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Academy of Management Review

2013, Vol. 38, No. 3, 325331.


http://dx.doi.org/10.5465/amr.2013.0085

EDITORS COMMENTS:
STYLES OF THEORIZING AND THE SOCIAL
ORGANIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE

There are many ways of theorizing (Swedberg, As a result, we believe there are opportunities
2012: 2), yet we seem to observe comparatively but also some attendant problems with our cur-
few of these forms in management scholarship. rent state of theory development, and we aim to
Given the diverse phenomena of interest to us, it articulate some key challenges for advancing
is striking that theorizing about them seems to more diverse, robust, and persuasive theorizing
be dominated by a rather limited subset of the in the future.
range of approaches available. In this essay we
seek to explore the context within which theory THE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
development and publication are taking place. OF KNOWLEDGE
We ask, Why do so few styles of theorizing
dominate current scholarship? What are the In an email circulated during the week we
prospects and implications for creating a more started writing this essay, Academy of Manage-
diverse approach to theory development? In do- ment president Ming-Jer Chen announced that
ing so we pay attention to the politics of knowl- the Academy now has over 18,000 members from
edge creation, including the issue of interna- over 100 countries. The Academy has benefited
tionalizing theory, and the methodological greatly from this increasing internationaliza-
causes of this limited diversity. Our key argu- tion. Few would dispute, for example, that the
ments here are as follows: annual meeting is now a more diverse, interest-
ing, and vibrant conference than has histori-
There are structural and political aspects of cally been the case. But what is the evidence on
the social organization of knowledge that
limit the diversity of management theory. how this internationalization is influencing the
Making these aspects more transparent is a creation of management theory?
first step toward promoting greater In reflecting on the current state of manage-
diversity. ment theory, it is important to begin with some
The main issues in promoting diversity in consideration of what constitutes our academic
management theory are not geographic or
(inter)national but relate to the range of field. Such reflections generally center on the
styles and approaches to theorizing that are fields leading journals and the key actors in-
viewed as legitimate, especially the wide- volved with them: authors, editors, reviewers,
spread use of formal propositions. and publishers. Over the years considerable at-
Greater reflexivity over the ontological and tention has been paid to the international
epistemological assumptions that underpin
the dominant approaches would create makeup of journals. The prevailing discourse in
greater space for alternative approaches. these discussions has been that the dominance
Theorizing is inextricably tied to methodol- of North American journals, with their mostly
ogy. In particular, the dominance of correla- North American editors and reviewers, has pro-
tional, net-effects analysis has led to a cor- duced and sustained a dominant (North Amer-
responding hegemony of correlational
theorizing, stifling other forms of theorizing ican) approach in management and organiza-
and leading to an impoverished under- tion theory that is primarily practiced by North
standing of our phenomena of interest. American (-trained) authors.
As part of this pattern, we have witnessed a For us, the label North American is somewhat
decline in the development and refinement problematic since there is a not a single theo-
of typological theories.
retical approach across all American schools;
nonetheless, there is some truth in the essence
of this narrative. The further argument that typ-
We acknowledge the helpful comments of Paul Adler,
Joep Cornelissen, Tom Cummings, Frank Wijen, Hugh Will-
ically follows is that this dominance and single
mott, and Scott Wiltermuth, along with those of editor Roy prevailing paradigm is damaging to the produc-
Suddaby and our fellow associate editors. tion of knowledge and serves to reproduce the
325
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326 Academy of Management Review July

power and influence of the established actors in Harzing and Metz report an increase in the pro-
the field. These dynamics are reproduced by a portion of non-U.S. board members but from a
variety of structural features of the academic very low base:
field, including tenure systems, elite journal The editorial boards of the three top journals in
lists, dominant publishers, and the production of Management (Administrative Science Quarterly
citation indices, as well as the active gatekeep- (ASQ), Academy of Management Review (AMR)
ing of self-interested academic cliques (see and Academy of Management Journal (AMJ)) were
Grey, 2010). There is also the fact that English is almost composed of only US American academics
until 1999. . . . Since 1999 all three journals have
the dominant language used in writing man- increased their proportion of non-US board mem-
agement theory.1 These features maintain the bers, but AMR (1999: 12%, 2004: 20%, 2009: 25%) and
status quo and inhibit moves to promote greater AMJ (1999: 16%, 2004: 14%, 2009: 23%) more so than
diversity in the management research commu- ASQ (1999: 5%, 2004: 10%, 2009: 11%).
