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Is Management Research Relevant? A Systematic Analysis of the Rigour-Relevance Debate in top-tier Journals (1994-2013)

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Since the field of management science came into existence, many scholars have raised questions about the rigor of the knowledge produced by management research about and the relevance of this knowledge to practice. In this article, we question the causes of the continuation of the rigor-relevance debate within management science. To do this, we build on science and technology studies and on the analytical framework of scientific controversies. By analyzing 253 articles published in 11 top tier journals between 1994 and 2003, we identify four typical positions on rigor and relevance in management research: gatekeepers’ orthodoxy, collaboration with practitioners, paradigmatic shift and refocusing on common good. Although contradictory, these positions co-exist within the debate and are constantly being repeated. This debate, which has developed within a specially adapted space in academic journals (the hybrid forum) contribute to the “scientification” of management sciences. We link these findings to the literature on scientific controversies and discuss their implications for the rigor-relevance debate.
Evolution du débat rigeur-pertinence Comme le révèle la figure 2, les quatre postures apparaissent de façon successive sur la période examinée. Historiquement dominé par la coexistence entre la posture de « maintien de l'orthodoxie » et la posture de « collaboration avec les praticiens », le débat s'est progressivement enrichi. A partir de 2001, il a donné lieu à l'émergence de deux nouvelles postures : le « renouvellement paradigmatique » et le « recentrage sur le bien commun ». Ces contributions ne se sont pas développées par oppositions aux idées développées précédemment mais par l'introduction de nouveaux arguments faisant intervenir des événements liés à l'actualité tels que les attentats du 11 septembre 2001 (Schendel, 2002) ou l'affaire Enron (Clark, Floyd & Wright, 2004; Clegg, 2002; Ghoshal, 2005; Rynes & Shapiro, 2005). Ce phénomène de superposition et de reformulation se retrouve également à l'intérieur de certaines contributions au débat. Dans ces contributions hybrides, qui représentent 29,2% de l'échantillon les arguments issus de différentes postures sont assemblés sans être réellement intégrés. Par exemple, dans une réponse adressée à Kieser et Leiner (2009) qui estiment qu'il n'est ni possible, ni souhaitable de rendre la recherche en management plus pertinente, Hodgkinson et Rousseau (2009) énumèrent des arguments a priori contradictoires. Sur la base de leurs travaux antérieurs respectifs, ils suggèrent à la fois d'améliorer la diffusion des connaissances produites par la recherche en management au travers du concept d''Evidence-Based Management', de développer des projets de recherche collaboratifs avec les praticiens et d'adopter un nouveau paradigme, l'approche design science, hérité des sciences de l'artificiel. Cette articulation superficielle d'arguments issus des postures de « maintien de l'orthodoxie » et de « collaboration avec les praticiens » trouve aussi une incarnation dans des contributions regrettant le manque de prise en considération des besoins des praticiens tout en préconisant une approche diffusionniste ne remettant en question, ni le contenu, ni les conditions de production, des connaissances (e.g. R. G. McGrath, 2007; Rynes, 2007). Un autre exemple nous est offert par Barney (2005) qui, à la faveur d'un hommage à Ouchi, revient sur certains scandales financiers pour inciter les chercheurs à explorer les grands enjeux du monde contemporain. Dans ce même article, il préconise également une meilleure dissémination des connaissances produites par la recherche en stratégie selon les canons de la rigueur scientifique afin d'améliorer la performance des entreprises.
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M@n@gement
2017, vol. 20(2): 166-203
Is management research relevant ?
A systematic analysis of the rigor-relevance
debate in top-tier journals (1994–2013)
Guillaume Carton ! Philippe Mouricou
Abstract. Since the field of management science came into existence,
many scholars have raised questions about the rigor of the knowledge
produced by management research about and the relevance of this
knowledge to practice. In this article, we question the causes of the
continuation of the rigor-relevance debate within management science. To
do this, we build on science and technology studies and on the analytical
framework of scientific controversies. By analyzing 253 articles published
in 11 top tier journals between 1994 and 2003, we identify four typical
positions on rigor and relevance in management research: gatekeepers’
orthodoxy, collaboration with practitioners, paradigmatic shift and
refocusing on common good. Although contradictory, these positions co-
exist within the debate and are constantly being repeated. This debate,
which has developed within a specially adapted space in academic
journals (the hybrid forum) contribute to the scientification” of
management sciences. We link these findings to the literature on scientific
controversies and discuss their implications for the rigor-relevance debate.
Keywords: rigor, relevance, impact, scientific controversies.
INTRODUCTION
Since the publication of the Gordon-Howell (1959) and Pierson
(1959) reports, the questions raised about the rigor and relevance of
1
management research have been part of a recurrent debate (Bartunek &
Rynes, 2014; Beyer & Trice, 1982; Davis, 2015; Kieser, Nicolai, & Seidl,
2015). In the overwhelming majority of cases, the authors who participate
in this discussion argue that a balance between rigor and relevance should
be reached. They suggest different ways to improve the relevance of the
knowledge produced by management research and stress the importance
of the impact criterion for both academics and business schools (e.g.
Barthélemy, 2012; Barthélemy & Mottis, 2016; Beyer, 1982; George, 2016;
Hambrick, 2007; Igalens, 2016; MacIntosh, Beech, Bartunek, Mason &
Cooke, 2017; Mangematin & Belkhouja, 2015).
166
Guillaume Carton
Institut Supérieur de Gestion, Paris
guillaume.carton@isg.fr
Philippe Mouricou
ESSCA Ecole de Management
philippe.mouricou@essca.fr
1. As Bartunek and Rynes (2014)
explai n, this liter ature has many
names: impact, usefulness, academic-
practitioner gap; rigor-relevance
debate, theory-practice divide, etc. In
this article, we shall use the term "rigor-
relevance debate" to refer to these
contributions.
M@n@gement, vol. 20(2): 166-203 Guillaume Carton & Philippe Mouricou
Alongside these positions, meta-literature has recently emerged that
analyses the content of the rigor-relevance debate in a systematic way
(Bartunek & Rynes, 2014; Kieser et al., 2015; Nicolai & Seidl, 2010). This
meta-literature shows that over the years, the rigor-relevance debate has
given rise to more and more contributions, without really coming up with
solutions. This situation could cause the debate to dry up. Surprisingly, the
debate persists and this translates into an ever-increasing number of
articles, papers and reports on rigor and relevance; conferences and round
tables, and special issues of academic journals (Bartunek & Rynes, 2014).
This situation leads us to question the causes of the continuation of the
rigor-relevance debate within management science.
To answer this question, we build on science and technology studies
(Callon & Latour, 1991; Latour, 1987; Law, 2008). We therefore join a
number of researchers who have used this literature to understand the
conditions under which knowledge in management science is produced
(Cabantous & Gond, 2014; Cochoy, 2010). More precisely, we use the
analytical framework of scientific controversies (Collins & Pinch, 1979;
Engelhardt & Caplan, 1987; Lemieux, 2007). Based on the properties of
scientific controversies, we underline the unique features of the rigor-
relevance debate to explain why it has continued for so long.
By systematically analyzing 253 contributions published in leading
top-tier journals between 1994 and 2003, we identify four typical positions.
These focus respectively on: i) the gatekeepers’ orthodoxy and the transfer
of research results toward practitioners; ii) the development of projects in
collaboration with practitioners, iii) a paradigmatic shift of management
research and iv) refocusing management research on the common good.
We show that these four positions do not share the same conception of
relevance and that they have different views on the origin of the gap
separating academic research and management practice. We show that,
although this is an ongoing debate, the arguments employed by the
advocates of each position have not changed and are constantly repeated.
