The variable jumping-off point: some meta-thoughts on writing theory

From early morning, post-espresso mental house-cleaning…

  • As younger scholars, we suffer from a limited horizon problem. When we look backwards for cues or jumping off points for theory, we take for granted a particular jumping off point without absorbing or acknowledging its jumping off points. This is one source of theory drift. For example, Neo-instit was determined to take down rational actor models. Hence its focus on isomorphism made the case that the environment was absolutely critical and single organizations were over emphasized as the unit of analysis. But, if, as a student of orgs, you start with DiMaggio and Powell, then you overlook or take for granted the point about stability. You start with the idea of micro-macro linkages between cognition and broader forces. And you start theorizing how those dynamics change or start to vary. Voila– a different problem-of-interest arises because the younger scholar has a different jumping-off point. There is no solution, of course. If you start going back to each jumping off point, you’ll just end up recreating the totality of all human knowledge.
  • So, I guess, a la Weick, successful theorizing is about strategic forgetting.
  • Another way to say it: I feel like we are all marooned in particular time streams of accumulating theory. This is the reality hidden beneath a presumptive world of seamlessly organized and coherent theory development. The title, the premise- “frontiers of Org Science” is one face of the presumptive world. These time streams of theory have different start points, end points, and paths. Some paths overlap, some streams merge or divide. But each scholar is on her own, _makes_ her own.

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Filed under organization theory, social theory, writing

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