nity. Concerns about promoting the increasing If there is value in better reflecting globalization
internationalization of the field of management (e.g., DeNisi, 2010), it appears more needs to be
theory inform the sustained attempts of the done by key actors, including editors and pro-
Academy of Management to widen its member- fessional associations, to promote greater diver-
ship base, as noted above. But what is the evi- sity so that journal editorial boards better match
dence on whether the journals themselves have the makeup of their constituencies. This, of
become more diverse in their characteristics? course, begs the question of whether the cur-
A recent and very comprehensive study by rently dominant actors are so minded.
Harzing and Metz (2013) provides some interest- The nationalities of the key publications and
ing evidence. These scholars studied the geo- actors are clearly significant to questions of in-
graphic diversity of editorial boards in manage- ternationalization and diversity, but we want to
ment journals over a 20-year period, covering 57 concentrate our attention on what we feel is
journals and about 16,000 editorial board posi- potentially a more valuable and productive set
tions. Their line of argument is consistent with of questions involved in promoting diversity in
that reprised here: editorial board members and styles and approaches to theory and theorizing.
editors are gatekeepers of what is published In our view the central issue is the diversity and
and, thus, of theory development. Moreover, Har- quality of theorizing and the knowledge that is
zing and Metz argue, This gatekeeping role is produced. We are particularly mindful of Chris
the basis for suggesting that editorial boards Greys warning that the constitution of journals
should be sufficiently diverse in their back- as top journals is clearly an accomplishment of
grounds to facilitate the publication of manu- power. There is a circularity, in which to publish
scripts with a wide range of research paradigms in the best journals, one must produce the right
and methods. Their findings show that while kind of work (2010: 683).
the geographic diversity of editorial boards in-
creased, it remained low for most management
GEOGRAPHIC AND STYLISTIC DIVISIONS
journals. This was particularly the case for jour-
nals with U.S.-based editors that had the high- In the thirtieth anniversary special issue of
est proportion of home country editorial board the major European journal Organization Stud-
membership (on average 80 percent). If we con- ies (OS), a number of leading organization and
sider the top-rated journals, including AMR, management scholars reflected on the journals
place in its field. Along with the conventional
1
assessment of nationalities of authors and edi-
In an exploration of the Europeanness of organization torial boards such as that above, there were
research by Meyer and Boxenbaum, we were struck by their
observation: It is hard to believe that Jean-Claude Thoenig, evaluations of the similarities and differences
who once held the position of European editor of Adminis- in scholarship between contributors to OS and
trative Science Quarterly, offered to read manuscripts in other journals, including AMR. We feel these
French, Italian and German to advise authors on whether or comparisons are of particular interest since the
not it was worthwhile to deliver an English version (2010:
latest OS publishers report (Sage, 2012) shows
749). This perhaps reflects an approach to scholarship from
another time, and it is hard to imagine editors having either that AMR is the journal most cited by authors in
the capacity or inclination to be so accommodating these OS and that, in the last two years, AMR is the
days. journal that has cited OS articles most often.
2013 Editors Comments 327

Of particular interest to us is the article by work, employing a style of writing that tends to
Meyer and Boxenbaum (2010) exploring some of pay close attention to causal linkages and pur-
the characterizations of European organiza- sues a formal-analytical approach. Much of the
tion and management theory and its other strength and persuasiveness of this approach
that emanating from North America. While rests on the grounding of its argumentation in
warning against stereotypes and oversimplified prior literature and findings and on its ability to
generalizations, the authors suggest some man- closely examine and detail the causal mecha-
ifestations of difference in methodological prior- nisms at play. The second style of writing tends
ities: the strong emphasis on empirical testing instead to emphasize narrative reasoning, aim-
of causal theory in North America means that ing to show patterns and broad connections
quantitative methods are more prevalent, rather than specific causal mechanisms. In con-
whereas a concern with Verstehen (understand- trast to the first, this style draws its strength
ing) and meaning may explain the more wide- from its ability to see the big picture and to
spread use of interpretive approaches and qual- develop broad arguments that at times seed
itative methods among European scholars. novel research programs; it is also better
Their detailed content analysis of all of the equipped to acknowledge the frequent intracta-
papers published by five major journals (Orga- bility of our phenomena and social life, includ-
nization and OS from Europe and AMJ, AMR, and ing paradox and complexity. Although not re-
Organization Science from North America) fo- quired, this style more often takes an essay
cuses specifically on the question of whether form and tends to include formal propositions
authors in some journals were more likely to less often.