Even though none of these solutions seems to be able to establish itself as
dominant, our results show that the rigor-relevance debate has three main
functions within the community of management researchers. It plays a
phatic role by allowing researchers from different thematic, disciplinary, and
geographical silos to interact. It also makes it possible to create a closed
space (e.g. in the forms of presidential addresses of the Academy of
Management, special invitation-only fora, editorials, and essays that do not
undergo a double-blind review process); such spaces bring together the
contributions of researchers who are authorized to take part in these
events. Finally, as controversies are a feature of scientific disciplines, the
existence of the rigor-relevance debate bestows the attributes of science
onto management research.
This article begins with a presentation of the scientific controversies
framework. We then present our data collection and analysis procedures.
Following this, we detail our findings and discuss their implications for both
the rigor-relevance debate and the literature on scientific controversies. We
conclude with an epilogue, which aims to move the debate forward.
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Is management research relevant? M@n@gement, vol. 20(2):166-203
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
Since the 1960s, science and technology studies have been
interested in the production, diffusion and effects of scientific statements
(Bloor, 1976; Callon & Latour, 1991; Latour, 1987; Law, 2008). From this
perspective, scientific truth does not take hold on its own, and scientific
facts are constructed and negotiated through scientific controversies (Law,
2008). Scientific controversies can therefore be defined as “intellectual
change and developments within and about science (Engelhardt &
Caplan, 1987: 1). Even though there is no pure, ideal and transhistoric
form of controversy which the empirical cases that we encounter stem
from” (Lemieux, 2007: 194), the work done by scholars of science and
technology studies makes it possible to highlight three recurring properties.
THE CONFLICTUAL NATURE OF CONTROVERSIES
The literature on scientific controversies focuses on the conflictual
nature of scientific activity (Fabiani, 2007; Lemieux, 2007). Controversy
interrupts the usual state of stability to give rise to an episodic and
spectacular confrontation between different actors who defend conflicting
positions (Fabiani, 2007; Litli, 2007; Pestre, 2007).
Opposing sides attack each other with arguments, words,
experiments and propositions (Litli, 2007) . It is therefore through rhetoric
2
that those participating in the controversy try to win over the other side and
get scientific legitimacy in the eyes of the public (Latour, 1987). The
participants can also create alliances to impose their ideas on their
adversaries, involving other actors and objects and enrolling them by force
or through more cunning means (Callon, 1986).
The conflictual nature of the controversy can even play a social role
as ritual game (Fabiani, 2007). Controversies are thus events where new
knowledge can take shape, be compared to other ideas and ultimately
prevail (Litli, 2007).
CONSTITUTIVE FORUM AND CONTINGENT FORUM
The controversy takes place within two spaces: the constitutive
forum and the contingent forum (Collins & Pinch, 1979). The constitutive
forum is a space dedicated to scientific discussions. It is composed of
academic journals, scientific conferences and even academic associations.
The audience is mostly peers (Lemieux, 2007). On the other hand, the
contingent forum is a place of public debate where popular knowledge,
opinions and rumors are shared. It gives rise to arguments that are not
necessarily based on scientific knowledge.
Even though these two fora are separate, they remain dependent on
each other (Brossard, 2008; Callon, 1981) . Yet not all controversies take
3
place there (Lemieux, 2007): Some can be contained and will take place
within academic circles to a large extent, as happened in the case of the
anomaly concerning solar neutrinos (Pinch, 1981; 1986). Meanwhile,
others are more exposed to the general public .
4
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2. In particular, see Shapin (1984) on
the confrontation between Boyle/
Hobbes on the air pump or Farley and
Geison (1974) on the Pasteur/Pouchet
debate on spontaneous generation.
3. Brossard (2008) therefore shows
how the newspaper Le Monde played a
key ro le in the r ec o g ni t i on of
homoeopathy as opposed to traditional
medicine before the publication of
articles in academic journals.
4. See the case on the attempt to
recognise paranormal sciences (Collins
and P i n c h , 19 7 9 ; Me asom a n d
Weinstein, 2014).
M@n@gement, vol. 20(2): 166-203 Guillaume Carton & Philippe Mouricou
DIVERSITY OF CLOSURE MECHANISMS
Closure ends the state of instability caused by scientific controversy.
In this regard, Engelhardt and Caplan (1987) identify several closure
mechanisms such as consensus, the introduction of a new scientific
argument, the use of non-scientific arguments (religious considerations, for
example), the negotiation of a truth that is acceptable to all parties, the
forcing through of a position (making moves to block a publication, for
instance), or even participants.
These closure mechanisms can co-exist (Beder, 1991). One actor
may claim for instance that a scientific consensus has emerged, when in
reality it is the weariness of the other participants that has allowed the
controversy to end. In addition, several positions can co-exist without one
eclipsing the others (Revel, 2007). Finally, several controversies can be
embedded and be based on different closure mechanisms.
With the above elements, it is possible to set out the theoretical
framework of scientific controversies. This framework, which consists of
three properties—the conflictual nature, the separation/interdependence of
constitutive and contingent fora, and closure—is used to analyze the rigor-
relevance debate.
METHODS
The literature published in academic journals is an appropriate way
to enter study of the rigor-relevance debate. As Bartunek and Rynes show
(2014: 1183), “The debate has mainly taken place in journals aimed at
academics rather than practitioners.This article is therefore based on a
systematic review of the literature (Gough, Oliver & Thomas, 2012;
Petticrew & Roberts, 2006).
DATA COLLECTION PROCEDURES
We focus on an analysis of English-speaking literature related to the
rigor-relevance debate. This focus should not be interpreted as meaning
that we have adopted a position that management research is typically
written in English. Nor is our aim to confirm that scientific English-speaking
journals are the only space within which the rigor-relevance debate takes
place. Among the French-speaking community alone, reports (e.g.
Alexandre-Bailly & Lecocq, 2013; Kalika, Liarte, & Moscarola, 2016),
papers (e.g. Barthélemy & Mottis, 2016; David, Hatchuel & Laufer, 2012),
conferences (e.g. Etats Généraux du Management: General State of
Management 2016, seminars (e.g. the 2010 summer seminar and the 2014
winter seminar of the Société Française du Management: French
Management Society) and the media (e.g. Denis, 2015) have addressed
topics related to the rigor-relevance debate.
Yet these contributions have not been published systematically,
which makes it difficult to set up a systematic collection of data over a long
period. It would therefore have been necessary to set up a collection
system in parallel (based, for instance, on retrospective interviews with the
contributors) in order to track the development of the rigor-relevance
debate within the French-speaking community, but this would have raised
some issues related to the possible comparison of different sources of
data.
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Period studied
In a speech given in 1993 (and published the following year),
Hambrick (1994) urged the members of the Academy of Management to
take part in the public debate. Although previous pieces of work had looked
at this question (Beyer & Trice, 1982; Simon, 1967), this speech paved the
way for many other pieces of work devoted to the issue of the relevance of
management research. Consequently, the year 1994 constitutes the
beginning of the period that we studied. To track the development of the
number of contributions to debate during the 2000s, we decided to analyze
the contributions published over a period of 20 years.
Sampling
As Patton explains (2015: 303), the sampling carried out in a
systematic literature review draws on purposeful sampling procedures.
This implies that there are precise criteria to include data in—and exclude
it from—the sample. We first selected journals that have received a 4*
ranking from the Association of Business Schools (ABS) in both general
5
management and its strategy categories, including the Academy of
Management Journal, the Academy of Management Review, Administrative
Science Quarterly, the British Journal of Management, the Harvard
Business Review, the Journal of Management, the Journal of Management
Studies and the Strategic Management Journal. We have also included
journals that have devoted special issues to the rigor-relevance debate or
related issues: Organization Studies (vol. 31, n°9-10) and the Academy of
Management Learning and Education (vol. 11, n°2).
