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Increasing Contribution in Service Research: Fresh Thinking about Theorizing
Authors: Roderick J. Brodie (University of Auckland, New Zealand), Linda D. Peters (University of Nottingham)
While much has been achieved with theory development in service research, further progress will be seriously hampered unless more attention is given to the process of theorizing and knowledge development. Academic service research has been based on large numbers of single, qualitative case studies and quantitative studies, with little attention to the issue of verification of the theory. Thus empirical investigations tend to be ad hoc with little systematic attention given to advancing theory relating to the broader general theoretical structures. In addition, the general theoretical structures that inform service research are by their nature are more removed from the empirical world. This inevitably leads to a greater level of abstraction in terms of the conceptualizations and disconnection with the concepts and language that are used by practicing managers. Thus the contribution to managerial knowledge is limited.
Of concern is that both academics (Reibstein, Day & Wind, 2009; Starkey & Madan, 2001; Jaworski, 2011) and practitioners (Kristof, 2014) have stated that the theory-praxis gap is widening. Service management and other management practices progressing at an unprecedented pace and academia are struggling to keep up. This widening of the theory-praxis gap is poignant, as it is taking place despite decades of academic literature addressing this issue. For example, Fendt, Kaminska-Labbĕ and Sachs (2008) sample 60 articles from management literature on the topic and identify 19 explanations why the theory-praxis divide exists and 17 alternative proposals that academics have provided to remedy this issue.
In order to help bridge the theory-praxis gap, we suggest fresh thinking is needed about theorizing and knowledge development. In particular highlight the importance of including practitioners in the research process as active, reflective and empowered participants. Even though most academics seem to concur that in principle bridging the theory-practice is something to aspire towards, most discussions restrain themselves to an “if” question, arguing whether or not it is possible to create sufficiently rigorous knowledge in collaboration with the practitioners. This leaves the ‘how’ question unanswered, i.e., how should such gap-bridging research be conducted in practice.
The contribution of the research comes from elaborating on a theorizing approach to theorizing that increases both academic knowledge and managerial relevance and from directly addressing outlining how theorizing should happen. Thus we go beyond the extensive academic literature which provides a plethora of explanations and remedies but little guidance about things should happen. A second major contribution of the paper comes from grounding the theorizing process in the philosophy of science by undertaking extensive literature work. By addressing these philosophical issues we extend the recent research by Nenonen et al. (2017) and Brodie (2017).