build directly and explicitly on the work of lead- These two approaches further resonate with
ing philosophers and social theorists such as the kind of distinction observed by Meyer and
Durkheim, Foucault, Goffman, Habermas, Marx, Boxenbaum in that they reflect differences in
Parsons, and Weber. The findings were quite both stylistic and methodological preferences.
stark: the two European journals had more than At a fundamental level these approaches are
ten times as many articles that referred to these informed by different ontological and epistemo-
grand thinkers as the North American jour- logical perspectives. Such differences are par-
nals.2 Moreover, the authors who wrote these ticularly evident in the use of propositions. As a
articles were much more likely to have Euro- form of theorizing, propositions are in some
pean institutional affiliations. We concur with ways a double-edged sword. At their best, prop-
Meyer and Boxenbaum when they conclude, ositions allow us to distill the essence of an
however, that this approach to theorizing is argument chain into a simple and memorable
less tied to the geographic institutional affilia- form, offering parsimony and precision in con-
tion of authors than to a spirit of engaging with veying the gist of a theoretical contribution. At
the grand thinkers of the present and past (2010: the same time, and because of this very ability,
752). In other words, while we acknowledge that they also tend to throw weaknesses in the argu-
to some extent the ways in which theory is cre- ment chain into much stronger relief, forcing us
ated is geographically concentrated, concerns to sharpen our thinking and clarify our argu-
with promoting diversity are centrally about ments. For that very reason propositions are of-
the forms of theorizing, styles of writing, and ten the target of reviewers and editors. In addi-
different intellectual resources that are used. tion, many authors in AMR appear to find
These are not new concerns, of course (Van propositions to be an essential part of their con-
Maanen, 1995). tribution, if only because they expect manu-
What, then, are the dominant forms of theoriz- scripts with propositions to appear more legiti-
ing? As noted by Ashkanasy (2013) and others mate in the eyes of reviewers and editors by
before him, two approaches appear to be most conforming to expected normsthat is, the pol-
prevalent in AMR. The first is usually crafted itics of the production (and publication) of
around the creation of a tight nomological net- knowledge.
To demonstrate the dominant use of proposi-
tions in AMR, we examined all articles pub-
2
While AMR had more such articles than either ASQ or lished in the last three full calendar years. Ex-
AMJ, the total was fewer than ten. cluding invited pieces and editorials, this gave
328 Academy of Management Review July

us a total of eighty-three articles published in strong effects on how we theorize about this
AMR between January 2010 and December 2012. reality, and the underlying assumptions of our
Of these eighty-three articles, fifty-eight, or just habituated methodologies tend to discourage us
about 70 percent, use propositions to develop from examining phenomena and problems to
theory. If we exclude the special topic forum on which our familiar toolkits cannot be as easily
theory development, which primarily deals with applied (Meyer, Gaba, & Colwell, 2005). Consid-
issues of theorizing itself, the percentage is even ering the landscape of current management the-
higher76 percent. Either way, it is evident that ory, what is perhaps most striking in this regard
propositions seem to be the dominant way of is the continued dominance or perhaps hege-
putting theoretical arguments into writing in mony of what Abbott (1988) calls general lin-
AMR. We doubt the data would look different if ear reality and what Ragin (2008) refers to as
we included additional years going back correlational net-effects thinking. This ap-
in time. proach to theorizing tends to perceive the social
To be clear, we do believe that propositions world mainly in terms of linear relationships
have value in the process of crafting theory, and that take a correlational form of the more of X,
both of us have used formal propositions in our the more of Y. It focuses on the net effect of
own published works. Yet we wonder whether independent variables, assuming that, in gen-
this current situation represents too heavy a re- eral, each variable by itself would be capable of
liance on propositions. There are several rea- bringing about the outcome of interest, holding
sons why this may be the case. First, it seems to constant the effect of all other candidate vari-
us that propositions may not lend themselves to ables. To be sure, the net-effects approach is
some forms of theorizing, either deterring au- attractive because it offers rigor and precision
thors unlikely to use propositions from submit- in estimating the unique contribution of differ-
ting quality work to AMR or forcing them to ent predictors, and, again, both of us have relied
distort their argument to adjust to either per- on it in our own published works. In addition,
ceived or real expectations of editors and re- one might argue that the correlational approach
viewers. Second, the perceived norm of using to theorizing resonates with our basic cognitive
propositions may create a proliferation of prop- structures that tend to be better aligned with
ositions, many of which are perhaps not meant linear relations and main effects and less capa-
for empirical testing but purely to placate ex- ble of detecting nonlinear relationships and in-
pectations. Surely, this cannot be a productive teractions (Hammond, 1996).
