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Legitimizing a practice across fields: microprocesses of theorization of Design Thinking

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Harsh Jha, Dr Dimitry Jacob



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Oxford University Press, 2020.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Legitimizing a practice is a challenging task because it has to be constantly made understandable and meaningful to prospective users. Garnering such legitimacy is critical for successful practice diffusion and potential institutionalization. Research has shown that the process of theorization - rendering of ideas into understandable and compelling formats - is central to legitimacy construction. However, we still have limited understanding of the specific mechanisms through which theorization happens. In this paper we address this issue by examining the microprocesses through which the practice of Design Thinking (DT) was theorized by its proponents in the field of business management. We undertook qualitative analysis, using grounded theory, of archival data. Our analysis revealed three key microprocesses of theorization: appropriation (presenting DT as a solution to abstract field level problems, e.g. innovativeness), assimilation (integrating DT with current vocabularies and legacy practices within user organizations) and adaptation (redefining DT in order to resolve contradictions with existing practices within organizations). This study makes two contributions. First, to the burgeoning literature on theorization by identifying key microprocesses underlying theorization. Second, to the literature on management knowledge production, specifically evolution and translation of management ideas, concepts and practices across fields.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jha H, Jacob D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Professions and Organization

Year: 2020

Volume: 7

Issue: 2

Pages: 156-187

Print publication date: 01/07/2020

Online publication date: 23/05/2020

Acceptance date: 24/02/2020

Date deposited: 27/03/2020

ISSN (print): 2051-8803

ISSN (electronic): 2051-8811

Publisher: Oxford University Press


DOI: 10.1093/jpo/joaa007


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