The academic study of industrial relations has often been characterised as theoretically impoverished. This is despite the conceptual insights provided by a number of well-known writers including Australian academic Braham Dabscheck. Dabscheck has often addressed issues pertaining to industrial relations theory in his work over the last 20 or so years. His interest in this area culminated in the publication of his ‘general theory of (Australian) industrial relations’ in 1994. This article explores the development of Dabscheck's ideas, as they relate to industrial relations theory, since 1977. Given his contribution to Australian industrial relations it is a valuable exercise in itself to trace this development. The article also subjects Dabscheck's general theory to critical scrutiny. In particular, it questions his method of developing theory, challenges his theory's key assumptions and argues that the explanatory and predictive qualities of his theory are weak. We conclude that the theory is of limited utility in terms of better understanding and explaining industrial relations.