Tag Archives: theory

What I Don’t Like About Theory Writing I

Inspired in part by the idea of an on-going series at org theory.net, (grad skol rulz), and my own desire to blog more frequently, I would like to launch a semi-recurring series of what I don’t like in theory writing.

I am reviewing conference submissions for a conference, and I have come across an example of the kind of figure or image I don’t like.

The Curse of the Everything-Is-Connected Figure.

This type of figure is usually used in a conceptual article.  And, to make matters worse, it is usually in the kind of article I am quite sympathetic to.  The author wants to get past static or overly-reified depictions of organizations.  They talk about the need for multi-level analyses which means looking at process, and, more often than not, mixed types of data.  They probably cite Gareth Morgan’s Image sof organizaions of book, or Mar Jo Hatch’s Organization Theory or Joel Baum (and others?) use of the metaphor of a fish scale to discuss org studies as a multiscience.

But, when you look at the figure, you realize that it explains everything and hence nothing.

Full disclosure: I am probably guilty of this kind of figure and when I find one, I will poke fun at myself too.  Here is mock-up I made of the type of figure.

Mock-up of the Everything-Is-Connected Figure. Are You Guilty of Producing One?

One problem with these is that they don’t specify what is moving between cells/circles/whatever-other-shape-tickled-one’s-fancy-in-insert-shape-in-MS word..

A second problem is they don’t deal with time.  Does sequencing matter?  How do changes agglutinate or accumulate?

So, throwing caution to the wind, have you seen one of these in published work?  Do they drive you a little nuts too?

Leave a comment

Filed under higher education, humor, organization studies, organization theory, Orgs Stuff (theory, science, studies), Research, social theory, sociology, Uncategorized, visualization

Writing and Blogging

Writing and Reading (x posted at Nets We Weave). One of the aspects of blogging that I love is the chance to participate in conversations with others who have similar interests. This is why I enjoy academic blogs Orgtheory.net so much. At the same time, it can feel like a time suck of seeming to be productive when it actually does not do anything to advance my writing. How to balance the goodness- feeling connected and part of the dialogue- with not becoming a blogger instead of a scholar? I also find myself often with lots of random thoughts in my head that want to get out. I tend to ignore them out of a belief that to use energy and time to put them to paper or screen dissipates my limited reserves of time and attention. But maybe this is flawed. Maybe it would actually be better to just get them down and out instead of using energy trying to push them aside. As a new experiment in the relationship between blogging and scholarly writing, I will use short bursts of time to write about my writing process or to simply record the random assortment of theory and social science-related ideas and tangents that pop up in my unquiet mind. Rules: •Write for no more than ten minutes. If it is not publishable, save it as a draft. Minimize worrying about sourcing or linking as these activities often turn a ten minute blog jaunt into a hour of blog marathon.

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, writing

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under organization theory, social theory, writing

Comparing fourth and fifth editions of Organizations by Richard Scott (And Gerry Davis for fifth)

So, a new edition of Organizations:Rational, Natural, and Open Systems by W. Richard Scott is out. Its co-authored by Gerry Davis (Who was a student of Scott’s at Stanford, apparently) and has a newer, more active title (stamp out nouns!). This book was an absolute classic for me doing my PhD at IESE. It also helped me bridge sociology and management. So, like the priests we are, it is good to turn back to the canon and see what is there.

Organizations and Organizing: rational, natural, and open systems perspectives.

I wanted to see if it is worth reading/buying the new version. A quick comparison of the two tables of contents reveals that some major changes were made. After Break for table.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Books, organization studies, organization theory, Scholars, sociology

10, no 15, Commandments of Writing Theory

A conversation with a collaborator about how to write and publish theory led Ted to send me the hot-off-the-press Editor’s comments from the most recent AMR. Got me thinking about some of the other badly needed comments on theory in our field. Distilling them led to the following list. There are many other resources out there about how to think theoretically. These have the advantage of being about the craft of writing and publishing theory. These are all my paraphrases (including colorful language in a few places).

I am very grateful to to the cited authors for offering guidance and directions to those of us setting off across terra incognito.

□ Know that your audience are other scholars interested in same topic, not God, or ignorant savants. Talk to the Guild; the heavens ain’t listening (Rindova 2008).

□ Your theory shall start with a richly detailed problem statement that triggers theorizing (Weick 1989)

□ Your theory shall have a what (elements) a how (processes) and a why (fundamental logic) (Whetten 1989).

□ Your theory shall be a why account that emphasizes the causal nature of events, thoughts, and structure; it delves into reasons for systematic occurrence or non-occurrence.

□ Your theory shall not substitute references, list of variables, diagrams, hypotheses nor data for good theory (Sutton and Straw 1995)

□ Your theory enlightens, illuminates, surprises, delights, and narrates (Weick 1995; Sutton and Straw 1995; DiMaggio 1995).

□ Thou shalt know that the What and How of a theory describe; only Why explains (Whetten 1989).

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under organization theory, Research, social theory, writing

Serious Play… A Title for Paper on Second Life

Here is the abstract Ted and I are working from. I am not sure whether to go for the Organization and Management Theory division or the Organization and Communication Information Systems division of AOM.


The Influence of Economic and Social Incentive on the Evolution of Virtual Worlds


Serious Play in Synthetic Worlds: Theorizing the Sustainability of
Second Life

Jordi Comas, Bucknell University

Ted Tschang, Singapore Management University


The hype and dashed expectations over Second Life simply highlights the
need for a better understanding of the nature of SW. SL is an important
case because it highlights how the dynamics between individual play and
collective socioeconomics drive the evolution of a SW. Early attempts
to comprehensively understand SW have privileged either a view of SWs as
games or as marketing channels. We attempt to correct this view by
proposing a comprehensive framework for theorizing the evolution and
sustainability of a SW using SL as one example of this process. Our
framework is a “bathtub” model to explain joint processes at individual
and collective levels. The motivations of users to participate are
broadly described as play, although work done on video games and
role-playing offer important types of play. However, due to the
persistence and open-endedness of SL, the motives of users are only part
of the picture. The evolution of social and economic systems (a system
of roles, exchanges, and even institutions) continually alters the world
that playful or role-playing users interact with even as their actions
affect the evolution at a higher level. Once we develop a framework to
identify user motivations and forms of economic and social organization,
we validate it with a series of illustrations. We conclude by
developing a research agenda derived from the framework that will guide
researchers and inform discussions about the keys to success in SWs.

1 Comment

Filed under digital culture, economic sociology, higher education, Research, Second Life, social theory