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Learning from Habermas and Machiavelli: a thought experiment in supply chain management

Amanda Bille (Department of Technology and Innovation, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark) (Department of Operations Management, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)

The International Journal of Logistics Management

ISSN: 0957-4093

Article publication date: 25 January 2024




The purpose of this paper is to show the benefits of bridging the gap between supply chain management (SCM) and political philosophy to challenge the underlying assumptions about SCM concepts and open doors to novel theory building.


A thought experiment is conducted to illustrate how the two philosophers Niccolò Machiavelli and Jürgen Habermas would tackle sustainability issues in coffee supply chains from a research perspective. The thought experiment is carried out using data from 30 semi-structured interviews with actors from the coffee industry. Supplementing the thought experiment with empirical insights allows for a deeper understanding of supply chain dynamics and how these are impacted by the application of the philosophical viewpoints.


The research stresses the importance of SCM scholars being aware of the underlying assumptions of their research, as these have a remarkable impact on theory building. A combination of empirical insights and philosophical understandings makes it possible to reflect on the underlying concepts of SCM, providing suggestions for reimagining SCM.


The contribution of the research is twofold. First, the paper presents an original view on SCM, as the thought experiment is introduced as an approach to better understand SCM concepts. By challenging the underlying assumptions with political philosophy, researchers will be better equipped to address grand challenges in the twenty-first century. Second, this is exemplified by the case study of the coffee supply chain, which provides the reader with insight into the dynamics of supply chains with prevalent power differences.



Some papers hold a very special place in one’s heart. This is one of those papers. Being the first paper, the author ever wrote, the author would like to thank the reviewers and Professor Gammelgaard for guiding her in finalizing the paper. The author is grateful for the help that she has received from Andreas Wieland and Philip Beske-Janssen during the last 4 years of developing the contribution. The author owe a thank you as well to the OM department at CBS – in particular the amazing PhD fellows, Kai and Christian. Most importantly, the author extends a huge thank you to Katinka Bjørndal Thomsen for her help in carrying the paper across the finish line. Finally, the author wish to thank the Nordakademie Foundation for their financial support.


Bille, A. (2024), "Learning from Habermas and Machiavelli: a thought experiment in supply chain management", The International Journal of Logistics Management, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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