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Theory Testing from a Critical Realist Perspective

In a previous post, it was demonstrated that researchers can play two different roles, as they can either build or test theories. An SMJ article by Miller and Tsang (2011), which is titled Testing management theories: Critical realist philosophy and research methods, focuses on the latter role we can play. The authors claim: “Not only do we have a plurality of theories within management research, there is also no consensus about the criteria for evaluating theories.” Taking a critical realist perspective, they advance practical guidance for evaluating management theories by proposing a four-step approach to theory testing. This approach includes (1) identifying the hypothesized mechanisms, (2) testing for the presence of the mechanisms in the empirical setting, (3) testing isolated causal relations, and (4) testing the theoretical system. The authors underline that “steps 2 and 3 have been neglected for the most part”. In sum, a lot can be learnt about theory testing from this brilliant article.

Miller, K., & Tsang, E. (2011). Testing management theories: Critical realist philosophy and research methods. Strategic Management Journal, 32 (2), 139-158 DOI: 10.1002/smj.868

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