What is Theory?
There seems to be a lot of confusion about what theory is. At least this is a recurring question I get from students. Let us first discuss what theory is not: Sutton & Staw (1995) show that “references, data, variables, diagrams, and hypotheses are not theory” and they “explain how each of these five elements can be confused with theory” (p. 371). But we should also be aware of the difference between facts and theory! In his essay, which is part of a collection of six essays, Pagell (in: Boer et al., 2015) paints the picture of an ideal research world where “most research will be building or testing facts, not theory”, while “theory building and testing [will be left] to a much smaller group of papers, where the theoretical argument would be critical” (p. 1244). So, what is theory? A definition I like comes from Suddaby (2015): “[T]heory is simply a way of imposing conceptual order on the empirical complexity of the phenomenal world” (p. 1).
“Scale purification” – the process of eliminating items from multi-item scales – is widespread in empirical research, but studies that critically examine the implications of this process are scarce. In our new article, titled Statistical and Judgmental Criteria for Scale Purification, we (1) discuss the methodological underpinning of scale purification, (2) critically analyze the current state of scale purification in supply chain management (SCM) research, and (3) provide suggestions for advancing the scale purification process. Our research highlights the need for rigorous scale purification decisions based on both statistical and judgmental criteria. We suggest several methodological improvements. Particularly, we present a framework to demonstrate that the justification for scale purification needs to be driven by reliability, validity and parsimony considerations, and that this justification needs to be based on both statistical and judgmental criteria. We believe that our framework and additional suggestions will help to advance the knowledge about scale purification in SCM and adjacent disciplines.
Wieland, A., Durach, C.F., Kembro, J. & Treiblmaier, H. (2017). Statistical and Judgmental Criteria for Scale Purification. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 22 (4). DOI: 10.1108/SCM-07-2016-0230