Qualitative Social Research Methods


All that is known and perceived about qualitative research the perceived is wrong (Rossiter). There has been a long-standing debate about the adequacy of research methods in social sciences. Historically there has been a universal bias towards quantitative research and qualitative research has been fraught with criticism for its underlying “metaphysical assumptions” (Guba and Lincoln). Social science has been considered to be ‘soft’ science due their perceived lack of dependability and imprecision. Traditionally scientific maturity was supposed to have been achieved through a greater degree of quantification within the area of research.

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Classic social scientists like John Stuart Mill believed that if social sciences came out of its philosophical and theological stricture and emulated its “harder” cousin, it would lead to rapid maturing of the field (Mill). It was believed that imitation would help the field to gain maturity in the sphere of sciences. Soon criticism arose of this belief, which led to the evolution of qualitative research methodology.

Qualitative research has been historically used in sociology and anthropology research (Vidich and Lyman). It is used to study anything related to human beings. The identification with subjects like sociology or anthropology was more in colonizing nations, in order to produce accounts of the foreign world, which marked the history of qualitative research. It was in 1920s and 1930s that the ‘Chicago school’ formed an important qualitative inquiry into the study of group life of humans. It was during this period that various anthropologists like Boas, Mead, Benedict, et al. outlined the procedure of fieldwork method into qualitative research (Dezin and Lincoln). Other disciplines like education, history, political science, business, medicine, nursing, social work, and communication started using qualitative research methods.

During the 1960s, the battle between the qualitative and quantitative research methods was established. Ironically, it can be said that qualitative research was born from the desire to understand the ‘other’ (Vidich and Lyman). Thus other is the minority strewn non-white other which has always been subordinated by the ‘harder’ field (Dezin and Lincoln). The history of qualitative research has been strewn with racist projections of the field of study, which has been traced by many scholars of qualitative research.

The field of qualitative research can be categorized into eight distinct period by Dezin and Lincoln: traditional (1900-1970), blurred genres (1970-1986), representation crisis (1990-1995), post-experiential examination (1995-2000), methodological contested present (2000-2004) and fractural future (2005- ). The colonial model of the research located the field of study in racialism and gender.

There were different aspects, which has been undertaken to interpret perspectives of qualitative research evolved like the hermeneutics, structuralism, phenomenology, cultural studies, etc. This is a more recent phenomenon and is often termed as the “blurred genres” phase (Dezin and Lincoln). This is the phase when qualitative research was broadly accepted. The research became inter-disciplinary and provided insights from different subjects.

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Following the blurred genre phase evolved the crisis of representation phase (Dezin and Lincoln). It was during this phase that the researchers were unable to locate themselves and their subjective field in the reflexive texts. This led to a methodological diaspora, which Dezin and Lincoln termed as “a two way exodus” (3). In this phase, a true intermingling of the humanities and social sciences occurred when both migrated into each other in order to find new ways to study popular culture, and its local and ethnographic context. Again, the social scientists learned from humanities to produce texts that were no longer simplistic and linear, rather, blurring the line between text and context. In this postmodern moment of qualitative research evolution, researchers moved away from foundation and quasi foundation ideas (Dezin and Lincoln).

With this brief background of historical evolution of qualitative research, it must be understood that qualitative research is a field, which is under constant evolution. Qualitative research has been called bricoleur, which leads to a historical and organizational discourse of the research method (Dezin and Lincoln). There are different forms of qualitative research like action research, discourse study, case analysis etc. that has been adopted in the qualitative research models of business qualitative research.

Qualitative research has been adopted in various fields of studies – history, geography, anthropology, medicine, nursing, law, and business studies. Qualitative research and case study method is a very useful tool in management studies especially in general management studies, marketing, organizational studies, corporate strategy, accounting, etc (Gummesson). However, the uses of qualitative research methods are limited as academics accredit this method only as secondary and not enough for business studies, especially for research purposes.

