IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

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


  • Jean-Philippe Vergne
  • Rodolphe Durand


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Jean-Philippe Vergne & Rodolphe Durand, 2010. "The Missing Link Between the Theory and Empirics of Path Dependence: Conceptual Clarification, Testability Issue, and Methodological Implications," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(4), pages 736-759, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jomstd:v:47:y:2010:i:4:p:736-759

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: link to full text
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Constance E. Helfat, 1994. "Evolutionary Trajectories in Petroleum Firm R&D," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 40(12), pages 1720-1747, December.
    2. Robert Ekelund & Robert Tollison, 1997. "On neoinstitutional theory and preclassical economies: mercantilism revisited," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(3), pages 375-399.
    3. Bruce Kogut & Udo Zander, 1992. "Knowledge of the Firm, Combinative Capabilities, and the Replication of Technology," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 3(3), pages 383-397, August.
    4. S. J. Liebowitz & Stephen E. Margolis, 1994. "Network Externality: An Uncommon Tragedy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(2), pages 133-150, Spring.
    5. Bill McKelvey, 1999. "Avoiding Complexity Catastrophe in Coevolutionary Pockets: Strategies for Rugged Landscapes," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 10(3), pages 294-321, June.
    6. Rodolphe Durand & Eero Vaara, 2009. "Causation, counterfactuals, and competitive advantage," Post-Print hal-00457799, HAL.
    7. Gino Cattani & Alex Dorsch & Sidney G. Winter, 2007. "The Value of Moderate Obsession: Insights from a New Model of Organizational Search," LEM Papers Series 2007/03, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    8. Foray, Dominique, 1997. "The dynamic implications of increasing returns: Technological change and path dependent inefficiency," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 15(6), pages 733-752, October.
    9. repec:cup:apsrev:v:94:y:2000:i:02:p:251-267_22 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Arthur, W Brian, 1989. "Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, and Lock-In by Historical Events," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(394), pages 116-131, March.
    11. Raghu Garud & Arun Kumaraswamy & Peter Karnøe, 2010. "Path Dependence or Path Creation?," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(4), pages 760-774, June.
    12. Romme, A.G.L. & Akkermans, H.A., 2008. "How Partnership Behaviour Evolves in Networks : Path Dependency, Social Figuration and Life Events," Other publications TiSEM 3075ffa4-ca59-46fe-a127-8, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    13. Liebowitz, S J & Margolis, Stephen E, 1990. "The Fable of the Keys," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 1-25, April.
    14. Cowan, Robin, 1990. "Nuclear Power Reactors: A Study in Technological Lock-in," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(03), pages 541-567, September.
    15. Rodolphe Durand, 2002. "Competitive advantages exist: A critique of Powell," Post-Print hal-00480862, HAL.
    16. Cowan, Robin & Gunby, Philip, 1996. "Sprayed to Death: Path Dependence, Lock-In and Pest Control Strategies," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(436), pages 521-542, May.
    17. Sidney G. Winter & Gino Cattani & Alex Dorsch, 2007. "The Value of Moderate Obsession: Insights from a New Model of Organizational Search," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 18(3), pages 403-419, June.
    18. Liebowitz, S J & Margolis, Stephen E, 1995. "Path Dependence, Lock-in, and History," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(1), pages 205-226, April.
    19. David, Paul A, 1985. "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 332-337, May.
    20. Douglass C. North, 1993. "The New Institutional Economics and Development," Economic History 9309002, EconWPA.
    21. David, Paul A., 1994. "Why are institutions the 'carriers of history'?: Path dependence and the evolution of conventions, organizations and institutions," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 5(2), pages 205-220, December.
    22. Raghu Garud, 2008. "Conferences as Venues for the Configuration of Emerging Organizational Fields: The Case of Cochlear Implants," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 45(6), pages 1061-1088, September.
    23. repec:dau:papers:123456789/13443 is not listed on IDEAS
    24. Kenneth Arrow, 2000. "Increasing returns: historiographic issues and path dependence," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(2), pages 171-180.
    25. Cusumano, Michael A. & Mylonadis, Yiorgos & Rosenbloom, Richard S., 1992. "Strategic Maneuvering and Mass-Market Dynamics: The Triumph of VHS over Beta," Business History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(01), pages 51-94, March.
    26. John D. Sterman & Jason Wittenberg, 1999. "Path Dependence, Competition, and Succession in the Dynamics of Scientific Revolution," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 10(3), pages 322-341, June.
    27. Eric Gedajlovic & Michael H. Lubatkin & William S. Schulze, 2004. "Crossing the Threshold from Founder Management to Professional Management: A Governance Perspective," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(5), pages 899-912, July.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bla:jomstd:v:47:y:2010:i:4:p:736-759. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.