Developing substantive theories into formal theories via disruption

Mark Scott Rosenbaum, Rebekah Russell-Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to encourage service researchers to engage in “theoretical disruption” by purposefully adding variance to existing substantive theories, and conceptual frameworks, to construct formal theories of buyer–seller marketplace behaviors. The authors put forth an original four-stage process that illustrates the way substantive theories may be developed into formal theories. Design/methodology/approach: The authors provide their opinions regarding theoretical creation and their interpretations of Grounded Theory methodological techniques that support the development of general theories within the social sciences. Findings: In general, the services marketing discipline is based on a foundation of substantive theories, and proposed conceptual frameworks, which emerged from samples, contexts and conditions that ensue within industrialized, upper-income locales. Rather than seek to expand substantive theories by generating new categories and relationships between categories, most researchers limit their verification studies within the scope of original theoretical frameworks. Resultantly, the services marketing domain has not developed a set of formal theories. Research limitations/implications: The editors encourage researchers to reconsider the discipline’s substantive theories and to transform them into formal theories. Substantive theories expand into formal theories when researchers question original theoretical frameworks and show situations in which they require modification. Theoretical verification does not transform substantive theories into formal theories; rather, the discovery of negative cases suggests the need for theoretical modification. Originality/value: This work suggests that researchers may be over-emphasizing the generalizability of their proposed theories in papers because of a lack of sample variance in empirical studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)572-575
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Services Marketing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


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