The reason for such antagonism against qualitative research lies in the predominance of statistical methods in business researches. Moreover, the other reason being, unawareness of the academicians in regards to the plethora of opportunity qualitative research provides to business studies. Such unawareness becomes the bases of choice of technique and method for research, which eventually goes against qualitative research.

This literature review will trace the historical background and evolution of qualitative research in order to understand how it can be defined. The usage of qualitative research methods in business studies and in which areas of business they have been accepted and why. Then the review will provide examples of this methodology of research used in business and management researches. The review will be an important showcase into how qualitative research can become an effective tool for professionals doing research for their organizations.

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Qualitative Research

This section first establishes a definition of qualitative research and describes the various methods that can be employed for research purposes. First, we will define qualitative research. After which the areas where qualitative research are applied are discussed thoroughly.

What Is Qualitative Research?

There have been various attempts to define qualitative research in social sciences. And there has been Qualitative research is a field enquiry. There are various complex, interconnected, concepts, assumptions, and terms around the definition of qualitative research. The concepts as described could be segregated as foundationalism, positivism, post-foundationalism, post-positivism, post-structuralism, and others related to culture or interpretive studies (Dezin and Lincoln).

Dezin and Lincoln suggest that any definition of qualitative research must adhere to the work in the complex historical field as “Qualitative research means different things in each of these moments.” (3) So in order to define qualitative research the historical context cannot be overlooked. However, Dezin and Lincoln provide a generic definition of the research method:

Qualitative research is a situated activity that locates the observer in the world. It consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible. These practices transform the world. They turn the world into a series of representations, including, field notes, interviews, conversation, photographs, recordings, and memos itself. At this level, qualitative research involves an interpretive, naturalistic approach to the world. This means that qualitative research study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them.” (Dezin and Lincoln 3)

Qualitative research consists of the use of various empirical materials such as personal experience of the researcher, case studies, introspection, life story, interviews etc. Whereas, another area of study feel that calling qualitative research over and above paradigm is erroneous as both qualitative and quantitative research method may be used with any of the paradigms (Guba and Lincoln). Therefore, according to this line of thought method is secondary to paradigm.

The field of qualitative research can be categorized into eight distinct period by Dezin and Lincoln: traditional (1900-1970), blurred genres (1970-1986), representation crisis (1990-1995), post-experiential examination (1995-2000), methodological contested present (2000-2004) and fractural future (2005- ). The colonial model of the research located the field of study in racialism and gender.

There were different aspects, which has been undertaken to interpret perspectives of qualitative research evolved like the hermeneutics, structuralism, phenomenology, cultural studies, etc. This is a more recent phenomenon and is often termed as the “blurred genres” phase (Dezin and Lincoln). This is the phase when qualitative research was broadly accepted. The research became inter-disciplinary and provided insights from different subjects. The traditional period is associated with positivist, foundational paradigm and modern age and blurred genres are associated with appearance of post-positivist paradigm.

Following the blurred genre phase evolved the crisis of representation phase (Dezin and Lincoln). It was during this phase that the researchers were unable to locate themselves and their subjective field in the reflexive texts. This led to a methodological diaspora, which Dezin and Lincoln termed as “a two way exodus” (3). In this phase, a true intermingling of the humanities and social sciences occurred when both migrated into each other in order to find new ways to study popular culture, and its local and ethnographic context. Again, the social scientists learned from humanities to produce texts that were no longer simplistic and linear, rather, blurring the line between text and context. In this postmodern moment of qualitative research evolution, researchers moved away from foundation and quasi foundation ideas (Dezin and Lincoln).

Difference between Qualitative and Quantitative Research

In the 1950s and 1960s, there emerged a debate between qualitative and quantitative research methodology proponents. Various distinctions have been made between quantitative and qualitative methods of research. Distinction between the two has been mostly made based on methodology, epistemology, and technique.