use of the time and resources of authors and Yet it is important to acknowledge the limita-
reviewers or the pages of AMR. As such, we tions of the net-effects approach, which is not
believe it is important to reemphasize AMRs well equipped for dealing with some fundamen-
position as formulated in the Information for tal notions of causality, such as necessity and
Contributors, which reads Contributors will sufficiency or the notion of equifinality, where
find AMR open to many different formats and there may be several equally effective or effi-
styles of presentation. Formal research proposi- cient ways to achieve an outcome of interest.
tions are not required (emphasis added). This, Our basic argument here is not that the correla-
of course, has implications for reviewers too; tional net-effects approach cannot be a powerful
both of us have written editorial letters to au- lens for studying social phenomena; rather, we
thors confirming that they need not follow re- argue that it is perhaps used too often and, on
viewers requests for formal propositions in or- occasion, inappropriately. Scholars have fre-
der to be published in AMR. quently applied it to phenomena where the ba-
sic causal structure may be quite differentnot
at all correlational in nature but rather, for in-
THE ROLE OF METHODOLOGY IN
stance, marked by multiple, conjunctural cau-
WRITING THEORY
sation (Ragin, 1987: 20), where causes combine
In considering styles of theorizing, there is rather than compete to bring about an outcome
another key aspect that deserves attention and where individual causes may be neither
namely, the strong interplay between theory necessary nor sufficient by themselves. Simi-
and method (Srensen, Van Maanen, & Mitchell, larly, the correlational approach, with its focus
2007). How we come to know social reality has on explaining variance, is arguably less adept
2013 Editors Comments 329

at developing process theory, which tends to thus, provide useful tools for both researchers
focus more on the how than the why of and practitioners. Since classification is a key
causal processes. intellectual strategy for developing theoreti-
To demonstrate the dominance of the correla- cally meaningful categories, typologies are a
tional form of theorizing, let us return to our key tool of the theorist interested in making dis-
analysis of articles published in AMR over the tinctions between complex examples of phe-
last three years, this time with a focus on the nomena (Biggart & Delbridge, 2004). Typologies
way in which propositions are created and used. furthermore lend themselves more readily to the
Again, propositions are present in fifty-eight of development of configurational arguments that
the eighty-three articles, and of these fifty-eight avoid simple correlations, instead incorporating
articles, fifty-three, or about 91 percent, contain notions of equifinality and asymmetric causal
at least some correlational propositions. A sim- relations (Fiss, 2011). For these and other rea-
ilar picture emerges when we consider the prop- sons, we believe typologies present a particu-
ositions themselves. In total, the 58 articles offer larly attractive form of theorizing, and we would
some 444 propositions or, on average, slightly argue that some of the most memorable contri-
fewer than 8 propositions per article. Of these butions in management are typologiesfor in-
444 propositions, 322, or about 73 percent, are stance, that of Miles and Snow (1978), which is
based on a correlational relationship of the one of the most widely tested, validated, and
greater (construct X), the higher (construct Y). enduring contributions (e.g., Hambrick, 2003).
