Author Archives: 51770888

To Collis and Hussey (2009), “deductive research” describes the development and testing of conceptual frameworks and the process of moving from general laws to specific conclusions. Deductive logic advocates starting with a conceptual framework that explains, at least partially, the phenomenon of interest (Maylor and Blackmon, 2005). Deduction proceeds to test informed conjecture. Any experiment employing a “test” enacts deductivist ontology. Data collection via survey is a typical deductivist protocol: survey content is built from pre-existing theory; the survey acquires data to test that theory (using significance tests); generalization of findings to a population follows.

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Quantitative and qualitative methodologies are generally associated with two research paradigms: “positivism” and “phenomenology” respectively (Lalwani et al, 2004). According to Gummesson (2000, p. 18), the concept of “paradigms” was the creation of Kuhn in the 1960s. Kuhn’s paradigms denote “value judgements, norms, standards, frames of reference, perspectives, ideologies, myths, theories, and approved procedures that govern their thinking and action”. Burrell and Morgan (1979) transplanted paradigms into social science and identified categories of paradigm: radical humanism, interpretivism, radical structuralism, and functionalism - meta-theoretical assumptions defining each. In Wittgenstein’s terms (1961), a paradigm is a “world-view”. However defined, “paradigm” has methodological implications for research in business studies and, by extension, logistics/SCM: the researcher’s choice of methods and overall approach is anchored to philosophical allegiance on ontological issues.

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Management/business studies is historically committed to positivism (Morrell, 2008). Business studies, although a subcategory of social science, treats the social world as navigable and testable via experimental methods approximating those of the natural sciences. This might suggest an ontological paradox - a social science whose preferred methods are positivist. This is possibly attributable to the practical concerns of the subject of study - business, in which performance is quantifiable (profit and loss) and all inputs, processes, and outputs can be assigned some numerical cost value and thereby managed. Perhaps for this reason, business academics attempt to apply the rigour of natural “hard” science to the study of this category of social activity. As in the hard sciences, positivist research in business studies strives to build bodies of evidence and deepen knowledge stocks (Hammersley, 2001) - presumably with the intention of facilitating profitable prediction. Positivism, following Comte, affirms the possibility of progressive, accumulative learning, whose outcome (assuming flow between theoretician and practitioner occurs) should quantifiably improve business performance.

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Phenomenology boasts diverse heritage: rationalism was an early contributor. A largely continental movement interpretable as the pre-emptive counterweight of practical British empiricism (Locke, Hume, Mill inter alios), post-classical rationalism was the product of pre-Enlightenment thinkers including Liebniz, Spinoza, and Descartes (Coplestone, 1994). In pure rationalism, thought alone, unencumbered by the burden of observation and the suppositions of theory, reveals deep understanding. Thought (rationality), since it is confined neither to place nor time but extends to the boundaries of imagination and intellect, can be applied to any phenomenon. Hence, in experimentation, it eschews the deductive method and endeavours instead to minimize assumptions and observe or reason phenomena as freestanding, individual experiences to then be rationalised (i.e. the inductive method).

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According to the “mechanistic philosophy” (Ball, 2004 p. 19) of Thomas Hobbes, man is a puppet animated by the impersonal forces of the world (with obvious implications for free will, but that is beyond this discussion). Hobbes proposed a physics of society, and with French mechanists Mersenne and Gassendi wove this notion into a formula for civic utopia based on scientific reason (articulated in Leviathan, 1651). Earlier (1625), Grotius attempted to find the irreducible aspects of social co-existence in “natural laws” and Francis Bacon expressed similar ideals in the, unfinished The New Atlantis (1627), whose perfect society is scientifically governed.

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A belated (C.19th) philosophical byproduct of the Age of Enlightenment, positivism is attributed chiefly to Comte but is strongly foreshadowed by British Empiricist thinking (Hume, Locke et al) and rooted through logic to classical antiquity (Aristotle, Megarian Stoics et al). Positivism, in all its varieties, rejects metaphysics. It propounds a worldview that awards meaning only to the tangible and quantifiable, calls for proof and proposition by logic, and promotes science and scientific methods as the tools of testing truth claims and acquiring worthwhile knowledge. Positivism, like empiricism (Locke, Hume, Mill), maintains that knowledge is derived from experience. Naturalism is another forebear. To the naturalist, knowledge is never present a priori, but develops from systematic exploration (i.e. science), and every thing is natural and independently comprehensible without recourse to supernatural causation. Echoing the scientific trends of its century, positivism emphasizes hierarchies and taxonomies, regards human beings as objects for scientific study (social determinism was a 19th century forerunner of scientific sociology), lionizes the scientific method (exemplified in the Newtonian repeatability principle), exalts theory, and demands formality in experimental reporting.

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In Kantian terms, a researcher’s ontology is “nomothetic” if s/he regards the universe as a rule-governed reality that exists independently of human perceivers and formed from objective structures and tendencies uninfluenced by subjective observation. A researcher’s ontology is “idiographic” if s/he believes reality lacks intrinsic cohesion but is instead socially constructed and made comprehensible through the subjective involvement and perceptions of human actors. Ontology shapes epistemology. Knowledge (epistemology) takes the form of the philosophical container in which it evolves (ontology). Thus, if the majority of research in a field is undertaken by positivists, the resultant knowledge repository is likely to be positivist in its claims and nature.

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The Literature: Orthodoxy and Evolution

Efficiency boosting methods such as lean, ECR, [1] and QR, [2] along with philosophies of effectiveness such as agile, leagile, and flexible are the literature’s conventional solutions to supply chain risk (e.g. Christopher, 1998, 2000). Much has been written on supply chain vulnerability and its complement, the resilient supply chain (Christopher and Peck, 2004), but to date, few researchers have tested the extensibility of the tools and philosophies of supply chain management (hereafter “SCM”) when transplanted to transcultural contexts.

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Provisionally entitled “Guanxi as Supply Chain Risk Mitigator”, my initial research investigated the impact of a specific cultural phenomenon on risk management in international/transcultural supply chains. The transcultural context was China and the United Kingdom; the phenomenon of interest was “guanxi”[1], the Chinese term for social connections and connectivity.

The research originally set out to examine the role played by guanxi in the risk management of China-originating, UK-bound supply chains. The unit of analysis was the firm: UK companies operating China-originating or China-incorporating supply chains. The research drew on the extensive literature on guanxi and its role in business management [2] and was designed to address the shortage of research on cultural factors’ influence on risk management in China-originating supply chains. The research thus aimed to contribute to future theorisation by proffering non-operational methods of supply chain risk reduction.

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