Quantitative methodology has been depicted as being used mostly for natural sciences and not for social sciences. It has been described as empiricist and positivist (Leach; Duffy). It is derived from the method used in scientific researches (Cormack). This method may be termed as objective, formal, and systematic process, which is used to collect and analyze numerical data. They perform tests, determine cause, and effect relationships (Burns and Grove). The process, which is usually used in quantitative analysis, is deductive in nature (Duffy).

Qualitative research method, quite contrary to quantitative research, is guided through certain ideas, perspective, and intuitions about the subject under investigation (Cormack). The former is developed intuitively while the latter deductively. There is no specific intention to quantify the findings through qualitative research method. Rather these are described descriptively throughout the research process (Leach). Qualitative research methodology is employed to study the topic from the perspective of the subject and not from that of the researcher (Duffy, Methodological triangulation a vehicle for merging quantitative and qualitative methods ). According to Benoliel qualitative research is a mode of systematic enquiry into the understanding of human behaviour and the nature of their transactions with themselves and their surroundings.

Bryman has suggested that qualitative research is more inclined to see the social world from the point of view of the human beings and quantitative research methodology avoids this. Many academic writings on qualitative research endorse this idea (Filstead; Emerson; Agar; Spradley). As close involvement with the subject is desirable in qualitative research, commitment is of high priority. Further, there is a simultaneous preference for understanding the behaviour of the system in context of the particular group or society (Mishler; Maanen; Halfpenny). Qualitative research is supposed to be more “fluid and flexible” as it allows to capture the unanticipated occurring in research as well as change the method and plan employed for research according to the responses to such occurrences (Glaser and Strauss; Shaffir, Stebbins and Turowetz; Rock; Bryman). In contrast, quantitative research methodologist’s research design is rigid and inflexible as emphasis lies upon fixed measurements and hypothesis testing. The philosophical nature of qualitative research methodology is attributed to the “phenomenology, Verstehen, and symbolic interactionism” (Bryman 78). Phenomenology has been termed by Bruyn, Verstehen by Filstead, and symbolic interactionism by Rock. These are prominent examples of qualitative researches’ basic premises. The main point in this respect is that:

The point about the phenomenological position is that it takes the actor’s perspective as the empirical point of departure. Positivist approaches are taken to exhibit a tendency for the researcher to view events from the outside and from the point of view of a cluster of empirical concerns which are imposed upon social reality with little reference to the meaning of the observations to the subject of investigation.” (Bryman 78)

Various questions have been raised towards researches based on phenomenological research tradition. According to Schultz, a phenomenological aspect of research may have to be necessarily abandoned in order to carry out a study of the social world (Schutz). The distinction that Schultz made on the approach towards natural sciences in which he considered people as inert and the phenomenological approach where the lived experiences of people become the key data for research. This provided the key distinction between the two methods.

When qualitative research is to be conducted, epistemological principles are necessary in order to facilitate an inside view. Data collection methods like unstructured interviews and life histories gain prominence as data collection methods of qualitative research. Participant participation in the research process enables qualitative researchers to produce data, which they consider rich in content implying data of great depth and quality (Agar; Emerson). However, quantitative data collected through a survey typically is deficient in this type of in-depth and ‘rich’ data. This argument was put forward by Blumer who believed that survey data provided superficial example of the participant’s social worlds, which could be captured with collected numbers.