Only a relatively small subset of these proposi- Other powerful examples are those of Mintzberg
tions specifies nonlinear interaction effects. (1979) and Porter (1980), to name but two.
Other forms of formal theorizing that might lend
Yet, for all these advantages, typologies are
themselves to propositions are markedly absent.
much less frequently proposed or discussed in
For instance, only three articles, and less than
AMR articles than used to be the case. To illus-
1 percent of all propositions, use language sug-
trate this point, a search of all AMR articles
gesting a relationship involving necessity and
appearing in print between 1976 (when AMR
sufficiency, such as Lindenberg and Foss (2011),
was first published) and 2012 revealed a total of
who in their first proposition argue that task and
sixty-three articles that contained the terms ty-
team designs of a certain nature are a necessary
pology or typologies in the abstract. Mapped
condition for establishing and maintaining a
over time, the decline of typological theorizing
goal frame conducive to joint production moti-
vation. The picture is thus quite striking regard- in AMR becomes quite evident. In the decade
ing the influence of net-effects thinking on our between 1976 and 1985, there were twenty-four
theorizing. What concerns us is that this hege- such articles published. During the decade be-
mony of correlational net-effects theorizing in tween 1986 and 1995, that number declined to
AMR stifles other styles of theorizing, such as eighteen, and between 1996 and 2005 it declined
process, narrative, or essay forms, leading to a again to sixteen articles. In the seven years be-
relatively (and inappropriately) homogeneous tween 2006 and 2012, only five articles have so
management research field and an impover- far been published that either propose or dis-
ished understanding of our phenomena of cuss typologies, suggesting a declining pattern
interest. of 2.4, 1.8, 1.6, and now about 0.7 articles per year
during these four periods.
A possible explanation of this pattern would
THE DECLINE OF TYPOLOGICAL THEORIES be that there are fewer new phenomena that
There is another remarkable pattern that we could be addressed by means of a typologyin
would like to point out herenamely, the essence, the argument here would be that typol-
marked decline of typological theories in AMR. ogies have somewhat outlived their usefulness
Typologies, as Doty and Glick (1994) note, are a since there is nothing new to classify. This
special form of theorizing that offers a number of strikes us as unlikely. We continue to witness
advantages. As these authors point out, typolo- the emergence of new phenomena of interest in
gies are a key way of organizing complex webs the management journals, and one might argue
of causal relationshipsthey are a form of so- that this should provide enough impetus for ei-
cial scientific shorthand (Ragin, 1987: 149) and, ther the proposal of novel typologies or the re-
330 Academy of Management Review July

vision of existing ones. Yet this does not seem to of the management phenomena we are inter-
be the case. ested in and are perhaps more likely to result in
There is, of course, the possibility that typo- potentially frame-breaking contributions.
logical theorizing is alive and well and has
moved to other journalsit is merely AMR
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: FOSTERING A
where such theorizing is on the decline. Another
DIVERSITY OF THEORETICAL STYLES
perhaps more likely explanation relates back to
our previous point regarding the dominance of Our argument here has been that while there
correlational theorizing. By their very nature ty- is still considerable diversity in the ways we
pological theories tend to be holistic and there- create theory based on aspects such as forms
fore do not lend themselves as easily to a focus of theorizing, styles of writing, and schools of
on individual direct net effects. As interdepen- thoughtthis diversity is perhaps more limited
dent webs of relationships, typologies more fre- than is desirable. What, then, might allow us to
quently involve complex causal relationships develop more diverse but robust and persuasive
involving interaction, substitution, and bidirec- theorizing in the future?
tional causality. This is not to say that typolog- A first step is for there to be greater transpar-
ical theories cannot be tested using correla- ency and attention to the power and politics in
tional methods. Instead, our point is that the the processes and organization of knowledge.
methodological training and habits, as well as There are powerful forces of patronage, social-
norms and expectations that come with correla- ization, and exclusion at work that promote the
tional analysis, may subtly bias us against ty- reproduction of existing structures and power
pological theorizing. This issue is likely to be relations. While nationality and geography may
most felt in management theory derived from act as proxies for the structural features of our
economic and psychological underpinnings, as discipline, more important are the roles of pow-
well as some more formalized domains of soci- erful actors in promoting change (or continuity).
