David Whetten talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's New Hot Paper in the field of Economics &
Article Title: An Examination of the Interface
between Context and Theory Applied to the Study of Chinese
Journal: MANAG ORGAN REV
Year: MAR 2009
* Brigham Young Univ, Fac Dev Ctr, Provo, UT 84602
* Brigham Young Univ, Fac Dev Ctr, Provo, UT 84602 USA.
Why do you think your paper is highly
Within the field of organizational and managerial studies, cross-cultural
research is coming of age. More broadly, leading scholars are increasingly
emphasizing the importance of accounting for relevant context effects in
mainstream organizational research. My article extends these areas of focus
to include the development and application of theory.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
I'd classify it as a methodology for cross-context theorizing.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman's terms?
It examines the critical interface between theory and context. More
specifically, it emphasizes the need for scholarly explanations of
important outcomes to account for relevant contextual circumstances,
primarily as antecedent or moderating conditions.
"The paper highlights the importance
of context-sensitive knowledge application,
which has broad implications for all walks of
It also outlines a systematic approach for conducting cross-context theory
application and testing/improvement—what I refer to as cross-context
contributions of theory and cross-context contributions to theory. I also
offer several practical suggestions for scholars living outside the US who
are seeking to publish their research in US journals.
How did you become involved in this research, and
were there any particular problems encountered along the way?
Several years ago I was invited by Anne Tsui, the Motorola Professor of
International Management at the W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona
State University, to a conference in Hong Kong. My role was to comment on a
series of recently completed Chinese organizational research studies,
mostly conducted by scholars from Hong Kong or mainland China.
My initial reaction was that it sounded like the studies had been conducted
in Kansas—the middle of the US—rather than China. While I
sympathized with the scholars' efforts to model their research after the
US-based literature, I expressed concern about their failure to account for
obvious contextual differences between the US and China in their use of
US-based theory. That discussion led me to develop the framework for
context-sensitive theory application and testing published in this 2009
Management and Organization Review article.
Where do you see your research leading in the
Following the completion of this paper I expanded its focus on
context-sensitive theory application and testing across cultural boundaries
to include other salient contextual differences in organizations studies,
starting with the central distinction between organizational and
non-organizational social settings.
Too often, organizational scholars borrow theories developed in
non-organizational settings—e.g., the products of psychological
research in behavioral labs—without making suitable adjustments for
the distinctive features of the organizational social context, including
internal hierarchical control, increased membership salience, and greater
By extension, I've also urged greater contextual sensitivity in scholarship
involving different types of organizations, such as old vs. new; large vs.
small; public vs. private; education vs. business vs. health care; family
business vs. non-family business.
Not only will enhanced attention to contextual differences among different
populations of organizations improve the validity of organizational theory
and research, it should also boost interest in an underdeveloped form of
organizational scholarship: comparative organizational research. (It is
noteworthy that the field of organizational studies is one of the few
social science "disciplines" that does not have a journal with
"comparative" in the title.)
Do you foresee any social or political implications
for your research?
The paper highlights the importance of context-sensitive knowledge
application, which has broad implications for all walks of life.
David A. Whetten
Director, BYU Faculty Center
Jack Wheatley Professor of Organizational Behavior
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah, USA
KEYWORDS: CONTEXTUALIZED THEORY; CROSS-CONTEXT THEORIZING;