Absorptive Capacity: An Umbrella Review

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University of Guelph

Research on absorptive capacity (AC) has proliferated in the last thirty years. With over 12,000 papers in the web of science addressing AC, it becomes increasingly difficult to offer a comprehensive overview of this field. This paper uses an umbrella review to integrate the findings of 26 literature reviews performed on AC since 1989. Included reviews have attempted to address contentious issues in conceptualization, for example conflicting conceptualizations for the identification of antecedents and outcomes for AC, and operationalization of AC. Interestingly, despite the commonly suggested integrative and synthesizing character of literature reviews, the existing reviews of AC add to the conceptual ambiguity of AC. As such, this paper interprets the reviews as a source of identifying contentious issues of AC that persists even in those areas that literature reviews have been undertaken with the purpose of finding common ground. Building on this finding, this paper argues that it is time to tackle the persisting issues in dimensionality, multilevel nature, and in understanding the process and system of absorptive capacity. However, we may need to go back to the drawing board to integrate prior findings and allow progress in tackling the persisting issues.

Absorptive capacity, Umbrella review, Systematic review, Theory building, Conceptualization