From the above discussion, it is clear that the two methodologies are being explicated at the epistemological level and a link is being established between practice and social research. The epistemological nature is reinforced through the discussion of ‘paradigm’ to represent the two methods (Emerson). Therefore, in order to justify the epistemology of qualitative method, researchers try to do the following:

In so far as paradigms are meant to be incommensurable, then it is even clearer that two divergent epistemological bases are being expounded. In the context of this kind of discussion the question of techniques of investigation is no longer whether A is ‘better’ than B, but is A the appropriate technique in terms of a particular set of epistemological premises X? Proponents of qualitative methodology justify their preference for participant observation by reference to its ability to meet a prior set of epistemological requirements, which have been summarised briefly above.” (Bryman 79)

The social survey is considered to adhere to a different style of method, which is preoccupied with natural sciences. As has been argued by Johnson, the restoration of interest is participant observation and field research stems from “the abstract intellectual debates in a very fundamental way” (Johnson 3). This indicates that the rise in interest in phenomenological research and participant observation there evolved various techniques, which eluded natural sciences earlier. According to Bryman, this led to creation of a “disillusionment with the spread of quantification in research led to a flirtation with methods which had often been seen as impressionistic, or unscientific, and the spread of phenomenological writing provided a ready-made justification for their research.” (79)

Thus in order to distinguish between two methods of researches it must be kept in mind that the issues related to abstract philosophies of research methods does not allow one to directly draw the of line distinction between methods, rather allows comparability of different methods rather than undeviating juxtaposition. Even the question of appropriateness is also different. Trow has suggested that earlier that the problem should determine the technique and not vice versa.

The question related to the discussion that remains unanswered is if there should be quantitative data present in qualitative analysis and how it should be treated. For this Gans has said that there are researches were quantitative data has been used within qualitative research indicating a quasi-statistical mode of research. For this Bryman puts forth the states “While such considerations of degree of quantification should not be forgotten, it is slightly puzzling that it is this particular dimension of the debate that is taken as the terminological focus.” (80).

It has been observed another base of the debate lies in epistemological issues. Trow’s belief that problem determines methodology actually is in reference to technique and not to epistemology. According to this, one methodology cannot be superior to other as their usage depends on the context of the research. On the other hand, Zelditch and others have tried to organize these considerations by describing the linkages between objects and techniques. One such suggestion has been found in the work of Warwick and Lininger:

The sample survey is an appropriate and useful means of gathering information under three conditions; when the goals of the research call for quantitative data, when the information sought is reasonably specific and familiar to the respondents, and when the researcher himself has considerable prior knowledge of particular problems and the range of responses likely to emerge. All of these conditions are met in the areas of research that have been the traditional strongholds of the survey — public opinion, voting, attitudes and beliefs, and economic behaviour.

Participant observation is usually more appropriate when the study requires an examination of complex social relationships or intricate patterns of interaction;…when the investigator desires first-hand behavioural information on certain social processes, such as leadership and influence in a small group; when a major goal of the stud). is to construct a qualitative contextual picture of a certain situation or flow of events; and when it is necessary to infer latent value patterns or belief systems from such behaviour as ceremonial postures, gestures, dances, facial expressions or subtle inflections of the voice.” (9-10)

There are certain arguments that are put forth against quantitative research techniques by proponents of qualitative research. One such argument stated that “The mail questionnaires and interviews provided more systematically collected data and are thus more scientific in one sense, although less so in another, for they can only report what people say they do and feel, and not what a researcher has seen them say, do and feel.” (Gans 450) Thus, there exists a gap between participant observation and survey method and the former has a technical edge over latter. In another participant observation study, it has been observed that a questionnaire survey to understand the attitude of racketeers is not feasible (Whyte). Therefore, researcher’s judgment gains prime importance in ascertaining the method to be undertaken.

The proponents of qualitative research have criticized quantitative research on grounds of intraparadigm criticism and extraparadigm criticism. Intraparadigm criticism, according to Guba and Lincoln, is based on “context stripping”, “exclusion of meaning and purpose”, “inapplicability of general data to individual cases”, “exclusion of the discovery dimension in inquiry” (106) while the extraparadigm is based on “the theory-ladenness of facts”, the underestimation of the theory”, the value-ladenness of facts”, and “the interactive nature of the inquirer-inquired into dyad” (107). According to them, quantitative method is based on certain assumptions and constraints, and generalizability of the research is possible only under similar situation whereas, qualitative research provides contextual information, which is easier to generalize. Human behaviour, it is argued, cannot be ascertained without understanding the human actors, for which qualitative analysis is an apt tool. Qualitative analysis helps to establish a link between the hypothesis related to the outside environment to that of the insiders like individuals, group, community or culture. In case of implacability of general data to individual cases implies that even though generalization is statistically significant, does not have holding on individuals. Qualitative data avoids such ambiguity. They also assert that hypothesis building process is not explained through any empirically established method and is usually termed as “the discovery process”, but it is “inputs” from qualitative analysis that is summoned to “redress this imbalance” (Guba and Lincoln 106).

