Let us get contextual: critical realist case studies in supply chain management

Amanda Bille, Christian Hendriksen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Purpose: This study aims to explain the value of using critical realist case research in supply chain management (SCM). While positivist case research focuses on generalizable law-like rules, and interpretivist research explores social meaning, critical realist case research seeks to make objective explanations that are bound by the case context. This study demonstrates how a critical realist synthesis of causal reasoning and contextual complexity allows for stronger theorizing in SCM. Design/methodology/approach: This study highlights the possibilities of conducting critical realist case research in SCM by investigating philosophical perspectives in existing literature. Findings: Based on existing literature, this study identifies which parts of contemporary SCM research will benefit from the critical realist perspective. This study also contends that supply chain scholars can use critical realist case research to develop new types of contextualized middle-range theories. Research limitations/implications: This study proposes to complement the qualitative SCM toolbox with critical realist case research to further refine the development of novel theories. This will benefit not only researchers but also managers, as it opens the doors to new and inspiring research. Originality/value: This study takes an important step toward establishing critical realist case studies as a key methodology in SCM. While other scholars have introduced critical realism as a paradigmatic approach in SCM, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first article that develops a qualitative critical realist case research approach.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSupply Chain Management
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)724-737
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Case studies
  • Complexity
  • Critical realism
  • Global supply chain
  • Philosophy of science
  • Theories


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