Micro-foundations All Over the Place …

20 November 2012 at 6:10 am 4 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

In a SOapBox Essay in 2005, Teppo Felin and I called for “micro-foundations” for macro management theory, specifically the dominant routines and capabilities (etc.) stream in strategic management. (check Teppo’s site for the paper, commentaries by Jay Barney and Bruce Kogut, and various other Felin & Foss papers on the subject).  We thought our argument was fairly simple, not really that novel (economists have been talking about micro-foundations for decades), and “obviously true.” Yet, the argument was apparently provocative (or, perhaps more correctly, our formulation of it was…), and it met with considerable hostility. For example, the DRUID 2008 conference in Copenhagen featured a panel on micro-foundations with opposing sides represented by Sidney Winter and Thorbjørn Knudsen, and Peter Abell and yours truly, respectively. I remember seeing several (extremely) prominent management scholars shaking their heads in disbelief about the folly of micro-foundations. (The debate, though not the head-shaking, can be accessed through the DRUID site).

And yet, 7 years later the micro-foundations project appears to have met with general acceptance, although it is sometimes referred to as the “Foss Fuss,” by at least one very prominent contributor to our field. In fact, some of the head-shaking persons from DRUID 2008 now themselves talk about micro-foundations. Both Sid Winter and Thorbjørn Knudsen (not headshakers) now embrace micro-foundations–albeit of the “right” kind (e.g., behavioralist and  informed by neuroscience and experiments). Papers in leading journals have “micro-foundations” in the title.  Specific examples: :

  • The Journal of Management Studies just published a special issue on “Micro-origins of Routines and Capabilities,” edited by Teppo, me, Koen Heimeriks, and Tammy Madsen, and featuring contributions by various luminaries.
  • The European Management Review’s December issue (not yet online) will feature a transcribed exchange between Sid Winter, me and Maurizio Zollo on micro-foundations.
  • A leading association in our field will adopt “micro-foundations” as the theme of one its conferences (to be held in 2014). Details to be disclosed (soon).

Micro-foundations are “everywhere.” List der Vernunft, I reckon.

UPDATE: The Academy of Management Perspectives will feature a paper symposium next year on micro-foundations. Contributors: Jay Barney, Teppo Felin, Henrich Greve, Siegwart Lindenberg, Andrew van de Ven, Sid Winter, and me.

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

More Genghis Revisionism Coase on the Economists

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bo  |  22 November 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Micro-foundations remain important yet, as you correctly state, nothing new. Indeed, the ideas advanced in the introduction to the JMS special issue regarding collective constructs and their linkage to lower (yet also higher!) level entities is reminiscent of the debates in the multilevel literature; see for instance Morgeson & Hofmann (AMR 1999). The multilevel literature, however, does not “discriminate” against any levels that is both levels below (micro-foundations) and levels above (macro-embeddedness?) are considered equally important and plausible in theory. The main focus is on (cross-level) relationships and the mechanisms that integrate constructs across levels etc.

    If routines and capabilities are micro-founded by individuals, social processes and structure perhaps they are also macro-embedded in higher level contexts, such as teams, firms, industries etc…

  • 2. Sameer Q.  |  26 November 2012 at 3:18 pm

    a month back I read the recent (2012) brutal-rebuttal of Hodgson to Felin, Foss and Abell programme on micro-foundations….I was bit surprised at the intensity of rebuttal which I think sometimes bordered on personal…..

    I know Hodgson through his writings for past few years and therefore it was more surprising for me to read that commentary…clearly Fellin, Foss and Abell have ticked him and others, wrong way, big time by either:

    1) trying to poach on a very niche turf
    2) they r just plain wrong in their programme ambitions…

    now, i don’t know which of the two points mentioned above is right, but what I do know that many of us will be watching this debate ( which i m sure will not stop here) very sharply from sidelines….

    coz the nature of this debate has the potential to decide the next paradigm shift….

  • 3. Nicolai Foss  |  28 November 2012 at 11:22 am

    Dear Mr. Q: There are other possibilities than 1) and 2).

  • 4. Sameer Q.  |  3 December 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Dear Prof. Foss….I will be very interested to know what could be that ‘other’ possibility…..there is some undercurrent which I am not able to grasp in this debate…….

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