Finally, as the Harvard Business Review is included in the sample,
we have also included two other journals aimed at academics and
practitioners alike: the MIT Sloan Management Review and the California
Management Review, but only the latter has published articles on the rigor-
relevance debate.
The final sample is therefore made up of 253 contributions published
in 11 journals. It encompasses editorials, essays, theoretical articles,
empirical articles, articles recounting an experience (most often these are
articles that describe how research projects carried out jointly by academic
researchers and practitioners unfolded), meta-analyses of the literature,
transcriptions of speeches and interviews, and comments and responses
addressed to authors of previously published articles. Table 1 is as a
summary of our sample. The exhaustive list of the articles can be found in
Appendix 1.
170
5. We initiated the Data Collection in
2013 and used the 2010 ABS Journal
Quality Guide (version 4). Since then,
ABS has released a new version of its
Journal Quality Guide in which the
General Management category also
c o v e r s E t h i c s a n d S o c i a l
Responsibility.
M@n@gement, vol. 20(2): 166-203 Guillaume Carton & Philippe Mouricou
Table 1 – Data inventory
DATA ANALYSIS PROCEDURES
The contributions that make up the sample have been subject to an
analysis based on systematic coding done jointly by the two authors of this
article, using the QSR NVivo software (starting with version 10, then
version 11). The analysis process was structured into three steps
(Richards, 2014; Richards & Morse, 2012): descriptive coding, topic coding
and analytical coding.
During the analytical coding, we sought to identify several typical
positions in order to make the wide range of positions that exist in the rigor-
relevance debate more understandable. Each position has been defined by
a number of characteristics in order to define the boundaries of the position
and to separate it from the other positions identified in the analysis. These
positions can be called ideal types, in the Weberian sense of the term
(Paugam, 2010; Weber, 1992; 1995). Although their characteristics cannot
necessarily be found in every contribution to the rigor-relevance debate,
they make the breadth of the debate understandable.
These four typical positions emerged from the analytical process.
We used the techniques and procedures of grounded theory, as laid down
in the “Gioia method” (Gioia, Corley, & Hamilton, 2013; Langley & Abdallah,
2011). These analysis procedures involved going back and forth many
times between the data and the emerging coding scheme, meaning that
the categories (labels of typical positions and their properties) kept
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changing until the final steps of the analysis. In order to make sure that the
emerging coding scheme was stable and consistent, we constantly revised
the content coded by the categories. The final coding scheme (data
structure) is depicted in Figure 1. Additionally, Appendix 2 shows how
contributions are distributed according to the four typical positions that we
have identified.
In accordance with the standards of grounded theory, (Bernard,
2011; Gioia et al., 2013; Shah & Corley, 2006) and with our choice to
analyze non-structured data (Morse, 1997; Patton, 2015), we have not
sought to measure inter-coder reliability. When disagreements regarding
the interpretation of the data arose, discussions between the two authors
made it possible to clarify the analysis scheme and to define more
precisely the boundaries of the categories used. These discussions led to
the writing of a coding manual, which included a definition and an
illustration for each of the categories used (Bernard & Ryan, 2009).
Based on these results, we ultimately carried out a re-reading by
harnessing the properties brought to the fore by the literature on
controversies (conflict, spaces and closure) in order to underline the
specific characteristics of the rigor-relevance debate.
Figure 1 – Data structure
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M@n@gement, vol. 20(2): 166-203 Guillaume Carton & Philippe Mouricou
FINDINGS
By analyzing the data, four typical positions emerged among the
contributors to the rigor-relevance debate. After presenting them, we will
analyze the rigor-relevance debate through the prism of the theoretical
framework of scientific controversies.
THE FOUR TYPICAL POSITIONS
Table 2 depicts the four positions identified in the rigor-relevance debate.
These positions are presented in detail later.
Table 2 – Summary of the four typical positions
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Gatekeepers’ orthodoxy
The gatekeepers’ orthodoxy is a position that is largely shared by
editors of top tier journals: it considers that the problem of the lack of
relevance in management research is due above all to the lack of
dissemination to non-academic audiences. In an editorial published in the
Journal of Management Studies, Clark, Floyd and Wright (2013: 1369)
underscore the fact that “the body of recent management research that
speaks to relevant managerial problems has had little impact on practice,
tending to be ignored in the media.”
Continuing with Kurt Lewis’s famous words that nothing is so
practical as a good theory, the lack of relevance in management research
should not lead to a lessening of the requirements concerning
methodological rigor and robustness of theoretical contributions; nor
should it lead to a substantive change in the editorial policies of academic
journals. “Research in this field should not be speculation, opinion, or
clever journalism; it should be about producing replicable work from which
conclusions can be drawn independently of whoever does the work or
applies the work result,” says Schendel (1995: 2). The founder and former
chief editor of the Strategic Management Journal continues by saying: “If
researchers can accomplish their work in [a rigorous] way, practitioners will
find these pages, and all of our research, more useful to know.” Two
additional reasons are frequently cited to justify the gatekeepers’
orthodoxy. It is difficult to judge a priori whether research work is relevant;
relevance can be determined only after a long dissemination process.
Besides, sometimes it is even difficult to evaluate it a posteriori, as
relevance can actually emerge from accumulated bodies of knowledge,
rather than isolated contributions.
For proponents of the gatekeepers’ orthodoxy, the lack of relevance
in management research is due less to its intrinsic characteristics and
more to outside factors, such as the media’s relative indifference to
scientific research (Clark et al., 2013; Guest, 2007) or even practitioners’
difficulty in accessing scientific publications (Rousseau & McCarthy, 2007).
They recognize that the uninspiring presentation of research work (Boland,
Singh, Salipante, Aram & Fay, 2001) and researchers’ systematic use of
jargon (DeNisi, 1994; Rousseau & McCarthy, 2007) can hinder the spread
of academic knowledge. Consequently, “the relevance ghost’ continues to
haunt us from one conference to another, from one presidential address [of
the Academy of Management] to the next (Cummings, 2007: 356). In
order to banish the relevance ghost, these authors propose three types of
solutions.
The first is to encourage the members of the academic community to
play a more active role in spreading knowledge. The researchers are
thereby encouraged to leave their “ivory tower” by publishing pieces in the
general and professional press (Hambrick, 2005), and online; participating
in radio, television and internet programs (Cummings, 2007; Hitt, 1998).
These might be summaries of their own work (Rousseau, 2007; Rousseau
& McCarthy, 2007) or of scientific knowledge on a given subject (Tranfield,
Denyer, & Smart, 2003). In order to improve the dissemination of scientific
knowledge, researchers also need to write more simply (DeNisi, 1994),
refer to concrete examples and even use anecdotes (Aldag, 2012) to
illustrate what they are saying.
Second, academics are encouraged to compete directly with other
actors operating on the management knowledge market, whether these be
journalists, consultants or management gurus (Guest, 2007). Without
letting rigor (researchers’ main competitive advantage, according to
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M@n@gement, vol. 20(2): 166-203 Guillaume Carton & Philippe Mouricou
Cummings, 2007)fall by the wayside, researchers are recommended to get
closer to the business world in order to better communicate with
practitioners, through joint conferences, for instance (Hambrick, 1994).
The third type of solution is to integrate scientific knowledge into
teaching more systematically (Kilduff & Kelemen, 2001). This idea
responds to the profound questions several members of the academic
community have asked, in the vein of Pearce (2004: 177), about their role
as teachers: In the classroom, I fear I rarely have been completely open
and honest about what I am doing—recycling and recombining the
experiences, hunches, and anecdotes of others. This finding is also the
starting point of the school of thought of evidence-based management,
which seeks to refocus management education around rigorously-
produced evidence (Ashkanasy, 2007; Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006, Rousseau,
2006a, 2006b, 2007, 2012, Rousseau & McCarthy, 2007). According to its
advocates, this perspective could allow teachers to play their role as
curators of academic knowledge. Several difficulties linked to the
implementation of evidence-based management are highlighted: training
students, presenting scientific evidence attractively and combining
scientific knowledge (which by its very nature is fragmented).
