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Theoretical perspectives in purchasing and supply chain management: an analysis of the literature

Daniel Chicksand (Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)
Glyn Watson (Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Helen Walker (Cardiff Business School, University of Cardiff, Cardiff, UK)
Zoe Radnor (Cardiff Business School, University of Cardiff, Cardiff, UK)
Robert Johnston (Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 15 June 2012



This paper attempts to seek answers to four questions. Two of these questions have been borrowed (but adapted) from the work of Defee et al.: RQ1. To what extent is theory used in purchasing and supply chain management (P&SCM) research? RQ2. What are the prevalent theories to be found in P&SCM research? Following on from these questions an additional question is posed: RQ3. Are theory‐based papers more highly cited than papers with no theoretical foundation? Finally, drawing on the work of Harland et al., the authors have added a fourth question: RQ4. To what extent does P&SCM meet the tests of coherence, breadth and depth, and quality necessary to make it a scientific discipline?


A systematic literature review was conducted in accordance with the model outlined by Tranfield et al. for three journals within the field of “purchasing and supply chain management”. In total 1,113 articles were reviewed. In addition a citation analysis was completed covering 806 articles in total.


The headline features from the results suggest that nearly a decade‐and‐a‐half on from its development, the field still lacks coherence. There is the absence of theory in much of the work and although theory‐based articles achieved on average a higher number of citations than non‐theoretical papers, there is no obvious contender as an emergent paradigm for the discipline. Furthermore, it is evident that P&SCM does not meet Fabian's test necessary to make it a scientific discipline and is still some way from being a normal science.

Research limitations/implications

This study would have benefited from the analysis of further journals, however the analysis of 1,113 articles from three leading journals in the field of P&SCM was deemed sufficient in scope. In addition, a further significant line of enquiry to follow is the rigour vs relevance debate.

Practical implications

This article is of interest to both an academic and practitioner audience as it highlights the use theories in P&SCM. Furthermore, this article raises a number of important questions. Should research in this area draw more heavily on theory and if so which theories are appropriate?

Social implications

The broader social implications relate to the discussion of how a scientific discipline develops and builds on the work of Fabian and Amundson.


The data set for this study is significant and builds on a number of previous literature reviews. This review is both greater in scope than previous reviews and is broader in its subject focus. In addition, the citation analysis (not previously conducted in any of the reviews) and statistical test highlights that theory‐based articles are more highly cited than non‐theoretically based papers. This could indicate that researchers are attempting to build on one another's work.



Chicksand, D., Watson, G., Walker, H., Radnor, Z. and Johnston, R. (2012), "Theoretical perspectives in purchasing and supply chain management: an analysis of the literature", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 454-472.



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