MICRO-Foundations in Strategic Management: Squaring Coleman’s Diagram

Erkenntnis 73 (3):365-383 (2010)
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In a series of joint papers, Teppo Felin and Nicolai J. Foss recently launched a microfoundations project in the field of strategic management. Felin and Foss observe that extant explanations in strategic management are predominantly collectivist or macro. Routines and organizational capabilities, which are supposed to be properties of firms, loom large in the field of strategic management. Routines figure as explanantia in explanations of firm behavior and firm performance, for example. Felin and Foss plead for a replacement of such macro-explanations by micro-explanations. Such a replacement is needed, Felin and Foss argue, because macro-explanations are necessarily incomplete: they miss out on crucial links in the causal chain that connect macro phenomena with each other. I argue that this argument is flawed. It is based on a doubtful if not outright incorrect understanding and use of Coleman’s diagram. In a sense to be explained below, only if Coleman’s diagram is squared it can accurately account for the relations between individual action and interaction, routines and firm behavior and firm performance. Once Coleman’s diagram is squared, one can see why and how macro-explanations need not miss out on any link in the causal chains that connect macro phenomena. Micro-analyses are still needed, not to highlight and specify causal links that macro-explanations miss out on, but to check whether the many properties that are ascribed to routines in macro-explanations of firm behavior are warranted.



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Jack Vromen
Erasmus University Rotterdam