The Theory Crisis in Management Research

Matthew A. Cronin (George Mason University)

“There’s nothing so practical as a good theory,” yet there is growing concern that management theory is not very useful or usable. Many scholars seek to fix the growing disconnect between theory and managerial realities, as well as the overabundance of weak and untested theory. Our concern is that all this discussion focuses on improving unit theory, which frames empirical work on specific aspects of a phenomenon, rather than programmatic theory, which orients scholars and practitioners toward what the unit theories collectively support as settled science. While programmatic theory must be comprised of solid unit theories, the processes that improve programmatic theory are different from and can be undermined by those that improve unit theory. Our contribution, therefore, is a model for how unit theory becomes programmatic theory that demonstrates how and why programmatic theory needs to drive that process. We conclude by using our model to show why the current suggestions for fixing the crisis of theory are not only insufficient but even draw away from the development of programmatic theory.

Suggested readings:
• Cronin, M. A., Stouten, J., Van Knippenberg, D. (Forthcoming). The Theory Crisis in Management Research: Solving the Right Problem. Academy of Management Review
• Cronin, M. A. & Homan, A. C. (2020) From the (New) Editors. Organizational Psychology Review 10 (1), 3-5
• Cronin, M. A. & Bendersky, C. (2012). The supply chain for producing quality organizational knowledge. Organizational Psychology Review, 2, 54-70.
• Cronin, M. A. & Klimoski, R. (2011) Broadening the View of What Constitutes ‘‘Evidence.’’ Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 4, 57–61.
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