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Borrowing theories in humanitarian supply chain management

Tunca Tabaklar (HUMLOG Institute, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)
Árni Halldórsson (Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden AND HUMLOG Institute, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)
Gyöngyi Kovács (HUMLOG Institute, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)
Karen Spens (HUMLOG Institute, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)

Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 2042-6747

Article publication date: 7 December 2015




Within the emerging research field of humanitarian supply chain management (HSCM) the use of existing theoretical concepts and frameworks to provide explanation and understanding of the phenomena under scrutiny is not yet well understood. There is still a lack of research on which theoretical approaches are used in this field, and to what extent this emerging field “borrows” theories from other disciplines. The purpose of this paper is therefore to deepen the understanding of HSCM from a theoretical point of view by identifying and evaluating the use of theories in HSCM literature.


A literature review is conducted based on academic journal articles included in a well-recognised and publicly available bibliography on HSCM articles (Tatham, 2015). A content analysis is applied to the articles in terms of level of theory, research methodology, disaster management stages, disaster types, and disaster name/region.


A trend towards using more established, “middle- range” theories, is evident. However, the use of theoretical approaches is not evenly spread between the different phases of disaster relief. A strong emphasis on SCM as a background discipline is also mirrored in the choice of theories used, which indicates the solidification of humanitarian logistics as a primarily supply chain discipline. The lack of use of other theoretical perspectives and grand theories is, however, still evident, which provides an interesting research agenda for future research.

Research limitations/implications

The use of the bibliography limits the generalisation of the findings although some trends are evident.


This is a first review of theories used in HSCM. It provides an overview of the state of the art of HSCM research but contributes to the maturation of research in this field. The paper concludes with a research agenda.



This research would not have been possible without the kind support of the Academy of Finland, through the project (No. 251467) “Resilience in Disaster Relief and Development Supply Chains”. The author, Tunca Tabaklar, would also like to thank Marcus Wallenberg Foundation for their support of his research.


Tabaklar, T., Halldórsson, Á., Kovács, G. and Spens, K. (2015), "Borrowing theories in humanitarian supply chain management", Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 281-299.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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