Gap-Spotting or Problematization

How should researchers construct research questions for their academic work? One intuitive answer is by spotting a gap in the existing academic literature. This is certainly an effective approach that follows the Popperian scientific method. In addition to gap-spotting, there is a second approach that deserves a little more attention: problematization. Alvesson and Sandberg (2011) describe this approach in their famous article Generating Research Questions Through Problematization (a must read!). They write that “[t]he dominance of gap-spotting is surprising, given it is increasingly recognized that theory is made interesting and influential when it challenges assumptions that underlie existing literature.” This is what problematization does: it is about identifying and challenging assumptions that underlie existing theories and generating research questions that lead to the development of more interesting and influential theories. Of course, we will still need gap-spotting in the future. But I do believe that SCM research could benefit from more problematization.

Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2011). Generating Research Questions Through Problematization. Academy of Management Review, 36(2), 247–271.

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About Andreas Wieland

Andreas Wieland is an Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management at Copenhagen Business School. His current research interests include resilient and socially responsible supply chains.

One response to “Gap-Spotting or Problematization”

  1. Luca says :

    Interesting point (thanks for the ref!), but also mmmh… Shouldn’t we address the fact that framing of research is often obviously post hoc? For example, how many times does framing (problematization or research gaps) change or is reformulated based on reviewers request?

    Does problematization or research gapping make any difference if it is post hoc? To me this is always the core issue in this type of discussions…

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