Understanding the Evolution of Theoretical Constructs in Organization Studies
Singleton, Laura Gaie. “Understanding the Evolution of Theoretical Constructs in Organization Studies”, Boston College, 2011. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/2582.
I examine the process of evolution for theoretical constructs in the field of organizational scholarship, leveraging the sociology of knowledge literature and empirical studies of construct development to focus my research. Prior studies suggest several key factors operating in the process--actor-oriented components, including the characteristics and strategies of scholarly actors, and situationally-oriented components of historical context and word meanings. No study, however, has assessed these factors in interaction over time. I address this gap through a historical study based primarily on archival data regarding construct usage in journal articles and scholarly books. Specifically, I explore the evolution of "cooperation" and "purpose" in organizational scholarship from 1938 through 2005. My findings contribute to elaboration of the theory of construct evolution proposed by Hirsch & Levin (1999), as I observe that a construct developing largely within a single disciplinary paradigm is marked by narrowing rather than expansion of meaning in the course of increased operationalization. Further, I find that an interdisciplinary context of evolution multiplies not just meanings but also the language used for a construct. I also document how antecedent conditions of meaning for the words "cooperation" and "purpose," as well as elements of historical context, affect the evolution process. In addition, my study extends the observations of Barley & Kunda (1992) regarding a cyclical dichotomy between rational and normative paradigms in managerial discourse, as I observe this pattern contributing to the fragmentation of language and meanings in the constructs studied.