Building Theory for Management Science and Practice: An Epistemological Perspective from Competence-Based Management Theory

Ron Sanchez, Aimé Heene

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    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationMid-Range Management Theory : Competence Perspectives on Modularity and Dynamic Capabilities
    EditorsRon Sanchez, Aimé Heene, Seckin Polat, Umut Asan
    Number of pages23
    Place of PublicationBingley
    PublisherEmerald Group Publishing
    Publication date2017
    ISBN (Print)9781787144040
    ISBN (Electronic)9781787144033, 9781787149236
    Publication statusPublished - 2017
    SeriesResearch in Competence-Based Management


    • Applied management science
    • Mid-range theory
    • Epistemology
    • Strategic management theory
    • Competence-based management

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