When Oliver E. Williamson published his article Outsourcing: Transaction cost economics and supply chain management (2008), he confronted SCM research with uncomfortable questions. Surprisingly, it took four years until the first SCM researcher, Paul Zipkin, published A Reply to Williamson’s “Outsourcing …” (Production and Operations Management, Vol. 21, No. 3). Some of them may be provoking, but we should not brush aside the questions raised by Williamson. For example, he states that the “unit of analysis for TCE is the transaction” and asks: “The corresponding unit of analysis for SCM is what?” Zipkin rightly states: “We may be eclectic, but no one can accuse us of being parochial”. But this should be no excuse for us to ignore that our unit of analysis is the supply and demand network. Williamson reminds us that SCM research needs its paradigm. We need a consistent theory of the supply chain rather than eclectically adjusting theories that actually describe other units of analysis.
I wish to call attention to an article by Parmigiani and Rivera-Santos, which was recently published in the Journal of Management: Clearing a path through the forest: A meta-review of interorganizational relationships. The authors conduct a review of reviews (meta-review) that were concerned with forms (i.e., alliances, joint ventures, buyer–supplier agreements, licensing, co-branding, franchising, cross-sector partnerships, and networks) and theories (i.e., organizational economics and organization theory) of interorganizational relationships. The authors also propose that any interorganizational relationship combines “traits from two hypothetical, pure relationship forms”: co-exploration and co-exploitation. The former aims to “create new knowledge, tasks, functions, or activities”, whereas the latter aims to “execute existing knowledge, tasks, functions, or activities”. This framework really clears a path through the forest, in which specific theories or forms are the “trees” and the overall nature of these relationships is the “forest”. I believe that this path is interesting for many researchers in our field.