Collaboration with practitioners
To reduce the gap between research and practice, some authors
encourage the academic community to move away from the dissemination
approach (Shapiro, Kirkman, & Courtney, 2007). They believe that
relevance can be reduced not to translating scientific knowledge, but to its
usefulness for practitioners. What makes knowledge valuable to
organizations is ultimately the ability to make better decisions and action
taken on the basis of knowledge(Starkey & Madan, 2001: 5). The lack of
rigor in research is not solely due to the distance separating academics
from practitioners, but above all to the self-referential nature of the
research. As Cohen, one of the rare practitioners to take part in the debate,
explains (2007: 1015), Journalists and practitioners do not have the time
or desire to read scientific research, and scholarly researchers do not have
the time or desire to write for non-academic audiences”.
This situation arguably allows researchers to benefit from the
respectability associated with scientific disciplines without having to worry
about the practical interest of their work (Bennis & O’Toole, 2005; Palmer,
2006; Podolny, 2009; Schoemaker, 2008). Beyond the researchers’ lack of
interest in the practical utility of their work, the lack of time and incentives
solely aimed at publishing in academic journals are also highlighted (Clark
& Wright, 2009; Lambrechts, Bouwen, Grieten, Huybrechts, & Schein,
2011; Tatli, 2012).
To make academic research more useful to practitioners, the
defenders of the collaboration with practitioners position put forward
several solutions. First, it is important to recognize the potential theoretical
contribution of knowledge developed by practitioners: Managers’ and
other practitioners knowledge may often precede academics
knowledge (Bartunek 2007: 1328). Ways in which academics and
practitioners co-produce knowledge need to be devised (Starkey, Hatchuel,
& Tempest, 2004). ‘Engaged scholarship’ (McKelvey, 2006; Van de Ven &
6
Johnson, 2006a; 2006b; Van de Ven & Zlotkowski, 2005) and Mode 2
(Bartunek, 2011; Huff, 2000; Tranfield & Starkey, 1998) are two schools of
thought that aim to promote such cooperation.
175
6. See the concepts used in the debate
in Appendix 3.
Is management research relevant? M@n@gement, vol. 20(2):166-203
Nevertheless, such a co-production of data can prove to be difficult
to implement. Mohrman, Gibson and Mohrman (2001: 370-371) thus stress
that creating a social system that fosters and houses collaboration
between the two different thought worlds violates the norms of both
communities.” Procedures therefore need to be developed that make it
possible to overcome frictions that could arise during collaborative projects
and to provide feedback to the whole community in order to facilitate the
running of future projects (Amabile, Patterson, Mueller & Odomirok, 2001;
Mitev & Venters, 2009; Mohrman et al., 2001; Swan, Bresnen, Robertson,
Newell, & Dopson, 2010).
Above and beyond research projects, the collaboration with
practitioners position also has implications for the teaching of
management. Wren, Buckley and Michaelsen (1994: 154) consider that in
this regard it is unrealistic to “expect students to learn to apply concepts by
listening to someone else’s examples [as this] would be like expecting
them to be able to ski after having watched the Winter Olympics on
television.” It is therefore a matter of using teaching as a space to co-
produce knowledge, in particular through executive education, experiments
in real conditions (Knights, 2008; Wren et al., 1994; Wren, Halbesleben, &
Buckley, 2007), and management games (Rousseau & McCarthy, 2007).
Students’ feedback will therefore improve academic research (Pearce &
Huang, 2012 ; Tushman, O’Reilly, Fenollosa, Kleinbaum & McGrath, 2007).
Paradigmatic shift
Championed predominantly by European scholars, the third position
pleads for a paradigmatic shift by profoundly questioning the
epistemological foundations, methods and assessment criteria of
management research.
The lack of relevance here, likened to a lack of interest, could be
explained as the widespread, implicit belief among scholars that science
has to be founded on positivist or realist epistemologies (Avenier, 2010:
1230). It is therefore vital to deconstruct a model inherited from physical
sciences and geared toward the search for universal laws (Tranfield &
Starkey, 1998). This deconstruction is justified by three criticisms.
First, the dominant paradigm is considered as contributing to
distancing researchers from what is happening in the business world. The
majority of management researchers are thus locked into supposedly
scientific rationality (Barnett & Starbuck, 2007; Chia & Holt, 2008;
Sandberg & Tsoukas, 2011), which leads them to systematically submit
themselves to academic rituals such as significance tests and editorial
decision processes. This prevents the research from thriving and being
truly relevant (Starbuck, 2007).
Second, the static nature of the theories produced is also called into
question. By considering their theories as products that are not bound by
time, researchers are not interested in their being put into action by
practitioners (Gabriel, 2002).
Third, the dominant paradigm does not take into account the
capacity of scientific knowledge to transform the real (Starkey, Hatchuel, &
Tempest, 2009; Van Aken, 2004; 2005; Zundel & Kokkalis, 2010).
Hodgkinson and Starkey (2011: 361) believe that “Science goes away
when it assumes that the empirical is a straightforward mirror of the real.”
Even though they point their fingers at the limits of the positivist
tradition, the advocates of a paradigmatic shift do not want to contribute to
the emergence of a new orthodoxy that would standardize the field of
management research. As Tsoukas, Garud and Hardy explain (2003:
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1006), intellectual pluralism ultimately aids collective learning. The
researchers who endorse the paradigmatic-shift position therefore propose
alternative conceptions of management research, such as design science
(Hodgkinson & Healey, 2008; Hodgkinson & Starkey, 2012; Starbuck,
2004; Starkey et al., 2009; Van Aken, 2004; 2005), critical realism, or
critical management studies (Sandberg & Tsoukas, 2011). Besides this,
several authors are involved in hybridization attempts. Notably, this is the
case for Aram and Salipante (2003), who build on the work of Nonaka and
the philosophy of sciences of Dewey; for Avenier (2010), whose approach
combines constructivism and design science; and for Hodgkinson and
Starkey (2012), who cross design science and critical realism.
Despite their different views, these authors suggest that several
avenues are needed for a paradigmatic shift. The first is related to the
diversity of methods used by management researchers, who would grant
greater recognition to qualitative methods, such as action research,
intervention research and grounded theory (Avenier, 2010; Hatchuel, 2001;
Hodgkinson & Starkey, 2012).
The second touches on the nature of the results produced by
management research. Those who advocate a paradigmatic shift therefore
wish to complement the positivist agenda dominated by explanatory
research and by research with causal links with other contributions that
could resolve managerial problems (Van Aken, 2004), and contribute to
organizational design by creating and implementing artifacts (Avenier,
2010), or by involving practitioners emotionally (Chia & Holt, 2008).
The third avenue proposes that notions of internal and external
validity be replaced by new assessment criteria, such as the use of
knowledge produced (Aram & Salipante, 2003; Avenier, 2010; Hatchuel,
2001), their testing in the form of prototypes (Van Aken, 2004), their beauty
(Augier & March, 2007), or even the interest and reflexivity that they cause
in the reader (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2013; Learmonth, Lockett & Dowd,
2012).
The impact of the proposed changes goes beyond the production of
management knowledge insofar as they call into question the role of the
actors involved in the research production system. For instance, MBA
programs are suspected of promoting a functional model that destroys any
form of critical thinking in students (Antonacopoulou, 2010; Vince, 2010)
and leads to an impoverished representation of what these organizations
are, as well a form of detachment (Chia & Holt, 2008). Funded research is
also subject to criticism, because it is believed to lead to the promotion of a
utilitarian and restrictive conception of relevance, and prevents the
dominant paradigm from evolving, which is the origin of the problem
(Learmonth et al., 2012).
