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Theorizing with managers: how to achieve both academic rigor and practical relevance?

Suvi Nenonen (Graduate School of Management, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Roderick J. Brodie (Department of Marketing, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Kaj Storbacka (Graduate School of Management, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Linda D. Peters (Business School, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 11 July 2017




The aim of the paper is to address the widening theory-praxis gap in marketing. The authors propose that one viable solution to this challenge is involving practitioners in research processes as active, reflective and empowered participants. Most extant discussions addressing the inclusion of managers as partners in theorizing restrain themselves to an “if” question, arguing whether or not it is possible to create sufficiently rigorous knowledge in collaboration with practitioners. This leaves the “how” question unanswered, i.e. how should such gap-bridging research be conducted in practice.


Based on a literature review of collaborative theorizing processes, the authors develop a conceptual framework highlighting the main research design decisions when theorizing with managers. The use of the framework is illustrated with four research program examples.


Most accounts of theorizing with managers use – explicitly or implicitly – abduction as the main mode of inference. In addition to this philosophical commonality, our literature review identified 12 themes that should be considered when designing collaborative research processes. The four illustrative examples indicate that theorizing with managers is an effective way of producing and socializing both academically sound and managerially relevant knowledge. On the other hand, collaborative theorizing processes are time-consuming and studies using abductive reasoning may be more challenging to publish in top-tier journals.


This paper makes two contributions. First, the authors go beyond the extensive academic literature which provides a plethora of explanations and ideas for potential remedies for bridging the theory-praxis gap by offering a detailed description how one particular solution, theorizing with managers, unfolds in practice. Second, the authors ground collaborative theorizing processes in the philosophy of science and put abduction forward as a common nominator for such studies.



Nenonen, S., Brodie, R.J., Storbacka, K. and Peters, L.D. (2017), "Theorizing with managers: how to achieve both academic rigor and practical relevance?", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 51 No. 7/8, pp. 1130-1152.



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