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Let us get contextual: critical realist case studies in supply chain management

Amanda Bille (Department of Operations Management, Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Christian Hendriksen (Department of Operations Management, Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 2 December 2022




This study aims to explain the value of using critical realist case research in supply chain management (SCM). While positivist case research focuses on generalizable law-like rules, and interpretivist research explores social meaning, critical realist case research seeks to make objective explanations that are bound by the case context. This study demonstrates how a critical realist synthesis of causal reasoning and contextual complexity allows for stronger theorizing in SCM.


This study highlights the possibilities of conducting critical realist case research in SCM by investigating philosophical perspectives in existing literature.


Based on existing literature, this study identifies which parts of contemporary SCM research will benefit from the critical realist perspective. This study also contends that supply chain scholars can use critical realist case research to develop new types of contextualized middle-range theories.

Research limitations/implications

This study proposes to complement the qualitative SCM toolbox with critical realist case research to further refine the development of novel theories. This will benefit not only researchers but also managers, as it opens the doors to new and inspiring research.


This study takes an important step toward establishing critical realist case studies as a key methodology in SCM. While other scholars have introduced critical realism as a paradigmatic approach in SCM, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first article that develops a qualitative critical realist case research approach.



Writing this paper has been a pleasure, and the authors have enjoyed great support from a range of people, whom they would like to thank. The authors would like to thank Andreas Wieland and Philip Beske-Janssen for their continuous feedback on the paper – they provided them with great insights from the spurring ideas of the paper to the final version. In addition, the authors wish to thank Kat-inka Bjørndal Thomsen for her valuable help with making the paper fit for publication. Finally, the authors also wish to thank the Department of Operations Management at CBS, especially the Reimagining Supply Chains Initiative and the PhD fellows, for many fruitful discussions, conversa-tions, seminars and feedback days. The authors are grateful to have such wonderful colleagues, who support and challenge their ideas.

Funding: Part of this research was funded by the Nordakademie-Stiftung, Germany. The authors would like to thank the Nordakademie-Stiftung for their support.


Bille, A. and Hendriksen, C. (2022), "Let us get contextual: critical realist case studies in supply chain management", Supply Chain Management, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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