Organizational theories some criteria for evaluation

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Academy of Management Fleview, 1989, Vol. 14, No. 4, 496-515

Organizational Theories: Some Criteria for Evaluation

Cornell University
A set of ground rules and vocabulary to facilitate focused discussion about the structure of organization and management theories are proposed. The many previous efforts at defining and evaluating theory help establish criteria fortheory construction and evaluation. In the establishment of these criteria, description is distinguished from theory, and a matrix of criteria for evaluating the variables, constructs, and relationships that together compose a theory is developed. The proposed matrix may be useful both for defining the necessary components of good theory and for evaluating and/or comparing the quality of alternativetheories. Finally, a discussion of the way theories fit together to give a somewhat broader picture of empirical reality reveals the lines of tension between the two main criteria for evaluating theory.
In order to talk about the nature of the universe and to discuss questions of whether it has a beginning or an end, you have to be clear about what a scientific theory is. (Hawking, 1988, p. 9)

Atheory is a statement of relations among concepts within a set of boundary assumptions and constraints. It is no more than a linguistic device used to organize a complex empirical world. As Hall and Lindzey (1957, p. 9) pointed out, the function of a theory "is that of preventing the observer from being dazzled by the fullblown complexity of natural or concrete events." Therefore, the purpose oftheoretical statements is twofold: to organize (parsimoniously) and to communicate (clearly). Many current theories in organizational behavior fail to accomplish this purpose, primarily because they ignore certain generally accepted rules about theoretical statements. Just as a collection of words does not make a sentence, a collection of constructs and variables does not necessarily make atheory.

Students of theory construction have tried to develop a set of rules for the examination of the constructs and variables which are the units of theoretical statements (cf. Dubin, 1969; Chronbach & Meehl, 1955; Blalock, 1968; Schwab, 1980). They also have attempted to develop a set of rules for the examination of the relationships among these units (cf. Blalock, 1969; Cohen, 1980; Nagel, 1961;Hempel, 1965; Stinchcombe, 1968; Popper, 1959; Dubin, 1976; Gibbs, 1972). Nevertheless, the diversity of these perspectives suggests the need for a more specific examination of their rules as applied to organizational studies.

What Theory Is Not: Data, Typologies, and Metaphors
Description, the "features or qualities of individual things, acts, or events" (Werkmeister, 1959, p. 484) must bedistinguished from fheoiy. As Hempel (1965) pointed out, the vocabulary of science has two basic functions: (a) to ade-


quately describe the objects and events being investigated and (b) to establish theories by which events and objects can be explained and predicted. While descriptions may be the source material of theories, they are not themselves theoretical statements. In theorganization and management literature, the two are often confused. Specifically, three modes of description must be distinguished from theory: categorization of raw data, typologies, and metaphors. While some forms of descriptive analysis are often confused with theory, all researchers agree that categorization of data—whether qualitative or quantitative—is not theory. In this context, much of the workin organizational and management science should not be thought of as theory. Categorization characterizes much of the work in these fields, particularly in the realms of business policy/strategy and human resource strategy. One theme in the former case, for example, has been the search for empirical categorizations, or gestalts, of organizational environments and characteristics (e.g.. Miller,...
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