The extraparadigm criticism as discussed by Guba and Lincoln observes that fundamental assumptions related to quantitative method has been criticised by many. The objectivity of the assumption that theory and facts are not independent makes the whole theory building process dubious. Thus they argue that:

Just as theories and facts are not independent, neither are values and facts. Indeed, it can be argued that theories are themselves value statements. Thus, putative “facts” are viewed not only through a theory window but through a value window as well. The value-free posture of the received view is compromised.” (Guba and Lincoln 107)

Another epistemological argument that can be found is the different nature of human beings and ontology. Many believe that science in any form, be it nominalist or realist, is metaphorical (Brown; Schon; Morgan and Smircich). Thus Morgan and Smircic have stated:

We thus encounter a fundamental issue that has attracted the attention of social philosophers for many centuries. It is the issue of whether or not human beings can ever achieve any form of knowledge that is independent of their own subjective construction, since they are the agents through which knowledge is perceived or experienced. A strong case can be made for the view that science of all kinds, whether nominalist or realist in its basic orientation, is primarily metaphorical.” (493)

Therefore, it is believed, according to this argument that the debate on epistemology is based on the different kinds of metaphoric insights required to capture the essence of the social world.

As there are great difference in the method to be employed into an enquiry is based on the nature of the paradigm, it is essential to understand the nature of the paradigm before undertaking an investigation. Paradigm may be defined as “a set of basic beliefs

(or metaphysics) that deals with ultimate or first principles. It represents a worldview that defines, for its holder, the nature of the “world,” the individual’s place in it, and the range of possible relationships to that world and its parts, as, for example, cosmologies and theologies do.” (Guba and Lincoln 107) It is argued that paradigm related to human constructions is not open to any quantitative proof. They argue that “any paradigm represents” what the proponents have chosen to react to a particular incident, and that the sets of answers provides are “all cases human constructions; that is, they are all inventions of the human mind and hence subject to human error.” (108) Therefore, paradigm is the essence that provides the differences that arise out of any research that is undertaken.

Therefore, paradigms that enable different kinds of research methods are positivists, which employ mainly quantitative research methodologies, post-positivism wherein modified experiments methods are employed. The former requires the reduction of the data into numerical values in order to conduct a statistical analysis, while the latter involves collection of data in alphanumerical form.

Thus, the main difference that can be identified from the above discussion is that qualitative and quantitative research differs in the method of data collection and analysis. Another difference arises in their aim towards scientific investigation, fundamental paradigm, and meta-theoretical assumptions (Gelo, Braakmann and Benetka). The difference is that quantitative research assumes that social and psychological phenomenon has to be investigated in order to decipher the relationship between them, while qualitative research stresses that social and psychological constructs reality. Therefore, in the latter case the aim to study human beings is to understand their behaviour “from the point of view of those being studied” (Bryman, Quantity and quality in social research 46). As the field has sparked such debate on methodological ground in various social studies like psychology, sociology, medicine, education, history, geography, etc., it has become imperative that the applicability of qualitative research in business studies must also be judged pragmatically in order to ascertain its effective applicability in the field.

According to Rossman and Wilson, three major schools of thought are present in the qualitative-quantitative debate, which is purists, situationalists, and pragmatists. The difference in their viewpoint depends on the degree of relatedness and co-existence that they believe exists between quantitative and qualitative research. These three schools can be conceptualized as purist and pragmatists lying on opposite ends, while situationalists lying somewhere in-between.

