Academic journal article Management International Review

Advancing New Theory Development in the Field of International Management: Contributing Factors, Investigative Approach, and Proposed Topics

Academic journal article Management International Review

Advancing New Theory Development in the Field of International Management: Contributing Factors, Investigative Approach, and Proposed Topics

Article excerpt


* This paper seeks to re-engage international management (IM) scholars in conducting research that aims to develop breakthrough knowledge for major advancement.

* A "phenomenon-motivated, existing-theory informed, and interdisciplinary-based" investigative approach is proposed based on an analysis of the new theory development process with illustrations from the influential works of a select group of pioneering researchers in IM and related fields.

* Five emerging IM phenomena resulting from recent changes in the global business environment are recommended for study using the proposed investigative approach to create new theories that have both scholarly and practical significance.

Keywords: Theory creation * Breakthrough knowledge * Interdisciplinary research * International business * Globalization


Central to the mission of an academic field of study is the generation of new knowledge to help enhance understanding and inform practice, Depending on the particular field concerned, the phenomena that constitute its study domain may remain relatively stable, change, or be replaced by new phenomena over time. If the study domain does not remain stable, the field would need to continuously update its existing theories and/or develop new ones in order to keep pace with the evolving world and remain relevant.

Compared to the physical and biological sciences, the phenomena investigated by most of the social science-based professional fields (e.g., business, education, law, etc.) do not stay unchanged over time. This is particularly true for the field of International Management (IM), which studies organized human behavior within and across different national and societal contexts (Cheng 2007; Shenkar 2000). Because of globalization and other major world events, many of these contexts have undergone dramatic changes during the last 20-30 years (Buckley and Ghauri 2004; Stanbury and Vertinsky 2004). These changes are often accompanied by fundamental alterations to the political, economic, legal, and/or social systems which, directly or indirectly, affect human behavior (Parson 1951; North 1990).

A number of IM scholars have recently raised concern about the field's declining output in new knowledge creation. Buckley (2002), for example, observes that the IM research agenda is running out of steam and challenges colleagues to discover a new "big question" for future inquiry. Adding to Buckley's observation, Shenkar (2004) comments that the field is losing its distinctiveness in knowledge creation as evidenced by a continuous increase in IM research that investigates topics and uses concepts, data sets, and methodologies borrowed from the Strategy field. More recently, Cheng (2007) points out that many of the published IM studies are designed to test and extend an existing theory from a more established discipline, rather than to create new theories with greater explanatory and predictive power. Similar observations about stagnation in new knowledge production have been made by other scholars in the related fields of Organization Studies (e.g., Davis 2010; Schoonhoven et al. 2005) and Strategy (e.g., Barney 2005; Hambrick 2004). If left uncorrected, research in these three fields (IM, Organization Studies, and Strategy) will become increasingly less influential and relevant by producing incremental knowledge gains that have little impact on either science or practice.

This paper seeks to re-engage IM scholars in new knowledge creation activities and thereby help preserve and advance IM as a vibrant and relevant field of academic study. Inspired by Kurt Lewin's vision that "there is nothing so practical as a theory," it calls on IM scholars to pay greater attention to new theory development in their research and conduct studies that aim to discover breakthrough knowledge for major advancement. Toward this end, the paper first maps out the critical stages and the associated activities that constitute the new theory development process. …

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