Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

Strategic Management: Is It an Academic Discipline?

Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

Strategic Management: Is It an Academic Discipline?

Article excerpt


This paper seeks to address the question of whether strategic management is an academic discipline, as critics have argued it is not. We offer a synthesized definition of strategic management and assess whether strategic management is an academic discipline by utilizing the framework established by Biglan (1973). This framework requires disciplines to have a unifying paradigm(s) as well as practical application of its theories. After analysis, we conclude that strategic management meets Biglan's (1973) requirements and should be considered an academic discipline. In closing, we consider the future direction of strategic management research and new research methods.


The field of strategic management is relatively young compared to other academic disciplines (e.g. economics, chemistry, law, etc.) and has been criticized by scholars who question its legitimacy and relevance. Strategic management is criticized for failing to have a concise, formal definition, lacking its own unique theories, and being a sub-field of other disciplines (Mockler, 1995; McGrath, 2007; Rumelt, Schendel, & Teece, 1991). Additionally, the field is criticized for focusing too heavily on theory and lacking practical application for managers, for focusing too heavily on practical application and not on theory, and even for being built upon a loose set of ideas with no adequate structure (Barney, 2002; Mahoney & McGahan, 2007; McGrath, 2007). In all, some scholars do not consider strategic management to be a viable academic discipline.

Other scholars have a different perspective. Additional assessments of strategic management indicate the existence of a demanding, complex, and refined discipline, continued growth, and a strong theoretical base with substantial empirical research (Bettis, 1991; Coyne & Subramaniam, 1996; Hoskisson, Hitt, Wan, & Yiu, 1999). These contradictory statements cast an aura of uncertainty on the state of strategic management as an academic discipline.

While the aforementioned criticisms may have some level of validity, claims alone do not disqualify strategic management as a discipline. The claims merely illustrate that the field may be moving in the wrong direction or that weaknesses exist that need to be addressed. Our intention is not to negate each criticism of strategic management but instead to identify the current status of the field, utilize a framework to determine if it is a discipline, and highlight areas of concern related to its future direction.

The question of whether strategic management is an academic discipline may at first seem as though its answer is an obvious, foregone conclusion; however it is important that we answer this question using the same scientific methods we would for any research topic. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, we should examine whether recent research in the field has taken strategic management too far away from its roots or if this diverse research stream simply represents the natural maturation of an academic field.

Furthermore, the advantages and implications of strategic management being classified as a discipline are also worthy of consideration. According to Hambrick, if strategic management is not an academic discipline, "our purpose as a field, the study of the roles of and responsibilities of general managers, will cease to have a place on the academic landscape" (2004, p. 91). If strategic management is found to not be accurately classified as an academic discipline, then our theoretical and practical contributions to management as a whole may be considered inconsequential, thus encouraging strategic management scholars to focus their efforts toward another, more stable field (Barney, 2002).

At the heart of this question is the concept of legitimacy. According to institutional theory, organizations often develop symbolic systems, artifacts, and routines not for operational efficiencies, but instead for the sake of being considered legitimate (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Scott, 2001). …

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