The Vromen/Abell-Felin-Foss Debate
| Nicolai Foss |
As readers of this blog will know (probably ad nauseam), Teppo Felin and I have been engaged over the last five years or so in a minor crusade in favor of building micro-foundations for, particularly, strategic management research (e.g., this paper with Peter Abell). I think it is fair to say that we have had some success with this project, as talk of micro-foundations has now become a part of contemporary strategic management discourse.
One of our critical targets have been the extant literature on capabilities and routines which we argue work with collective-level constructs that have no clear micro-foundations. We make use of the famous Coleman “bathtub” diagram to explicate these ideas.
In a paper, “Micro-foundations in strategic management: Squaring Coleman’s diagram,” that just been published online in Erkenntnis, Jack Vromen, criticizes our reading of the routines and capabilities literature and, in particular, our use of the Coleman diagram to explicate our criticism. Basically, he argues that we are confused about the key distinction between constitutive and causal relations. Here is our Reply. The abstracts are copied in below.
Vromen — Abstract
Abell, Felin and Foss argue that “macro-explanations” in strategic management, explanations in which organizational routines figure prominently and in which both the explanandum and explanans are at the macro-level, are necessarily incomplete. They take a diagram (which has the form of a trapezoid) from Coleman, Foundations of Social Theory, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.)/London, (1990) to task to show that causal chains connecting two macro-phenomena always involve “macro-to-micro” and “micro-to-macro” links, links that macro-explanations allegedly fail to recognize. Their plea for micro-foundations in strategic management is meant to shed light on these “missing links”. The paper argues that while there are good reasons for providing micro-foundations, Abell, Felin and Foss’s causal incompleteness argument is not one of them. Their argument does not sufficiently distinguish between causal and constitutive relations. Once these relations are carefully distinguished, it follows that Coleman’s diagram has to be squared. This in turn allows us to see that macro-explanations need not be incomplete.
Abell-Felin-Foss Reply — Abstract
We respond to Jack Vromen’s (this issue) critique of our discussion of the missing micro-foundations of work on routines and capabilities in economics and management research. Contrary to Vromen, we argue that (1) inter-level relations can be causal, and that inter-level causal relations may also obtain between routines and actions and interactions; (2) there are no macro-level causal mechanisms; and (3) on certain readings of the notion of routines and capabilities, these may be macro causes.