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Compared to older and more established academic disciplines such as anthropology, philosophy, psychology and sociology, logistics does not have as rich a heritage of theory development and empirical research. Not surprisingly, much of logistics research has its roots in theories borrowed from the more established disciplines. In fact, logistics research is primarily an outgrowth from the business disciplines of marketing and management, with some input coming from engineering.
Theory development (i.e. early 1900s) in the discipline of business (including marketing, management and logistics) was founded in economics (Bartels, 1962). The concept of "utility", was first borrowed to justify the existence of marketing at a time when it was being criticized as a needless waste of resources. Marketing scholars attempted to rebuff criticism of the discipline by presenting the notion that marketing creates time, place and possession utilities, which add value for customers. That concept was later borrowed by logistics researchers to justify the importance of the logistics discipline (i.e. logistics adds time and place utilities to products).
For newer disciplines, there appears to be a pattern of development that is based on the usage of concepts, definitions, theories, rules and principles from other disciplines. In other words, scholars determine that there is no reason to reinvent the wheel and therefore, search out those things which can or might apply to their respective area of study.
This must necessarily be true for logistics as well, for as an academic discipline, the field is relatively young (early twentieth century). "Many of the business and non-business disciplines have much to offer logistics in terms of concepts, principles, methodologies and approaches that could be applied to various logistics issues, problems and opportunities" (Stock, 1990). He offered some suggestions such as using materials from the "philosophy of science" area in logistics theory development and suggested borrowing from psychology, organizational behaviour, consumer behaviour, economics and management.
Mentzer and Kahn (1995) have also stated that logistics research has been influenced by economic and behavioural approaches to scientific inquiry. In commenting on the research process:
Logistics research has been influenced by the economic and, to a lesser degree, the behavioral approaches to scientific study. The economic approach focuses attention on cost minimization and profit maximization through cost analysis, mathematical modeling, simulation and sensitivity analysis. The behavioral approach focuses on the psychological and sociological aspects of situations and is primarily obtained via questionnaires, interviews and case studies (Mentzer and Kahn, 1995).
A number of economic concepts have been applied in logistics, as well as other business activities. They include the business cycle, theory of consumer demand, cost-benefit analysis, decision theory, demand theory, economies of scale, elasticity, law of diminishing returns, game theory, gravity model, input-output analysis, linear programming, marginal cost pricing, opportunity costs, queuing theory and Weber's theory of the location of the firm. Of course, there are numerous others which could be mentioned as well. Suffice to say that logistics has benefited from borrowing these concepts from the discipline of economics.
Because of the significant number of subject areas or disciplines that exist, the number of theories that might potentially have application to logistics is quite large.
For the purposes of this article, "theory" will be defined somewhat broadly:
Systematically organized knowledge applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances, especially a system of assumptions, accepted principles and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain the nature or behaviour of a specified set of phenomena (American Heritage Dictionary, 1992).
The purpose of this article is to show that logistics research and theory development can benefit from borrowing and applying existing theories from other disciplines.
There are three benefits of applying "borrowed" theories to logistics:
(1) learning from the experiences of others;
(2) advances in knowledge and understanding, which might not have occurred otherwise, or perhaps taken longer, could occur more quickly; and
(3) the inclusion of theories from other disciplines further enhances the linkages between logistics and those disciplines.
These benefits come primarily because scholars in other disciplines have different perspectives than logisticians (due to varying backgrounds, orientations and/or environmental impacts). For example, the concept of the value chain developed by Porter (1985), a marketing academician, has had significant impacts on logistics in that it has advanced the notion that logistics is a value-adding activity and aids in the creation of sustainable competitive advantage.
Previously published articles in four major refereed logistics-related publications were examined. These journals have previously been identified as the most significant in the field (Emmelhainz and Stock, 1989; Fawcett et al., 1995; Stock, 1984). Those examined included The International Journal of Logistics Management (IJLM), International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management (IJPDLM), Journal of Business Logistics (JBL) and Transportation Journal (TJ). Articles published between 1980 and 1996 were examined. Published abstracts (as provided in the table of contents or with each article) for all articles were content analysed to determine if theories from other disciplines had been applied or referred to …