Thought experiments and philosophy in organizational research

Martin Kornberger, Saku Mantere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Organization Theory seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, there are arguments that the field is too preoccupied with theory leaving its work abstract and practically irrelevant. On the other hand, there are arguments that the field is overly empirical and too methods-driven, which hampers the creation of ideas that resonate with constituencies beyond the organization studies community. How to resolve this apparent conundrum? In this essay we argue that neither more theorizing nor more forensic data-driven work might address the problem; rather, and perhaps surprisingly, we propose that a philosophical stance might offer a remedy. The aim of this essay is; 1) to explore thought experiments as a genuine philosophical method that is designed to develop promising ideas and concepts and 2) to reflect on how such conceptual work can help shape organization theory to be conceptually more stimulating and practically more relevant. We argue that this particular kind of conceptual work has been and should continue to be one of the hallmarks of organization theory. Thus thought experiments represent a valuable methodological extension of our toolkit as they provide crucial devices triggering transformations in thought and practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganization Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2020


  • thought experiment
  • philosophy
  • organization theory
  • method
  • ideas
  • concepts

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