Refocusing on the common good
The fourth position involves redefining the objective of management
research by refocusing on the common good. Consequently, relevant
research should be able to provide answers to major social and societal
issues facing the contemporary world.
The starting point for this position is to state that management and
the activities of multinational organizations are not neutral in terms of their
effects on the lives of other human beings (Glinow, 2005; Breyfogle in
Podolny, Kester, Kerr, Sutton & Kaplan, 2009). Badaracco explains that
Management, in all its forms, is a critical activity of modern societies,
deeply and inevitably shaping the livelihoods and lives of most people on
earth” (Badaracco in Podolny et al., 2009: 108). In the United States,
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multinational organizations are believed to be behind financial scandals,
large-scale job losses, a surge in the number of homeless people, and the
pension crisis (Tsui, 2013).
Often the finger is pointed at big multinational companies, yet the
academic community is not free from all responsibility. Ghoshal (2005) is
particularly vehement and develops the idea that these wrongdoings find
their origin in academic theories based on dangerous hypotheses. Agency
theory, transaction cost theory, and even Porter's Five Forces analysis,
according to Ghoshal (2005: 76), are ideologically inspired amoral
theoriesand have actively freed their students from any sense of moral
responsibility”.This situation can be explained by the fact that management
research prefers to study intangible objects, such as the performance of a
business, productivity, or even organizational structures—to the detriment
of human beings and people (Courpasson, 2013). Although some research
work is interested in the role of individuals in organisations, such work is in
the minority because the dominant research agenda draws on economics
(Ghoshal, 2005; Pfeffer, 2005) and finance (March, 2007), and more
generally on disciplines with a functionalist and productivist conception of
human action (Courpasson, 2013).
Since academic theories are perceived as having a negative impact
on managerial practices and, indirectly, on society, the advocates of
refocusing on the common good believe that it is up to management
researchers to redefine the goal of their discipline. For Barnett and
Starbuck this idea is particularly salient: we [management scholars]
should be protesting the bad things in our world and should be striving to
create a better world” (Barnett & Starbuck, 2007: 126).
The dominant managerialist and short-term agenda therefore needs
to be shaken off and research projects focused on the long term should be
developed (Ferlie, McGivern, & De Moraes, 2010). This, for example,
would involve looking at the link between the world of businesses and
grand challenges” such as climate change, poverty, and the suffering of
animals and analyzing the impact of current technological developments
on society, or even exploring the implications of management research on
public policies (Adler & Jermier, 2005; Clegg, 2002; Dutton, 2005; Ferlie, et
al., 2010; Glinow, 2005; Ouchi, Riordan, Lingle, & Porter, 2005; Podolny,
2009; Schoemaker, 2008; Walsh, Weber, & Margolis, 2003; Willmott,
2012).
Even if respected scientific journals (Courpasson, Arellano-Gault,
Brown, & Lounsbury, 2008) and academic associations (Ferlie et al., 2010;
Moosmayer, 2012) were encouraged to play a role in shifting management
research toward the common good, it is business schools and universities
that would have to undergo the most significant reforms. They are
encouraged to put the question of values at the heart of their strategy
(Moosmayer, 2012), to redefine their mission (Willmott, 2012; Worrell,
2009), to apply more virtuous codes of conduct, to stop focusing
exclusively on the private sector (Adler & Jermier, 2005; Barney, 2005;
March, 2007), and to strengthen the ethical side of their teaching (Bennis &
O'Toole, 2005; Moosmayer, 2012; Pfeffer, 2005; Podolny, 2009). Aware of
the scale of these changes, the defenders of shifting management
research toward the common good therefore advocate a collective effort
that involves all members of the academic community. As Tsui concludes
(2013: 177) in her presidential address to the Academy of Management:
together, we can make a huge difference in changing the state of our
profession for the better”.
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THE RIGOR-RELEVANCE DEBATE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF
SCIENTIFIC CONTROVERSIES
The four positions that we have just identified allow us to clarify the
terms used in the rigor-relevance debate. In order to understand why
debate has been so long-tasting, we will now provide an analysis using the
conceptual framework of scientific controversies.
Exchanges within the rigor-relevance debate: accumulation and
reformulation
Scientific controversies are characterized by a certain level of
conflict. Conversely, the exchanges within the rigor-relevance debate seem
extremely cordial. Although the rigor-relevance debate allows for the
expression of different positions, this has not translated into an open
conflict. Even when they stand behind mutually exclusive positions, the
participants seem to welcome all contributions to the debate with a certain
degree of goodwill. Thus Tatli (2012: 22), while being opposed to the
critical position that Ford, Harding and Learmonth (2010) advocate, does
not neglect to say that these authors have raised very important”
questions. In their response, Ford, Harding and Learmonth (2012: 31)
express their sympathy for Tatli’s arguments: We very much welcome Ahu
Tatli’s response. Indeed, we find ourselves rather sympathetic towards
several of her criticisms of CMS [critical management studies]. In the same
way, the chief editors who defend the gatekeepers’ orthodoxy position
show some openness to contributions that are far removed from their
habitual positions.
Even when the exchanges become relatively heated—as was the
case between Pearce and Huang (2012) and Greve (2012) after the former
cited the work of the latter as an example of non-actionable research—
niceties are not dispensed with: “Pearce and Huang (2012, this issue) have
taken the welcome initiative of examining the value of research to
management education” explains Greve (2012: 272).
If the violence of the rigor-relevance debate seems to have been
contained, it is because the content of the arguments exchanged seems
less important that the discussion with other members of the community
into which it feeds. The rigor-relevance debate therefore seems to play a
phatic role.
As a result, the arguments put forward by the contributors are never
really linked to the arguments of the other participants. Rather than
contradicting the arguments that have previously been put forward, the
participants seize the opportunity to respond in order to express their own
point of view again. The rigor-relevance debate therefore proceeds from
the accumulation of unconnected arguments that are constantly
reformulated, whether within a position or between positions.
Within the position where the arguments developed converge, there
is no real exchange of views. For example, there were discussions that
took place within the position collaboration with practitioners between the
end of the 1990 and the beginning of the 2000s, and many authors
employed the Mode 2 concept as a solution to bring together the worlds of
research and practice. Most notably, this concept was brought to the fore
by the British Academy of Management (Starkey & Madan, 2001; Tranfield
& Starkey, 1998) and discussed by different authors who in turn proposed
Mode 1.5 and Mode 3 (Huff, 2000; Huff & Huff, 2001). However, the
concept was abandoned the following decade (Bartunek, 2011) in favor of
other approaches such as engaged scholarship. Even though these other
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approaches provide a shared interpretation of the origin of the supposed
lack of relevance of management research and propose similar solutions,
they seem to ignore the arguments that were previously developed.
Figure 2 – Evolution of the rigor-relevance debate
As Figure 2 reveals, the four positions appear successively in the
examined period. Historically dominated by the coexistence of the
gatekeepers’ orthodoxy and collaboration with practitioners, the debate has
grown progressively richer. From 2001 onwards, it has given rise to the
emergence of two new positions—the paradigmatic shift and refocusing on
the common good. These contributions did not develop through opposition
to ideas that were previously developed, but by introducing new arguments
drawing on current events, such as the September 11 attacks of 2001
(Schendel, 2002) and even the Enron scandal (Clark, Floyd, & Wright,
2004; Clegg, 2002; Ghoshal, 2005; Rynes & Shapiro, 2005).
This phenomenon of accumulation and reformulation can also be
found within certain contributions to the debate. In these hybrid
contributions, which make up 29.2% of the sample, the arguments from
different positions are assembled without being truly linked with each other.
