The theory crisis in management research: Solving the right problem

Matthew A. Cronin, Jeroen Stouten, Daan van Knippenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


“There’s nothing so practical as a good theory,” yet there is growing concern that management theory is not very useful or usable. Many scholars are seeking to fix the growing disconnect between theory and managerial realities, as well as the overabundance of weak and untested theory. Our concern is that all this discussion focuses on improving “unit theory,” which frames empirical work on specific aspects of a phenomenon, rather than “programmatic theory,” which orients scholars and practitioners toward what the unit theories collectively support as settled science. While programmatic theory must be made up of solid unit theories, the processes that improve programmatic theory are different from and can be undermined by those that improve unit theory. Our contribution, therefore, is a model for how unit theory becomes programmatic theory that demonstrates how and why programmatic theory needs to drive that process. We conclude by using our model to show why the current suggestions for fixing the crisis of theory are not only insufficient but even draw away from the development of programmatic theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-683
Number of pages17
JournalAcademy of Management Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© Academy of Management Review


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