University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

The Appropriation of Ideas, Theories, Concepts and Models by Management Practitioners.

Robinson, Laurence (2010) The Appropriation of Ideas, Theories, Concepts and Models by Management Practitioners. PhD thesis, Coventry University in Collaboration with the University of Worcester.

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During the second half of the 20th century there has been both a burgeoning intellectual interest in business and management as a topic and an exponential growth in the formal study of business and management as an academic subject. Indeed by the end of the century it was
estimated that worldwide there were 8,000 business schools and more than 13 million students of business and management. In addition, it was estimated that worldwide annual expenditure on university level business and management education had reached US $15 billion (The
Global Foundation for Management Education, 2008).
However, despite this there is a lack of clarity regarding both the scale and the nature of the influence that academic scholarship exerts over managers. Accordingly this research study has sought to investigate the appropriation of ideas, theories, concepts and models by management practitioners. The thesis has reviewed and evaluated the two most obvious, most established and most influential potential explanations. These were diffusion of innovations (Rogers, 1962) and fashion theory (Abrahamson, 1991 & 1996; Abrahamson & Fairchild, 1999). It has been concluded that whilst both these potential explanations provided important insights, neither was able to provide a comprehensive theoretical foundation for this research study. Accordingly, a much broader range of pertinent scholarship was reviewed and evaluated. This included, but is not limited to, the scholarship that is associated with learning by adults (Dewey, 1933; Bartlett, 1967; Schank & Abelson, 1976; Mezirow, 1977). Although this additional scholarship provided a further range of potential explanations, the extent to which any of these would be found within the particular setting of management
practitioners remained unclear. In addition, the literature review highlighted a number of unresolved debates regarding issues such as (i) whether management was a science or an
applied science; (ii) whether it was a craft or a profession; (iii) whether in reality there were
fashionable trends in management practice or whether in fact such practices were remarkably stable; and (iv) whether management theoreticians, gurus and consultants actually exerted significant influence over management practitioners. The literature review also highlighted
methodological concerns relating to the use of citation analysis as a proxy for primary information regarding managerial practice.
Hence, this research is situated in a gap which is delineated by the unresolved issues that are associated with both diffusion theory and fashion theory; the applicability of the broader range of scholarship to a management setting; the unresolved debates within this field of interest and the need to obtain primary information relating to management practice, rather than being dependant upon citation analysis.
The research study has utilised qualitative data and inductive reasoning to examine these matters and the overarching research philosophy has been that of realism (Ritchie & Lewis, 2003). Ultimately, 39 semi-structured, recorded interviews were undertaken using the critical
incident technique (Flanagan, 1954). Collectively these interviews lasted for 35 hours and obtained information relating to 160 critical incidents. The verbatim transcripts of the interviews totalled 350,000 words.
A case study analysis of this data was undertaken to examine the decision making of the interviewees in relation to some of their most challenging managerial situations. This analysis concluded that for the ‘generality’ of these interviewees; theory played little, or no, overt part in
their decision making. The data was also subjected to a content analysis using a bespoke compendium of 450 ‘terms’ that represented the development of theorising about management over the whole of the 20th century. This analysis concluded that the influence of the 20th
century’s management theoreticians over these interviewees was weak. Finally, the possibility that any such influence might be a covert, rather than an overt; phenomenon was examined using both the insights of intertextuality (Allen, 2000; Bazerman, 2004) and the framework analysis technique (Ritchie, Spencer & O’Connor, 2003). This analysis demonstrated that the discourse, dialogue and language of these interviewees could be indexed to four domains; (i)
the theoretical; (ii) the conceptual; (iii) the tactical; and (iv) the practical.
The intertextual indexing outcomes were corroborated both by substantial extracts from the verbatim interview transcripts and by three unrelated strands of scholarship. These were (i)
adaptive memory systems (Schacter, 2001); (ii) the realities of management (Carlson, 1954;
Stewart, 1983; Mintzberg, 1989) and (iii) the role of concepts and conceptual thinking in nursing
(McFarlane, 1977; Gordon, 1998; Orem, 2001).
On this basis it has been concluded that management can be characterised as a conceptual discipline; that in its essential nature management is at least as conceptual as it is either theoretical or practical; and that managers appropriate concepts and ideas, rather than theories
and models per se.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the University's requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: management practitioners, management practice, management theory
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
L Education > L Education (General)
Divisions: College of Business, Psychology and Sport > Worcester Business School
Depositing User: Janet Davidson
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2010 13:38
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2021 09:24

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