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Interpretive Supply Chain Management Research

Our discipline is still almost exclusively shaped by positivism. This is very surprising in view of the very complex social phenomena with which the discipline deals. However, recently I have noticed a (slowly) growing trend toward interpretivism. For example, Darby and her coauthors (2019) have discussed the set of questions interpretive research can address in SCM. Many SCM researchers may still be unsure of how best to conduct an interpretive study. Used to the structured approaches of positivist studies (e.g., Yin), we often would like to have a template in hand that shows us how to conduct an interpretive study. A new article by Mees-Buss and her coauthors (2021) argues that the inductive route to theory that templates (e.g., Gioia) offer do not address the challenges of interpretation. They argue that “a return to a hermeneutic orientation opens the way to more plausible and insightful theories based on interpretive rather than procedural rigor” and they offer “a set of heuristics to guide both researchers and reviewers along this path”.

Mees-Buss, J., Welch, C., & Piekkari, R. (2021), From Templates to Heuristics: How and Why to Move Beyond the Gioia Methodology. Organizational Research Methods, in print.

The Map Is Not the Territory

One of the most interesting articles I have read recently is The Map Is Not the Territory: A Boundary Objects Perspective on Supply Chain Mapping by Fabbe-Costes and her coauthors (IJOPM, 2020). The authors argue: “Most past conceptions of SC mapping have involved identifying one map of a supply chain as a common reference point for all actors concerned. As such, a supply chain map, like a geographical map, is supposed to represent the SC ‘territory’.” They then show that no map can actually include everything, that is, “the map is not the territory”. The authors compare three paradigmatic positions: In positivism, a supply chain map is simply a representation of what the supply chain is (i.e., the territory). In interpretivism, a map is a mental individual representation of the supply chain. In constructivism, a map is what is needed to work and reach the shared goal – it is what is “at stake” for each “social world”.

Fabbe-Costes, N., Lechaptois, L., & Spring, M. (2020), “The Map Is Not the Territory: A Boundary Objects Perspective on Supply Chain Mapping. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 40 (9), 1475–1497.

Justice as Fairness in the Supply Chain

Among the most interesting SCM articles I have recently read is Jack et al.’s (2018) recent study, titled Accounting, Performance Measurement and Fairness in UK Fresh Produce Supply Networks. Why I highlight this study here is because this is one of the rare interpretive studies related to SCM and it could therefore serve as a blueprint for those of us who struggle with the dominance of positivist studies in our discipline. The authors build on John Rawls’ theories of justice as fairness and apply it to the supply chain relationships between suppliers and supermarkets. They then ask three questions: First, “how performance measurement, risk management and communication of accounting information are used by intermediaries in an allegedly unfair commercial environment”. Second, “the extent to which the accounting and control practices observed support perceptions that suppliers in supermarket-dominated supply networks are treated unfairly”. And third, “what accounting and control practices would be indicative of fair commercial relationships?” I wish I could see more studies like this.

Jack, L., Florez-Lopez, R., & Ramon-Jeronimo, J.M. (2018). Accounting, Performance Measurement and Fairness in UK Fresh Produce Supply Networks. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 64, 17-30