Progress and its Discontents: Data Scarcity and the Limits of Falsification in Strategic Management
Advances in Strategic Management, pp. 113-150, 1995
Posted: 11 Jun 2011
Date Written: 1995
The lack of cumulative progress in strategic management has been blamed by some leading researchers on the methodological immaturity of the field. These researchers argue that strategic management should move beyond reliance on eclectic and informal empiricism, to a conscious emphasis on formulating falsifiable theories and hypotheses. In this paper we survey the debate between researchers who call for the adoption of falsification as a criterion of empirical testability, and others who resist what they see as the imposition of methodological conformity. We show that in spite of their differences, both sides share a concern with cumulative progress. We argue that "evolutionary epistemology" - an approach to explaining scientific progress that derives from Popper's original ideas - represents a useful perspective from which to examine the current obstacles facing strategic management. Using evolutionary epistemology, we examine the research process in strategic management. We suggest that data constraints are driving the evolution of strategic management by conferring benefits on question focused research programs, while penalizing domain focused research programs. Specifically, the increased emphasis on rigor has meant that research programs whose hypotheses can be rigorously tested with readily available data are displacing research programs that deal with issues for which data requirements are very costly. We conclude by pointing out that attempts to enhance the scientific status of strategic management by emulating other successful fields could lead to loss of relevance and theoretical sterility.
Keywords: strategic management, evolutionary psychology, logical empiricism, research programs
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