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The Many Faces of Asset Specificity: A Critical Review of Key Theoretical Perspectives




This paper presents a review of the concept of asset specificity and of the impact which asset specificity is expected to exert on the performance of buyer–supplier relationships. The paper begins by unpacking the complex definitional features of asset specificity and how its multifaceted nature is reflected in an inconsistent and rather ad hoc operationalization of the construct in the extant empirical literature. Following a comprehensive examination of the many dimensions of asset specificity, the review then focuses on the expected role of asset specificity in inter-firm relationships according to three different theoretical perspectives: transaction costs economics, the resource-based view and relational exchange theory. Considerable ambiguities and inconsistencies are highlighted by reviewing hypotheses typically developed within their respective theoretical framework. The paper concludes by identifying key challenges and new directions in order to derive maximum benefit from future research.