According to the purists, both the research methods arise out of ontological, epistemological and axiological assumptions regarding the character of the research (Bryman, The Debate about Quantitative and Qualitative Research: A Question of Method or Epistemology?; Onwuegbuzie and Leech; Tashakkori and Teddlie). According to this school of belief, the research methods are incompatible and should not be mixed, thus advocating mono-method studies. Situationalists support that the mono-method stance of the purists but believe that both the methods have their importance. Thus according to them, even though both the methods are different they can be treated as complementary (Onwuegbuzie and Leech). And the pragmatists believed that there exists a false dichotomy between qualitative and quantitative analysis (Newman and Benz). According to them quantitative research techniques are not necessarily positivist while qualitative methods hermeneutic (Onwuegbuzie and Leech). Therefore, they propagate mingling of the methods for research purpose.

To summarize, qualitative research’s strength lies in endeavours to resolve complexity, provide a detailed and contextual analysis. Other strengths that have been identified of this particular research method are reflexivity and flexibility (Mangen). According Magen qualitative research is appropriate for cross-cultural studies as they are reflexive and flexible. Therefore, usage of qualitative research methodologies can be appropriately used for business studies. In this next section, we will discuss the applicability of qualitative research to business studies.

Qualitative Research in Business

There has been increasing interest in qualitative research in management. For instance, a full issue of Administrative Quarterly1 has been dedicated to qualitative research methodologies. The reason for this inclination towards qualitative method has arisen from the general dissatisfaction with the constricted results that quantitative data has provided to researchers (Van Maanen). The reason for dissatisfaction arises from various reasons, which are mentioned below:

  1. Multivariate research method is a complex process
  2. The issue of distribution, which is inherent in quantitative methods, for instance multivariate normality) restricts the scope of analysis.
  3. The sample size of these methods has to be large in order to get unbiased results.
  4. To understand and analyse the complex statistical results that these methods yield is a great difficulty.

Qualitative research methodology provides a powerful tool for research in management and business related subjects (Gummesson). As noted by Myers, qualitative research qualitative research helps researchers to understand people. He states, “They are designed to help researchers understand the social and cultural contexts within which people live.” (Myers 5) Therefore, the qualitative researchers contend that researchers need to speak and mingle with the people in the organization in order to understand their motivations, actions, and contexts.

Nevertheless, the use of qualitative methods in management research is limited. The reason for non-acceptance of qualitative research method by management academics and corporate is more in their “mind” (Gummesson). However, their importance to management science cannot be overlooked due to the increasing use of case study method to conduct research. The main use of qualitative research, as Myers puts it, “is that it allows a researcher to see and understand the context within which decisions and actions take place” (5).

Qualitative research in management arises from sociology, psychology, education, or anthropology/ethnography (Gummesson). These researchers inspire managers as they provide examples and cases of studies of the society in general or that of public administration. According to Kaplan and Maxwell, the goal of research to understand the phenomenon from the point of view of the actors in social and institutional context is lost when their textual responses are quantified (Kaplan and Maxwell).

Historically management research is fraught with trendy methods of research and management techniques. Management scientists believe that quantitative, statistical method is the true method of scientific research and the qualitative methods adopted from social sciences have been packaged as “sensitivity training”, “T-groups”, etc. as they helps in solving problems within the organization (Gummesson).

