Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice
Strategy as Practice as a research approach
In recent years, Strategy as Practice has emerged as a distinctive approach for studying strategic management, organizational decision-making and managerial work (Whittington 1996 ; Johnson et al . 2003 ; Jarzabkowski et al . 2007 ). It focuses on the micro-level social activities, processes and practices that characterize organizational strategy and strategizing. This provides not only an organizational perspective into strategy but also a strategic angle for examining the process of organizing, and thereby serves as a useful research programme and social movement for connecting contemporary strategic management research with practiceoriented organizational studies.
Strategy as Practice can be regarded as an alternative to the mainstream strategy research via its attempt to shift attention away from merely a focus on the effects of strategies on performance alone to a more comprehensive, in-depth analysis of what actually takes place in strategic planning, strategy implementation and other activities that deal with strategy. In other words, Strategy as Practice research is interested in the ‘black box’ of strategy work that once led the research agenda in strategic management research (Mintzberg 1973 ; Mintzberg and Waters 1985 ; Pettigrew 1973 ), but has thereafter been replaced by other issues, not least because of the increasing dominance of the micro-economic approach and a methodological preoccupation with statistical analysis. Because of its micro-level focus, studies following the Strategy as Practice agenda tend to draw on theories and apply methods that differ from the common practices of strategy scholars. In this way, Strategy as Practice research can contribute to the evolution of strategic management as a discipline and body of knowledge with new theories and methodological choices.
It would, however, be a mistake not to link Strategy as Practice research to the broader ‘practice turn’ in contemporary social sciences. In fact, ‘practice’ has emerged as a key concept for understanding central questions about how agency and structure, and individual action and institutions are linked in social systems, cultures and organizations (Bourdieu 1990 ; Foucault 1977 ; Giddens 1984 ; de Certeau 1984 ; Sztompka 1991 ; Schatzki 2002 ). This practice turn is visible in many areas of the social sciences today, including organizational research (Brown and Duguid 1991 ; Orlikowski 2000 ; Nicolini et al . 2003 ). It is about time that we utilized this paradigm to enrich our understanding of organizational strategizing.
‘Practice’ is a very special concept in that it allows researchers to engage in a direct dialogue with practitioners. Studying practices enables one to examine issues that are directly relevant to those who are dealing with strategy, either as strategists engaged in strategic planning or other activities linked with strategy, or as those who have to cope with the strategies and their implications. By so doing, studies under this broad umbrella promise to accomplish something which is rare in contemporary management and organization research: to advance our theoretical understanding in a way that has practical relevance for managers and other organizational members.
Like any emergent research approach, Strategy as Practice can either develop into a clearly defi ned but narrow theoretico-methodological perspective, or it can grow into an open and versatile research programme that is constantly stretching its boundaries. A key motivation behind this handbook is to actively pursue the latter alternative. By spelling out and elaborating various alternative perspectives on Strategy as Practice, we wish to contribute to the expansion and further development of this research approach. Although there stands a risk of eclecticism and ambiguity, we believe that the benefi ts of theoretical and methodological innovation and continued discussion outweigh such concerns. Our view of Strategy as Practice emphasizes the usefulness of studying ‘practical reason’ – the starting point in Dewey’s ( 1938 ), Bourdieu’s ( 1990 ) or Tuomela’s ( 2005 ) analyses of social practice, for example. According to this view, we must focus on the actual practices that constitute strategy and strategizing while at the same time refl ecting on our own positions, perspectives and practices as researchers. This includes a need to draw from, apply and develop various theoretical ideas and empirical methods.
This handbook represents a unique collection of ontological, epistemological, theoretical and methodological perspectives on Strategy as Practice, as written by leading scholars in the fi eld. When compiling this volume, we as editors had three specifi c goals in mind. First, as explained above, we wished to open up and not limit the ways in which people think about and conduct Strategy as Practice research . This is shown in the multiplicity of approaches presented in the different chapters, complementary to each other in various ways. In this endeavour, we emphasize the need to study both concrete instances of organizational strategizing and broader issues, such as the institutionalization of strategy as a body of knowledge and praxis . Second, we were determined to promote critical thinking. This is important to make sure that Strategy as Practice research does not dissolve into a restricted study of top management, but includes analysis of how others contribute to strategizing and how they at times may resist strategies and their implications (McCabe forthcoming). Moreover, refl ection on strategy as a body of knowledge (Knights and Morgan 1991 ) and praxis (Whittington 2006 ) that has all kinds of power implications must continue. Third, unlike many handbooks, we emphasize the future. Thus, the chapters included in this book not only provide overviews of what has already been done in this fi eld but also spell out theoretical or methodological ideas for the future.
The rest of this introduction is organized as follows. First, there is a brief overview of the practice turn in social science, followed by a review of strategy-as-practice research. We will then introduce the contributions of this handbook, starting with ontological and epistemological questions and proceeding to the various alternative theories. Finally, several methodological choices are laid out, along with exemplary studies of Strategy as Practice.
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