For example, in a response addressed to Kieser and Leiner (2009), who
believe that it is neither possible nor desirable to make management
research more relevant, Hodgkinson and Rousseau (2009) list arguments
that are contradictory. Based on their respective previous work, they
suggest improving the spread of knowledge produced by management
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research via the concept of evidence-based management, developing
collaborative research projects with practitioners and adopting a new
paradigm, the design science approach, inherited from artificial sciences.
This superficial expression of arguments from the gatekeepers’ orthodoxy
and collaboration with practitioners positions is also embodied by other
contributions that bemoan how practitioners’ needs are not sufficiently
taken into account, while advocating a dissemination approach that does
not call into question the content or the conditions that underpin knowledge
production (e.g. McGrath, 2007; Rynes, 2007). Barney (2005) offers
another example. In the form of an homage to Ouchi, he looks back on
various financial scandals to encourage researchers to explore the major
issues of the contemporary world. In this same article, he also advocates
better dissemination of the knowledge produced by strategic research
according to the canons of scientific rigor in order to improve the
performance of companies.
Rigor-relevance debate space: a hybrid forum
The literature on scientific controversies suggests that they can take
place in two different yet interdependent spaces: the constitutive forum
(composed of academic journals, scientific conferences and academic
associations) and the contingent forum (composed of the media, the public
at large and extra-academic assemblies).
As we showed earlier, the rigor-relevance debate essentially
concerns a research audience. It takes place in scientific journals, at
academic conferences (some speeches then being published in academic
journals, as is the case for the presidential addresses of the Academy of
Management), and in reports commissioned by bodies that oversee the
functioning of business schools and universities (which are then subject to
discussion in journals).
Although the rigor-relevance debate mostly concerns academic
circles, the space that is reserved for it seems to break the rules that
generally apply to the constitutive forum in terms of method, double-blind
review and even writing of contributions. Within the debate, comments
(41.1%), editorials (20.6%), and transcriptions of speeches or interviews
(7.1%) form the majority of contributions. Among the essays and articles
published as part of the rigor-relevance debate, we note that there is an
overly high number of special issues and invitation-only fora.
I asked Freek Vermeulen (a conference organizer and Academy of
Management Journal board member) whether some of the conference
participants might be interested in writing essays on combining rigor and
relevance in honor of Ghoshal,” explains Rynes (2007: 745), who was
editor-in-chief of the Academy of Management Journal at that time. He
continues: The answer was a resounding yes. The five resulting essays
follow.” When certain contributors participate in the rigor-relevance debate,
they do so not because they have new arguments to showcase or a
particular contradiction to point out, but because they have been invited to
do so within a dedicated space, included in the constitutive forum.
In this specially adapted space, arguments outside of the strictly
scientific framework can be developed. There are therefore many
references to current events, such as the reference to pets that died during
Hurricane Katrina (Glinow, 2005), including amusing comments such as
You don’t have to be a gorilla to understand them (Vermeulen, 2007:
756), and even personal testimonies like Denise Rousseau expressing her
admiration for Herbert Simon (Rousseau, 2012). For Kieser, et al. (2015),
these arguments that do not conform to the traditional academic debate
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are sufficient to discredit the literature devoted to management research
because they bestow a non-scientific character upon it. Without formulating
such acerbic criticism, many contributors to the debate nevertheless stress
that the quality of the exchange of views could be improved if these were
based more on scientific results (Bartunek, 2011) and well-established
theoretical frameworks (Jarzabkowski, Mohrman, & Scherer, 2010).
We show that the rigor-relevance debate takes place in a space that
differs from the constitutive and contingent fora within which scientific
controversies usually develop. Like Callon, Lascoumes and Barthe (2001),
we call this space a “hybrid forum.” However, it is not a public space, but a
specially adapted space inside the constitutive forum, which is governed by
rules that allow the use of arguments normally reserved for the contingent
forum.
An instrument to make the field appear more scientific
As scientific controversies are important to those taking part in them,
they establish complex mechanisms intended for their closure. However,
and as Figure 2 shows, there was a surge in the number of contributions to
the rigor-relevance debate between 1994 and 2013. The debate seems to
be expanding rather than closing.
The absence of closure can be explained on the one hand by the
absence of confrontation between the different positions, and on the other
hand by the existence of the hybrid forum, whose rules allow the use of
arguments that are normally considered as non-scientific within the
framework of the constitutive forum.
Paradoxically, the absence of closure is interpreted by participants
as a sign of the scientific nature and vitality of management research. For
example, the discussion that followed the publication of Pearce and
Hu an g s ar tic le (2 01 2 ) w as ju dge d t o b e important and
controversial” (Bartunek & Egri, 2012: 245). On this basis, the editors
opened a forum consisting of five comments and the right to respond,
which we summarize in Table 3.
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Table 3 – Summary of the debate on Pearce & Huang’s article (2012)
The analysis of this article shows that, except for the comment made
by Aldag (2012), only to a slight extent are these articles linked to Pearce
and Huang’s words (2012). The main aim of Greve’s (2012) as well as
Stewart and Barric’s contributions (2012) is to legitimize the actionability of
the authors’ past research rather than to engage in a real debate with
Pearce and Huang. Martin’s contribution (2012) also does not seem to
attempt to provide closure in the sense that it includes ideas that are
outside of the framework of the initial debate (in particular, on the cost of
producing an academic article).
If not to resolve the problem of the lack of relevance of management
research, what purpose does the rigor-relevance debate serve? For its
contributors, the debate enables them to justify the validity of their prior
research, to benefit from the springboard offered by the debate to publish
new papers and to develop ideas that are not linked to the initial topic. At a
more aggregated level, the debate helps to legitimize a eld of
management by bestowing upon it an attribute (controversy) that is
characteristic of scientific disciplines.
The characteristics of the rigor-relevance debate
The preceding findings highlight three characteristics of the rigor-
relevance debate. Even though it consists of a set of intellectual
developments within and about science, the rigor-relevance debate (1)
does stems not from an exchange of conflictual knowledge, but from the
accumulation of arguments that do not give rise to a discussion of the
arguments between the parties involved; (2) takes place in a specially
adapted hybrid forum within the contingent forum (e.g. scientific journals,
conferences and academic associations); and (3) does not aim to close the
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debate, but to make the field appear more scientific. These elements are
summarized in Table 4.
Table 4 – Characteristics of the rigor-relevance debate
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DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
In this article, we have analyzed the rigor-relevance debate by using
the conceptual framework of scientific controversies. Based on a
systematic analysis of 253 contributions published between 1994 and 2003
in 11 top-tier leading scientific journals, we feature four typical positions
and have analyzed the rigor-relevance debate in the light of the analytical
framework of scientific controversies in order to underline its
characteristics. We now explain how our results contribute to both the
rigor-relevance debate and to the literature on the rigor-relevance debate.
CONTRIBUTION TO THE RIGOR-RELEVANCE DEBATE
Relevance is a difficult concept to define. In a paper devoted to
Harvard Business School, Anteby (2013: 58) recounts the experience of
one of his colleagues after being asked about the meaning of relevance:
He smiled before answering me more seriously: you shouldn’t even ask
me the question. If you had to define relevance, it would lose its plasticity.
Not defining it is what makes relevance relevant.’’
Our work has made it possible to clarify the terms of the debate on
the lack of relevance of management research. Beyond the individual
positions and the specific way each author thinks, we have shown that four
typical positions can be identified. Each position is based on its own
definition of relevance, provides a specific diagnosis to explain the origin of
the problem, and proposes different solutions to solve it. Our results thus
both confirm and enrich previous integration efforts.
The relationship between the gatekeepers’-orthodoxy and the
collaboration-with-practitioners position resembles the dichotomy of Mode
1 versus Mode 2 (Starkey & Madan, 2001; Tranfield & Starkey, 1998), but
also makes it possible to show that since the beginning of the 2000s, this
coexistence has been left behind by two new positions, paradigmatic shift
and refocusing on the common good.
