Determinism and voluntarism in strategic adaptation: the case of a retailer company


  • Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
  • Carlos Ricardo Rossetto
  • Silvio Luiz Gonçalves Vianna


Strategic adaptation has been studied by several authors such as Pettigrew (1987), Sorge and Brussig (2003), and Lewin and Volberda (2005). A major debate in this area is related to the source of the strategic changes that occur in an adaptation process, i.e. whether they are determined by voluntary action (i.e. voluntarism) on the part of the managers or by environmental factors (i.e. determinism). This paper analyzes the influence of environmental determinism and of voluntarism on the strategic adaptation process of a particular Brazilian furniture retail company. It is based on the longitudinal case study method and collected data through deep interviews with managers as well as documentary analysis. It also used a contextualist and processualist approach to analyze the strategic events in the company’s history (Pettigrew, 1987) and associated these events to Hrebiniak’s and Joyce’s (1985) model of determinism and voluntarism. The results show that the company’s strategic adaptation was conducted sometimes by environmental determinism and sometimes by voluntary actions on the part of its dominant groups. After a professionalization process, voluntarism and determinism reached a balance in terms of influence on strategic decisions, which led to an adaptation process based on restricted choices. The findings reinforce the idea of the concomitant existence of voluntarism and determinism and raise questions about the conditions needed for a balance that is positive for the adaptation process.

Key words: strategic adaptation, determinism, voluntarism, retail company.