Handbook of Research on Competitive Strategy
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Handbook of Research on Competitive Strategy

Edited by Giovanni Battista Dagnino

The Handbook of Research on Competitive Strategy presents a comprehensive state-of-the-art picture of current strategic management issues and demarcates the major investigation strands that are likely to shape the field into the future.
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Chapter 4: Theory of Science Perspectives on Strategic Management Research: Debates and a Novel View

Nicolai J. Foss


Nicolai J. Foss1 INTRODUCTION Strategic management researchers are, as a rule, practically oriented folks who typically do not have much patience with lofty debates in the theory of science. Say the word ‘ontology’ and you will have eyes rolling in the audience (yes, I have tried it!). Still, treating strategic management in a theory of science perspective actually goes back at least to Bowman (1974), and quite a number of papers on essentially philosophical issues in strategic management have been published in top journals, notably the Strategic Management Journal, over the last two decades. Quite often – in fact, usually – these contributions mirror and apply established arguments in the theory of science literature, for example work on the growth of knowledge (Camerer, 1985; Balakrishnan et al., 1989), constructivism versus realism (Smircich and Stubbard, 1985), the role of unobservables (Godfrey and Hill, 1995), the rhetorical practice of strategic management scholars (Mahoney, 1993), so-called ‘critical theory’ (Knights and Morgan, 1991; Alvesson and Willmott, 1995), and even ‘deconstruction’ (Whipp, 1996). Moreover, strategic management scholars are sometimes called ‘implicit theorists of science’. For example, they are intensely occupied with theoretical change in their field and with the reasons for such change (Hoskisson et al., 1999), essentially methodological undertakings. In fact, the purpose of the highly influential bi-annual special issues of the Strategic Management Journal is not only to take stock of existing developments, but more importantly to signal major changes in the field. Scholars actively debate those changes, and often do so in what is...

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