In this paper we examine some fundamental epistemological issues in building theory for applied management science, by which we mean theory that can be usefully applied in a scientific approach to management research and practice. We first define and distinguish “grand theory” from “mid-range theory” in the social and management sciences. We then elaborate and contrast epistemologies for (i) building “grand theory” intended to be applicable to all cases and contexts, and (ii) building “mid-range theory” intended to apply to specific kinds of contexts. We illustrate the epistemological challenges in building grand theory in management science by considering important differences in the abilities of two “grand theories” in strategic management – industry structure theory and firm resources theory – to support development of conceptually consistent models and propositions for empirical testing, theoretical refinement, and application in management practice. We then suggest how a mid-range theory building approach can help to achieve integration of the two grand strategic management theories and improve their ability to support empirical testing, theory refinement, and application of theory in practice. Finally, we suggest how the competence-based management (CBM) perspective provides the foundational concepts needed to build both mid-range theory and (potentially) grand theory in strategic management that can be usefully applied in management science.
Sanchez, R. and Heene, A. (2017), "Building Theory for Management Science and Practice: An Epistemological Perspective from Competence-Based Management Theory", Sanchez, R., Heene, A., Polat, S. and Asan, U. (Ed.) Mid-Range Management Theory: Competence Perspectives on Modularity and Dynamic Capabilities (Research in Competence-Based Management, Vol. 8), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 1-23. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1744-211720170000008001
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