Organization Theory: Bright Prospects for a Permanently Failing Field

50 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2008

See all articles by Pursey P.M.A.R. Heugens

Pursey P.M.A.R. Heugens

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)

Date Written: December 2008 9,


Organization theory is a paradoxical field of scientific inquiry. It has struggled for more than fifty years to develop a unified theory of organizational effectiveness under girded by a coherent set of assumptions, and it has thus far failed to produce one. Yet, by other standards it is simultaneously a tremendously successful field. It has great intellectual mobilizing powers and its publications - journals as well as books - are highly esteemed. In this address I attempt to unravel this paradox by discussing the field’s considerable pathologies, such as its tendency towards theoretical fragmentation and methodological factionalism, as well as its formidable strengths, like the endlessly intriguing questions it asks itself and the considerable ambidexterity with which it handles pluralism problems. Most importantly, however, I propose three overarching methodological strategies with which organization theorists can address the problems currently hampering their field. First, I argue that greater integration amongst extant theories might be reached by exploring hidden moderators that can produce contradictory research findings across macro social contexts. Second, the field can improve upon its theoretical relevance by discovering and acknowledging the stylized facts of organizational life. Third, we can collectively increase our under standing of organization a phenomena by exploring the micro foundations of our macro theories. In short, if we dared to ruffle our methodological feathers, the prospects for the organization theory field could be very bright indeed.

Keywords: organization theory, scientific fields, critique of social science practices, permanent failure, meta research strategies, stylized facts, micro foundations, agentic behavior, thick description, institutional moderator variables

JEL Classification: M10, L2, M12, M

Suggested Citation

Heugens, Pursey P.M.A.R., Organization Theory: Bright Prospects for a Permanently Failing Field (December 2008 9,). ERIM Report Series Reference No. EIA-2008-032-ORG. Available at SSRN:

Pursey P.M.A.R. Heugens (Contact Author)

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) ( email )

P.O. Box 1738
Room T08-21
3000 DR Rotterdam, 3000 DR
0031 10 408 2365 (Phone)
0031 10 408 9012 (Fax)

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics