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The Missing Link Between the Theory and Empirics of Path Dependence: Conceptual Clarification, Testability Issue, and Methodological Implications

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  • Jean-Philippe Vergne
  • Rodolphe Durand

Abstract

Path dependence is a central construct in organizational research, used to describe a mechanism that connects the past and the future in an abstract way. However, across institutional, technology, and strategy literatures, it remains unclear why path dependence sometimes occurs and sometimes not, why it sometimes lead to inefficient outcomes and sometimes not, how it differs from mere increasing returns, and how scholars can empirically support their claims on path dependence. Hence, path dependence is not yet a theory since it does not causally relate identified variables in a systematized manner. Instead, the existing literature tends to conflate path dependence as a process (i.e. history unfolding in a self-reinforcing manner) and as an outcome (i.e. a persisting state of the world with specific properties, called 'lock-in'). This paper contributes theoretically and methodologically to tackling these issues by: (1) providing a formal definition of path dependence that disentangles process and outcome, and identifies the necessary conditions for path dependence; (2) distinguishing clearly between path dependence and other 'history matters' kinds of mechanisms; and (3) specifying the missing link between theoretical and empirical path dependence. In particular, we suggest moving away from historical case studies of supposedly path-dependent processes to focus on more controlled research designs such as simulations, experiments, and counterfactual investigation. Copyright (c) 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation (c) 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and Society for the Advancement of Management Studies.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Wiley Blackwell in its journal Journal of Management Studies.

Volume (Year): 47 (2010)
Issue (Month): 4 (06)
Pages: 736-759

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Handle: RePEc:bla:jomstd:v:47:y:2010:i:4:p:736-759

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Cited by:
  1. René Bohnsack & Jonatan Pinkse & Ans Kolk, 2014. "Business models for sustainable technologies: Exploring business model evolution in the case of electric vehicles," Grenoble Ecole de Management (Post-Print) hal-00936886, HAL.
  2. Paul Peigné, 2013. "Routines during an organizational change: a study on dynamics and its effects," Post-Print hal-00876163, HAL.
  3. GianPaolo Abatecola, 2012. "Path Dependent Entrepreneurs? A Decision Making Perspective," DSI Essays Series, DSI - Dipartimento di Studi sull'Impresa, vol. 24.
  4. Joerg Sydow & Arnold Windeler & Gordon Müller-Seitz & Knut Lange, 2012. "Path Constitution Analysis: A Methodology for Understanding Path Dependence and Path Creation," BuR - Business Research, German Academic Association for Business Research, vol. 5(2), pages 155-176, November.
  5. Neil Kay, 2013. "Lock-in, path dependence, and the internationalization of QWERTY," Working Papers 1310, University of Strathclyde Business School, Department of Economics.
  6. Neil M Kay, 2013. "QWERTY and the search for optimality," Working Papers 1324, University of Strathclyde Business School, Department of Economics.
  7. Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schü�ler, 2013. "Theorizing path dependence: a review of positive feedback mechanisms in technology markets, regional clusters, and organizations," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(3), pages 617-647, June.
  8. Garud, Raghu & Gehman, Joel, 2012. "Metatheoretical perspectives on sustainability journeys: Evolutionary, relational and durational," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(6), pages 980-995.

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