Concepts and theory building

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


External organisations

  • University of Greenwich
  • University of Surrey


We have written this chapter from the viewpoint that, although not all management research can or should be of direct relevance to practitioners, demonstrating the relevance of theory to practice is an essential component of all DBAs. In particular, such research must address the needs of practitioners, ensuring that the theory they develop is, in Lewin’s (1945) terms, both practical and useful. Working at the academic–practitioner interface, researchers need to maintain academic rigour while ensuring practical relevance (Hodgkinson & Starkey, 2012). We adopt Saunders’ (2011, p. 243) term ‘researcher as practitioner’’ to refer to those management scholars researching at this theory–practice interface. The chapter starts with a consideration of the nature of theory and concepts in management and, allied to this, the relationship between research and practice in theory building and the differing orientations of management researchers and professional practitioners. Within this, we consider an important debate that has emerged between design science (which is concerned with finding solutions to field problems and developing its own type of theoretical knowledge) and explanatory science (which is concerned with the development of ‘traditional’ theoretical knowledge to describe, explain and predict phenomena in the physical and social worlds), while also considering the related need for research to be of direct relevance and utility to managers. This debate has resulted in a shift in emphasis from Mode 1 research (which is designed and implemented by and for academics) to Mode 2 research, in which academics and practitioners collaborate in developing knowledge that is usable and developing practical solutions to organisations’ problems (Gibbons et al., 1994). We then consider inductive, deductive and abductive approaches to theory building, followed by discussion of some stage theories to explore how these approaches might relate to the researcher as practitioner.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Guide to Professional Doctorates in Business and Management
EditorsLisa Anderson, Jeff Gold, Jim Stewart, Richard Thorpe
Publication statusPublished - 2015