in each of the different research areas.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cf. Godfrey/ Hill (1995); Hoskisson et al. (1999); Rouse/Daellenbach (1999, 2002); Levitas/Chi (2002).Google Scholar
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    Cf. Godfrey/ Hill (1995), p. 531.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cf. Balogun et al. (2003); Ambrosini/Bowman (2001).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Cf. Amabile et al. (2001); Rynes et al. (2001); Rouse/Daellenbach (1999, 2002).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cf. Dutta et al. (2005).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cf. Shook et al. (2003), p. 1231.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Barney/ Arikan (2001), p. 141f.Google Scholar
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    “The value of empirical management research is profoundly augmented if it enables its readers to infer credible scientific generalizations that can inform management practice. Such generalizations are best based on meta-analyses, and meta-analyses are enriched by encompassing a large number of high-quality replication studies.” Eden (2002), p. 841.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Hoskisson et al. (1999), p. 420.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    Cf. Godfrey/ Hill (1995), p. 523; Rouse/Daellenbach (1999), p. 488 and (2002), p. 965.Google Scholar

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