Similarly, in a context characterized by an increase in the number of
publications on the topic of research relevance (Bartunek & Rynes, 2014),
it seemed important to us to build bridges between contributions that were
not necessarily linked to each other by their authors. In this instance, we
are thinking of the dissemination approach and evidence-based
management, which were previously described as relatively impermeable
(Kieser, et al., 2015) and which we have shown to share the same
diagnosis of the origin of the relevance problem in management research
and to propose similar solutions.
We think that the clarification of the rigor-relevance debate provided
by our results might allow a better understanding of it. For the authors
seeking to take part in it, our clarification allows for a better link with the
existing literature and the development of contributions that do not simply
reformulate arguments that were already stated in the past. Consequently,
the identification of the four typical positions can serve as a starting point
for the rigor-relevance debate to move forward (this debate being
considerable stable over the period studied).
Our results also make it possible to better pinpoint the drivers of the
rigor-relevance debate. We therefore continue along one of the research
avenues suggested by Kieser, et al. (2015: 218) who would like to see the
following development: “The relevance debate should be treated in itself as
an empirical phenomenon that is likely to affect both research and
practice.” We have shown that the exchange of arguments stems from
another logic than that of scientific controversies as they are generally
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theorized by favoring the accumulation of arguments rather than the
convergence of these arguments. Our results make it possible to explain
the feeling of déjà-vu expressed by some authors when reading
contributions to the rigor-relevance debate (Demil, Lecocq, & Warnier,
2007, 2014; Gulati, 2007; Kieser & Leiner, 2009). In addition, the lack of
willingness to close the controversy provides an explanation of the
programmatic nature of the literature that has developed in the debate on
the relevance of research (Kieser et al., 2015). This literature enables
many contributions to be developed that simply prolong the debate
indefinitely (Bartunek & Rynes, 2014). We show that this is made possible
because the contributions take the form of positions, essays, speeches,
and interviews, which are published in a specially adapted hybrid forum
within the constitutive forum.
C O NT RI B UT IO N TO TH E L I TE RAT U R E O N S CI EN TI FI C
CONTROVERSIES
During the last decade, management scholars have turned to
science and technology studies to understand how management is
practiced in organizations (Woolgar, Coopmans, & Neyland, 2009). Beyond
the use of concepts, this article also aims to allow management science to
develop a contribution to science and technology studies. The objective of
this article is to better understand scientific controversies by studying the
rigor-relevance debate, as it has been done for other concepts from this
research field, such as boundary objects (Woolgar et al., 2009) and
performativity (Gond, Cabantous, Harding, & Learmonth, 2016).
This article shows that, even though it stems from a set of
intellectual developments within and about science (Engelhardt & Caplan’s
scientific controversy definition, 1987), the rigor-relevance debate does not
have the properties generally associated with scientific controversies. By
showing that the debate stems from the accumulation and reformulation of
arguments, and that it takes place within a hybrid forum, we have
demonstrated that the rigor-relevance debate aims not to achieve closure,
but to make the management field appear more scientific. Our results
therefore call into question the underlying aim of controversies, which—
beyond resolving a scientific problem—can play the role of legitimizing a
research field by bestowing it with attributes from science.
EPILOGUE
Even though they are solely based on English-speaking literature,
the previous findings offer a quasi-exhaustive overview of the arguments
that are exchanged by the members of the academic community
concerning the rigor and relevance of management research. We hereby
propose four ways to move this debate forward.
First, we have underlined the phatic function of the rigor-relevance
debate by showing that the arguments used are constantly juxtaposed and
reformulated. The scarcity of empirical publications using Mode 2 in top-tier
journals (Bartunek, 2011) simply illustrates the fact that the majority of the
solutions proposed within each of the four positions we have identified fail
to be made operational. The aim is not to question the willingness of the
participants in the debate on improving the relevance of research on
management science. However, as there is a lack of implementation of the
solutions proposed, we find it difficult to move the debate away from its
purely phatic function.
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Our analysis also leads us to stress the importance of teaching as a
means to make management research more relevant. Depending on the
position subscribed to, teaching makes it possible to spread knowledge
produced by research (gatekeepers’ orthodoxy); to provide opportunities to
co-construct knowledge with students, particularly as part of continuous
training (collaboration with practitioners); to encourage students to engage
in critical thinking on management practices (paradigmatic shift); or to
develop their sense of ethics or moral compass (refocusing on the
common good). While these solutions are very different, they make it
possible to stress the need for research activities and teaching to be better
integrated in order to make management research more relevant.
The third avenue we suggest relates to the role of practitioners in the
rigor-relevance debate. In fact, practitioners continue to play an extremely
limited role. In the sample we analyzed, only seven contributions involve
practitioners, which is less than 3% (Amabile et al., 2001; Cohen, 2007;
Ouchi et al., 2005; Podolny et al., 2009; Saari, 2007; Starkey & Madan,
2001; Tushman et al., 2007). We therefore note that there is a discrepancy
between saying on one hand that the role of practitioners has to be valued
and that their expectations have to be taken into account, and seeing on
the other hand the actual peripheral role that they occupy in the debate,
and more generally in the academic world. Researchers tend to limit
practitioners to a role where they confirm ideas, linked to their status as a
subject of study. Continuing to see practitioners in this way does not seem
to us to be the best way to make research in management science more
relevant for practitioners.
Finally, we have demonstrated that the range of positions has
widened over time (see Figure 2). This range contrasts with the growing
uniformity of practices observed in different countries when measuring the
relevance (or impact) of business schoolsand universities, as well as
management scholars and their work. Indeed, these practices are mostly
based on a dissemination vision of relevance defended in the
gatekeepers’-orthodoxy position, which applies criteria such as frequency
of citation, press coverage, and dissemination efforts. In this article, we
have illustrated that relevance is not fixed and stable. It therefore seems to
us a shame to narrow the field of possibilities at the very moment when
there have never been so many lines of thought on how to make research
in management more relevant.
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M@n@gement, vol. 20(2): 166-203 Guillaume Carton & Philippe Mouricou
APPENDIX 2 – DISTRIBUTION OF THE ARTICLES IN ACCORDANCE
WITH THE FOUR POSITIONS
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Is management research relevant? M@n@gement, vol. 20(2):166-203
APPENDIX 3 – DEFINITION OF CONCEPTS USED BY THE
PARTICIPANTS IN THE DEBATE
202
M@n@gement, vol. 20(2): 166-203 Guillaume Carton & Philippe Mouricou
Guillaume Carton is an Associate Professor at Institut Supérieur de
Gestion. He holds a PhD from PSL Université Paris-Dauphine. His
research interests include management knowledge production, science
and technology studies (STS) and performativity studies. He is also
concerned with the relation between management theory and managerial
practice. relation entre les théories managériales et la pratique des
organisations.
Philippe Mouricou is an Associate Professor of Strategy at ESSCA
Management School. His research interests include Strategy-as-Practice
and STS perspectives on management research. He also co-authors
nerdyscholar.com, a research blog dedicated to qualitative methods.
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... We ground our critical evaluation of the scholarly work published in Business & Society in the fertile debates regarding the objectives and impacts of business and management scholarship that have proliferated in the last two decades (e.g., Carton & Mouricou, 2017;Hodgkinson & Rousseau, 2009;Rynes et al., 2001;Starkey et al., 2009;Starkey & Madan, 2001). This research has examined the objectives and achievements of specific journals within the broader evolution of management and business studies as a scholarly field of study (Kieser & Leiner, 2009) and has been largely critical of much of the contemporary management research undertaken (Alvesson et al., 2017;Tourish, 2020). ...
