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Critical realism in supply chain research: Understanding the dynamics of a seasonal goods supply chain

Adamides, ED; Papachristos, G; Pomonis, N; (2012) Critical realism in supply chain research: Understanding the dynamics of a seasonal goods supply chain. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management , 42 (10) pp. 906-930. 10.1108/09600031211281420. Green open access

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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to show how a critical realist paradigmatic stance and its associated research methodology can contribute to supply‐chain research by providing explanations for specific supply‐chain‐ and logistics‐related dynamic phenomena. / Design/methodology/approach – Initially, the case for a critical realist research paradigm is made, and then a retroductive pluralistic research methodology is used for demonstrating its application. Starting from an observation in the distribution part of a seasonal goods supply chain, ethnographic‐like field research suggested deeper social structures as being responsible for the events observed. The operation of event‐generating mechanisms related to these structures was matched to existing behavioural theories using dynamic modelling and simulation. / Findings – The adoption of the critical realist perspective and its pluralistic research methodology can bring into surface the root causes of, and explain, complex supply chain phenomena. In the particular case presented, it provided an explanation for the inventories observed in a supply chain of perishable seasonal goods as results of two underlying interacting mechanisms: one related to the promotions bias of the manufacturer, and one related to the risk management attitude of resellers. / Research limitations/implications – As far as underpinning philosophy and research methodology are concerned, the research presented is globally significant and valid. Nevertheless, any supply‐chain management policies derived in the demonstrative case as results of the explanation may be significant only to specific industries and geo‐historical contexts. / Practical implications – Results obtained by employing the critical realist perspective may be used in managers' education for developing intellectual frameworks to better understand the causes of complex supply chain phenomena. Of the same importance to practitioners is the methodology and inference process used for explaining real abnormal situations and intervening accordingly. / Originality/value – The paper shows how a critical realist perspective and its associated methodology can be used for extracting/researching deeper mechanisms responsible for observed behaviours in supply chains. Such an approach is in the opposite direction with respect to the hypothetico‐deductive approaches that dominate supply chain research. The paper demonstrates the adoption of the critical realist perspective in supply chain research using a real case.

Type: Article
Title: Critical realism in supply chain research: Understanding the dynamics of a seasonal goods supply chain
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1108/09600031211281420
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09600031211281420
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © Emerald Group Publishing Limited 2012.
Keywords: Research paradigm, Critical realism, Distribution management, Retroduction, Supply chain management
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1502273
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