Is Strategy-as-Practice Research Practically Relevant?

David Seidl and Violetta Splitter

Violetta Splitter

Violetta Splitter

While the strategy-as-practice approach was initially developed as a reaction to the lack of practical relevance of most strategy research to date (see the editorial of the JMS Special Issue in 2003), we find only very little serious debate about what “relevance” really means and how it can be achieved. Often it is somewhat uncritically assumed that by studying what practitioners do, SAP research becomes more or less automatically relevant to practitioners. Yet, over the last few years we can find a string of publications by SAP scholars investigating the possibilities and conditions of practical relevance. These studies have led to three key insights so far:

David Seidl

David Seidl

  1. Strategy research and strategy praxis are two different domains of activity: Various researchers have pointed out that strategy research and strategy praxis belong to different domains that function according to different modes of reasoning and exhibit different logics (Splitter/Seidl 2011; Sandberg/Tsoukas 2011). This has two important implications: First, the researchers’ observations are inevitably distanced from the reality as experienced by the practitioner. Thus research results do not represent the practitioners’ reality as experienced by themselves. Second, this differentiation of domains also means that a direct transfer of knowledge between research and praxis is impossible. To the extent that practitioners use academic knowledge, a transformation of this knowledge will necessarily take place (Jarzabkowski/Wilson, 2009).
  2. Various means of dealing with the gap between strategy research and praxis: Various researchers have argued that despite the differentiation between the domains of strategy research and strategy praxis, strategy scholarship can still be practically relevant. Yet, this requires some re-orientation in our research. Sandberg and Tsoukas (2011), for example, have called for a research practice from a framework of scientific rationality to one of practical rationality. Such research would aim to capture the logic of practice by investigating entwinements and breakdowns of management practice. Splitter and Seidl (2011), in turn, have argued that in addition to adopting a framework of practical rationality a particular kind of reflexivity (which Bourdieu calls “participant objectivation”) is required on behalf of the researcher. Thereby, the researcher’s social detachment from strategy praxis is incorporated into the scientific analysis.
  3. Strategy-as-practice research is more likely to be conceptually than instrumentally relevant: Various researchers have pointed out that due to the particular differentiation between strategy research and strategy praxis, strategy-as-practice research is more likely to produce conceptually than instrumentally relevant knowledge (Langley 2010; Sandberg/Tsoukas, 2011; Splitter/Seidl 2011). Thus, instead of prescribing what courses of actions practitioners should follow, strategy-as-practice research can provide a deeper understanding of the practitioners’ situations and thus help them to see alternative courses of actions that they might have not been aware of (Nicolai/Seidl, 2010; Sandberg/Tsoukas, 2011).

Central publications dealing with the practical relevance of strategy-as-practice research:

  • Jarzabkowski, P., & Wilson, D. (2006). Actionable strategy knowledge: A practice perspective. European Management Journal, 12, 41-48: This paper applies a practice lens to explore how strategy knowledge generated in strategy research is transformed into actionable knowledge.
  • Langley, A. (2010). The challenge of developing cumulative knowledge about strategy as practice. In D. Golsorkhi, L. Rouleau, D. Seidl, & E. Vaara (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of strategy as practice (pp. 91-106). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press: This chapter distinguishes three different epistemological stances in strategy-as-practice research and discusses its implications for the production of practically relevant knowledge.
  • Nicolai, A., & Seidl, D. (2010). That’s relevant! Different forms of practical relevance in management science. Organization Studies, 31, 1257-1285.: This paper distinguishes different types of practical relevance and discusses which ones can be expected from researchers. Even though the paper does not explicitly focus on strategy-as-practice research it is directly relevant to the above debate.
  • Sandberg, J., & Tsoukas, H. (2011). Grasping the logic of practice: Theorizing trough practical rationality. Academy of Management Review36. 338-360: This paper calls for a reorientation of research practice from a framework of scientific rationality to one of practical rationality. It shows what this implies and what can be achieved in that way. Even though the paper does not focus on strategy-as-practice research in particular it is directly relevant to the above debate.
  • Splitter, V. and Seidl, D. (2011) “Does practice-based research on strategy lead to practically relevant knowledge? Implications of a Bourdieusian perspective” Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 47, 98-120: This paper applies a Bourdieusian perspective for discussing the relation between strategy research and strategy praxis. It argues that strategy research and praxis constitute different fields with different logics and calls for a particular form of reflexivity (participant objectivation) in research to account for this differentiation.

This post is taken from the SAP Interest Group Newsletter. For the PDF versions of all newsletters see the Resources page.

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One Response to Is Strategy-as-Practice Research Practically Relevant?

  1. nicolayworren says:

    Hello Violetta and David – interesting blog post. I agree that “strategy-as-practice” research may be more conceptually than instrumentally relevant. But what is holding us back from developing more “instrumental” (i.e., prescriptive) knowledge?

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