... A fertile debate regarding the objectives of academic publishing has flourished throughout the social sciences, including numerous sub-fields of business and management, in the last two decades (Aram & Salipante, 2003;Baldridge et al., 2004;Carton & Mouricou, 2017;Daft & Lewin, 2008;Hodgkinson & Rousseau, 2009;Kieser & Leiner, 2009;Rynes et al., 2001;Starkey et al., 2009;Starkey & Madan, 2001). While much of the debate regarding the mission and achievements of business research has focused on a relatively macro-/field-level of analysis, some research has examined the specific missions and purposes of individual academic journals and how these evolve (e.g., Calabretta et al., 2011;Colquitt & Zapata-Phelan, 2007;Daft & Lewin, 2008;Van Fleet et al., 2006). ...
... Business & Society's mission has pivoted continuously over time, both because essential elements of prior mission statements had largely been achieved, and as a reflection of new opportunities and challenges facing both field and journal. Perhaps Business & Society's principal enduring achievement, reflecting a key goal of academic writing (Carton & Mouricou, 2017), is the creation of a space for business and society research and legitimating both the journal and the wider field through a consistent commitment to exploring issues at the interface between business and society. ...
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Business & Society’ s 60th anniversary affords an opportunity to reflect on the journal’s achievements in the context of the wider field. We analyze editorial commentaries to map the evolving mission of the journal, assess the achievement of the journal’s mission through a thematic analysis of published articles, and examine Business & Society’ s distinctiveness relative to peer journals using a machine learning approach. Our analysis highlights subtle shifts in Business & Society’ s mission and content over time, reflecting variation in the relative emphasis on scholarly quality versus policy/practice relevance, and building the journal and its academic community versus addressing issues of concern to wider society. While Business & Society’ s intended missions have been substantially and sequentially achieved, an increased emphasis on the society-business nexus and a critical approach to interdisciplinarity could further enhance Business & Society’ s leading role within business and society research and attract new generations of contributors and readers.
... A recent study by Carton and Mouricou (2017), for example, reviewed several hundred APG articles and found only 3% had practitioner participation. If practitioner participation is defined more specifically to mean substantive opportunity for 'real-life' executives and managers to write on the APG as they see and experience itas opposed to an invited comment on an academic paper by a 'practitioner' with PhD degree and published research articles (e.g., Cohen, 2007;Saari, 2007) or, alternatively, a group of anonymous managers asked to give 1-5 relevance scores to several dozen meta-analytic findings (e.g., Paterson, Harms, & Tuggle, 2018), then the number of papers in the U.S. journal literature written by practitioners or with practitioner participation is close to zero (an exception is Banks et al., 2016). ...
... This story only holds together, however, as long as it stays within the management academic community and is not exposed to alternative perspectives and outside scrutiny. Illustratively, four in-depth assessment reports of U.S business schools across nine decades (Bossard & Dewhurst, 1931;Gordon & Howell, 1959;Pierson, 1959;Porter & McKibbin, 1988) found the same thing from hundreds of interviews with executives and managersthat is, the #1 thing they want business schools to produce is not research but high-quality professional business education, per the name business school. The real gap from a practitioner perspective, therefore, is not science-practice but education-practice. ...
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This article introduces the symposium topic and five papers and their authors. The paradox is pointed out that management academics have for the last twenty years written hundreds of articles analyzing the causes of and remedies for the ‘separate worlds’ chasm that separates the academic and practitioner communities but almost never reach out to the practitioner side to learn their perspective and ideas on the problem. This behavioral asymmetry is attributed to the penchant of academics to view themselves as higher-positioned scientist-scholars who talk at and talk down to practitioners rather than talk with them.
... The gap between management research and management practice has been the subject of an extensive literature, for which Kieser et al. (2015) and Carton & Mouricou (2017) provide extensive reviews. Kieser et al. (2015) distinguish five streams of thought in that literature. ...
... As we have shown in the second section, different streams of the relevance gap literature attribute the supposed lack of relevance of management research to a knowledge production problem and advocate for a better rewarding of Type 2 research by academics (Kieser et al., 2015, Carton andMouricou, 2017). The argument is that the research system should adapt its rewarding criteria in order to produce more relevant Type 2 knowledge, on the behalf of the business system. ...
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Purpose The “relevance literature” often moans that the publications of top-ranked academic journals are hardly relevant to managers, while actionable research struggles to get published. The purpose of this paper is to propose a theoretical explanation of this phenomenon. Design/methodology/approach This paper addresses the relevance debate in management science through the theoretical frame of the theories of the firm. Findings This paper proposes that business organizations should tend to internalize specific applied research. Applied to management research, this could explain why the “market” for academic publications might be more relevant for generalizable and conceptual research than for applied, contextualized research. Research limitations/implications The paper is conceptual. However, it provides a new prospect to the rigor-relevance debate and to the ranking of researchers and business schools. Practical implications Business organizations should tend to internalize specific, applied research. Consequently, academic publications should concentrate on generalizable, “Mode 1” research. Social implications The conclusions could justify the evolution of the rating of universities and researchers towards a multi-dimensional rating, including measures of the socio-economic impact of the research, instead on focusing on academic publications only. Originality/value This paper offers a new point of view on the rigor-relevance debate. It supports the idea that applied and conceptual research are different forms of knowledge and should be “traded”, produced and rewarded differently.
... For instance, Rynes, Bartunek, and Daft (2001, p. 342) criticized the existing literature on academic-practitioner collaborations as being mainly "in the form of personal reflections and speculation", lacking empirical support for various claims. Furthermore, Carton and Mouricou (2017), in their systematic meta-analysis of the rigor-relevance debate in leading management journals, observed the ever-increasing publication of papers and suggested investigating the role of practitioners in the debate, since the current body of knowledge has rarely involved research or taking into consideration their opinion and expectations, making the role of practitioners peripheral. Ironically, this approach makes the existing research on the rigor-relevance debate even less relevant for practitioners, which are equally important in bridging the gap. ...
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The lack of mutual communication and collaboration between academic research and management practice, and the limited implementation of the research findings in strategic and tactical decision-making in practice settings, known as the science-practice ‘gap’, remains an essential issue in management research. We challenge the primary focus on academics for the possibilities of bridging the gap by arguing that the picture remains incomplete without a closer look at the positions, perceptions, and attitudes of practicing managers toward the joint production of relevant management knowledge. Based on the inductive, grounded theory approach, we conducted a qualitative study of 47 practicing managers with different organizational and functional responsibilities across various industry sectors. Although practitioners perceived practice-engaged research design and execution, relevant management research, and benefits from complementary knowledge as enablers of fruitful science-practice collaboration, our emerging findings revealed limited trust, limited cognition, coping strategies, and heuristic information processing to be important barriers for practitioners that hamper the collaboration process. Relying on the cognitive and information processing framework and theory of the conservation of resources, we aimed to explain the antecedent of (un)successful collaboration on the practitioners’ side, thus extending our understanding of the scholarship of integration.
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Chapter
Die Soziologie ist durch eine große Methodenvielfalt gekennzeichnet. Das Kapitel beschreibt, in welchen drei großen Phasen sich die Methoden der Soziologie entwickelt haben und welche Rolle dabei insbesondere einerseits Karl Poppers Kritischer Rationalismus und andererseits der Sozialkonstruktivismus spielte. Es diskutiert den Kerngedanken der Überprüfung von Hypothesen, die ihrerseits den Kern der quantitativen empirischen Sozialforschung darstellt, und seine einfache intuitive Anwendung in der Interpretation von Regressionstabellen. Es diskutiert andererseits das Grundkonzept der qualitativen empirischen Sozialforschung, ihrer drei Grundforderungen Offenheit, Reflexivität und Replizierbarkeit, und der methodologischen Ansätze von Tiefeninterviews, Ethnomethodologie und Grounded Theory.