ology. Insofar as these have come to dominate Taking advantage of the opportunities of plural-
doctoral training programs, this may explain the ity in theorizing will require more openness and
lack of diversity of approaches. And, of course, engagement, on the part of key stakeholders,
these processes of socialization of early career with the various approaches that might be
researchers also serve to reproduce the power taken. This places greater emphasis on editors
relations of the field, including patronage rela- and reviewers working at and across ontologi-
tions that work through appointment and cal rather than geographical boundaries. It also
promotion. reinforces the points made earlier regarding the
There may well be other causes that we have diversity (or otherwise) currently to be found on
not considered here, such as a relative decline editorial boards and in reviewer pools of the
in phenomenon-based research problems and leading journals.
inductive reasoning that lend themselves to ty- A second step will be greater reflexivity on the
pology building. Nevertheless, we believe that part of all researchers and a willingness to en-
the decline of typological theorizing in AMR rep- gage constructively across the range of ap-
resents a missed opportunity and contributes to proaches to theorizing, rather than a defensive
a lack of diversity in theorizing and a failure for positioning of the established dominant para-
the range of approaches to be representative of digm. Explicitly acknowledging the ontological
the diversity of the phenomena we focus on. To and epistemological assumptions that underpin
be clear, we strongly believe that such typolo- a given approach is a key step in opening up the
gies need to be theoretically rigorous and fully spaces for alternatives. It also increases the
specified, in line with our view of typologies as prospects for more robust and effective theoriz-
complex systems of theoretical statements that ing, helping to ensure that the appropriate ap-
will, in fact, frequently be more challenging to proaches to theory and method are deployed
authors than traditional bivariate or interaction given the nature of the phenomenon to be ad-
theories (e.g., Doty & Glick, 1994). Yet we believe dressed. Achieving such greater reflexivity and
that this additional effort will be worthwhile, openness would also be supported by broader
since such complex theories are more likely to doctoral training and interdisciplinary work-
account for the configurational nature of many shops that expose researchers to a wider range
2013 Editors Comments 331

of potentially valuable approaches to under- Doty, D. H., & Glick, W. H. 1994. Typologies as a unique form
of theory building: Toward improved understanding and
standing management. One such example that
modeling. Academy of Management Review, 19: 230
we participated in, along with editor Roy 251.
Suddaby, was the 1st European Theory Develop-
Fiss, P. C. 2011. Building better causal theories: A fuzzy set
ment Workshop in OMT that took place in approach to typologies in organizational research.
Grenoble, France, last year. This workshop Academy of Management Journal, 54: 393 420.
brought together a number of international Grey, C. 2010. Organizing studies: Publications, politics and
scholars from a variety of disciplinary back- polemic. Organization Studies, 31: 677 694.
grounds to engage in debate on theory and the- Hambrick, D. C. 2003. On the staying power of defenders,
orizing and included working with junior col- analyzers, and prospectors. Academy of Management
leagues on crafting papers. These are small Executive, 17(4): 115118.
steps in promoting change, which must, of Hammond, K. R. 1996. Human judgment and social policy:
course, be founded on our own willingness to Irreducible uncertainty, inevitable error, unavoidable
engage broadly with different forms of injustice. New York: Oxford University Press.
theorizing. Harzing, A. W., & Metz, I. 2013. Practicing what we preach:
Given the self-replicating nature of our sys- The geographic diversity of editorial boards. Manage-
ment International Review, 53(2): online first.
tem of knowledge production, the challenges
Lindenberg, S., & Foss, N. J. 2011. Managing joint production
seem daunting. Regarding the issue of gate-
motivation: The role of goal framing and governance
keeping and the role of editors, we want to em- mechanisms. Academy of Management Review, 36: 500
phasize again that AMR is open to many differ- 525.
ent formats and styles of presentation, and we Meyer, A. D., Gaba, V., & Colwell, K. A. 2005. Organizing far
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qualitative and quantitative strategies. Berkeley: Uni-
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