Reasoning by analogy and the progress of theory

Mikko Ketokivi, Saku Mantere, Joep Cornelissen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


Many influential theories of organization rest on an analogical foundation: we think of the organization as if it were a governance structure, a nexus of contracts, a social network, or an information processing system. We may invoke an analogy simply to express an idea, but analogy use may also constitute a key part of a theoretical explanation and an argument. In this latter-explanatory-use, we not only think but also reason by analogy. But if analogy use constitutes reasoning, it must also be critically evaluated as such. In this article we first combine ideas from the literature on argumentation and cognitive science to examine how analogies are used in organization theory. We then construct a framework to guide the evaluation of reasoning by analogy. Finally, we show that by understanding how analogies are used and evaluated, we can also gain an understanding of how theories progress.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalAcademy of Management Review
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)637-658
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • reasoning
  • analogy
  • argument
  • theory development
  • theory progress


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