Published on February 17, 2014
3rd International Conference on Path Dependence February 17-18, 2014, Berlin, Germany Theoretical Artefact or Common Phenomenon? Revisiting Prominent Cases of Path Dependence Leonhard Dobusch and Elke Schüßler Freie Universität Berlin
Our Thesis “ …we suggest researchers should use the concept [of path dependence] where it is appropriate, rather than allowing it to become a corset that is methodologically and conceptually too constricting. ” Dobusch and Schüßler (2013: 637) Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
<1> Starting Points
Small Events “ [Small events] are not averaged away and ‘forgotten’ by the dynamics – they may decide the outcome. [Small events] are outside the ex-ante knowledge of the observer – beyond the resolving power of his ‘model’ or abstraction of the situation. ” W. Brian Arthur (1989: 117-118 ) Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
Self-reinforcement “ the crucial feature of a historical process that generates path dependence ” Pierson (2004: 21) Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
Stability (“Lock-in”) “ And things have been that way ever since. ” David (1985: 336) Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
Definition “ [P]ath dependence can be defined as a rigidified, potentially inefficient action pattern built up by the unintended consequences of former decisions and positive feedback processes. ” Sydow et al. (2009: 696) Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
<2> Path Dependence: A Special Case of Stability?
Exercises in Demarcation #1 What Sydow et al. (2009) argue path dependence is not: § Imprinting § Escalating Commitment § Commitment/Sunk Costs § Structural Inertia § Reactive Sequences § Institutionalizing Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler Consequence: Path dependence as a process with three stages marked by decreasing choice
Exercises in Demarcation #2 What Vergne and Durand (2010) argue path dependence is not: § Absorptive capacity § Institutional persistence § Resource accumulation § Structural inertia § Imprinting § Fist-mover advantage § Chaos theory Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler Consequence: path dependence as a property of a stochastic process to be demonstrated using controlled methodologies
Exercises in Demarcation #3 Definitely no combination of small events, selfreinforcement, stability (and inefficiency)? § Imprinting § Absorptive capacity § Escalating Commitment § Institutional persistence § Commitment/Sunk Costs § Resource accumulation § Structural Inertia § Fist-mover advantage § Reactive Sequences § Chaos theory § Institutionalizing Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
The Question Where is the path? Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
<3> Revisiting Prominent Cases of Path Dependence
Revisiting Prominent Cases § Microsoft’s dominance in desktop software markets as a technological path. § Silicon Valley as an institutional path. § Intel as a case of strategic lock-in. (NB: Intel is not called „path dependent“ by Burgelman!) Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
Microsoft Windows The Path Dominance of Microsoft Windows and Office in the PC software market Contingency Despite CP/M being the leading operating system in 1981, business community followed IBM due to business relations Local-level: investment and learning effects Mechanisms Population-level: expectation, coordination and complementarity effects Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
Silicon Valley The Path Silicon Valley as the leading semiconductor technology cluster worldwide Contingency Opening of Shockley Transistor in 1955, lack of capital at East Coast, spin-off dynamic due to Shockley‘s poor management skills Local-level: investment and learning effects Mechanisms Population-level: expectation, coordination and complementarity effects Bild: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AlumRockViewSiliconValley_w.jpg Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
Intel The Path First lock-in: focus on memory chips; second lock-in: focus on operating systems Contingency Strategic focus on memory chip unintentionally underminded by resource allocation rule Mechanisms Local-level: expectation effects, investment and learning effects Local and population-level: complementarity effects Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
Comparing Cases (1): Levels and Factors Levels § Positive feedback mechanisms work on and across levels § Useful to break population-level mechanisms down into local-level foundations Factors § Role of actors changes over time as macro-level mechanisms manifest § Background conditions influence the functioning of mechanisms Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
Comparing Cases (2): Increasing Returns? f(x) increasing returns constant returns decreasing returns t f‘(x) t Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
<4> Looking Back: Path Dependence as a Conceptual Bridge
What is the Value of Path Dependence? Cases could be labeled differently: § Microsoft Windows: Institutional Persistence, Resource accumulation, First-mover Advantage,… § Silicon Valley: Institutionalizing, Imprinting, Institutional Persistence,… § Intel: Escalating Commitment, Commitment/Sunk Costs, Structural Inertia, Absorptive Capacity,… >> But: Positive feedback mechanisms explain the observed patterns of stability! Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
Our Conclusion “ We hope our review of positive feedback mechanisms at different levels and in different social settings increases the applicability of path dependence as an explanatory concept for researchers’ use rather than restricting it to the very rare situations where agency does not matter or where other historical process explanations do not hold. ” Dobusch and Schüßler (2013: 638) Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
<5> Looking Forward: Open Questions
Open Questions Stability vs. lock-in § Is a lock-in a specific form of stability and how can it be measured? § What is the role of positive feedback after lockin? Conceptualizing change § What is the role of negative feedback mechanisms in producing stability and change? § How do different mechanisms on different levels enable/prohibit change? Leonhard Dobusch & Elke Schüßler
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