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Strategic Management Journal
Strat. Mgmt. J., 28: 935–955 (2007) Published online 22 March 2007 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/smj.615 Received 5 July 2005; Final revision received 23 October 2006

WHAT IS STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT, REALLY? INDUCTIVE DERIVATION OF A CONSENSUS DEFINITION OF THE FIELD RAJIV NAG,1 * DONALD C. HAMBRICK2 and MING-JER CHEN3
1 Sam Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, U.S.A. 2 Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. 3 The Darden School, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.A.

It is commonly asserted that the field of strategic management is fragmented and lacks a coherent identity. This skepticism, however, is paradoxically at odds with the great success that strategic management has enjoyed. How might one explain this paradox? We seek answers to this question by relying first on a large-scale survey of strategic management scholars from which we derive an implicit consensual definition of the field—as tacitly held by its members. We then supplement this implicit definition with an examination of the espoused definitions of the field obtained from a group of boundary-spanning scholars. Our findings suggest that strategic management’s success as a field emerges from an underlying consensus that enables it to attract multiple perspectives, while still maintaining its coherent distinctiveness. Copyright  2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

An academic field is a socially constructed entity (Hagstrom, 1965; Kuhn, 1962). In comparison to a formal organization, which can be identified and defined, for instance, by its web of legal contracts (Williamson, 1979), an academic field has socially negotiated boundaries and only exists if a critical mass of scholars believe it to exist and adopt a shared conception of its essential meaning (Astley, 1985; Cole, 1983). Such shared meaning is far from assured, however, since various forces can serve to dilute or blur consensus. These forces might include heterogeneity of members’ training, Keywords: strategic management; academic communities; linguistics *Correspondence to: Rajiv Nag, Sam Walton College of Business, WCOB 468, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701, U.S.A. E-mail: Rnag@walton.uark.edu

the intellectual pull and hegemony of adjacent fields, and an ever-shifting body of knowledge and theory (Astley, 1985; Whitley, 1984). Strategic management represents a case of an academic field whose consensual meaning might be expected to be fragile, even lacking. The field is relatively young, having been abruptly reconceptualized and relabeled—from ‘business policy’—in 1979 (Schendel and Hofer, 1979). Its subjects of interest overlap with several other vigorous fields, including economics, sociology, marketing, finance, and psychology (Hambrick, 2004), and its participant members have been trained in widely varying traditions—some in economics departments, some in strategic management departments, some in organizational behavior, some in marketing, and so on. It comes as little surprise, then,

Copyright  2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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R. Nag, D. C. Hambrick and M.-J. Chen
Journal (SMJ, the leading journal dedicated to the field) and major journals in one of three adjacent fields: economics, sociology, and marketing. By surveying boundary-spanners, we sought to stringently test the validity of the implicit definition gained in Study I, as well as to derive an explicit, and perhaps inclusive, definition of strategic management. We conclude the paper by discussing the implications of our analyses for the field and proposing further applications and extensions of our research.

that the published, espoused definitions of strategic management vary (as we shall review below). And we can anticipate that asking strategic management scholars to define the field might elicit an array of responses. How, then, does the field of...
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