Yates believe that in the past there has been a stress on quantitative methods as researchers believed it will gain credibility in the eyes of their colleagues. However, in overstressing on quantitative methods, management science “may so dominate a given model as to cause the disregard of vital human values” (Greenhut 314). Therefore, many academicians argued that the non-quantitative aspects of research could not be overlooked:

This whole matter of how “mathematical” a model may be in the social sciences without losing contact with reality has been a long standing problem. In my own field of special interest, location theory, its significance has appeared in the form of a dispute over whether we should assume the quest for maximum profits by individuals or else substitute in its place the more general and realistic hypothesis of a quest for maximum satisfactions. If what we seek in the social sciences are hypotheses which most closely reflect reality, then one wonders why such strong disagreement exists over the merits of the unrealistic maximum profit postulate. Perhaps it is in fact the case that both sides are right,… that fancy new electronic calculators might “…routinize a bargaining procedure that is now highly charged with emotional and rational uncertainties,” while Professor Weinwurm is also correct when he states that “A mathematical model which fails to reflect reality is inadequate and needs to be replaced by a better and more adequate one.”” (Greenhut 314).

Therefore, it is clear from the arguments available in the literature that qualitative research is paramount in understanding the human aspect of business and is essential for business studies. In the next section, the paper will discuss the philosophies underlying qualitative research as applied in management studies.

Philosophical Perspective

As all research methods have a philosophical underpinning, so does qualitative research. These philosophies are underlying assumptions, which defines ‘valid’ research and the research that is more desirable or appropriate for a particular investigation. Therefore, before understanding more about qualitative methods in business researches, it is important to understand these underlying assumptions.

The most important philosophical assumptions underlying qualitative method are epistemological. Here it must be understood that epistemology refers to the assumptions related to knowledge and the method in which it can be acquired (Hirschheim).

Guba and Lincoln suggested four paradigms of qualitative research, which are positivism, post-positivism, critical theory, and constructivism. Others have suggested that there are three categories viz. positivist, interpretive and critical, which was derived from the underlying research epistemology (Orlikowski and Baroudi; Chua). The three-fold classification of qualitative research in business has been adopted by others like Myers. According to Myers, even though in social research, the three paradigms are philosophically distinct, but in practice, the distinction is not very clear. This is so because there are various debates on whether these paradigms can be negated or combined as one research epistemology (Myers).

According to Myer, ne must make a clear distinction between qualitative and interpretive. He believes that qualitative may or may not be interpretive depending on the philosophical assumptions taken by the researcher. Myer points that qualitative research can be positivist, interpretive, or critical (figure 1).

philosophical assumptions underlying qualitative research
Figure 1: philosophical assumptions underlying qualitative research

Positivist Research: Positivist researchers believe that reality is objectively provided and thus can be measured through quantification and is independent of the researcher’s perceptions and instruments (Myers). The main aim of positivist studies is to test theory in order to understand the predictive phenomenon. According to Orlikowski and Baroudi research method can be positivists if there are formal proposition present in the methodology of the research and the measures of variable are quantifiable. There must be hypothesis testing and inferences must be drawn about an issue from the sample of the population (Orlikowski and Baroudi, Studying Information Technology in Organizations: Research Approaches and Assumptions ). Some examples of positivist research are that of Yin and Benbasat, Goldstein, and Mead’s case study research.

Interpretive Research: The basic assumption underlying interpretive researchers is reality, which is assumed to be socially, and psychologically constructed (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management). Thus, the philosophical assumption of interpretive research is hermeneutics and phenomenological (Boland). Interpretive methods can be understood by the meanings that researchers assign to them and through various interpretive methods adopted in business researches are “aimed at producing an understanding of the context of the information system, and the process whereby the information system influences and is influenced by the context” (Walsham 4-5). Interpretive research does not assume the dependence or independence of variables, but rather focuses on the complex human sense making as the situation develops (Kaplan and Maxwell). Interpretive research in management studies has been used in many researches (Walsham; R. J. Boland). The principles, which are required to conduct and evaluate an interpretive research, has been underlined perfectly in management research studies are that of Orlikowski, Walsham and Waema, and Myers (Klein and Myers).

Critical Research: On the other end of the paradigm are critical researchers who assume social reality, which is historically constructed, and is dynamic with ever changing people (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management). Critical researchers feel that even though people can wilfully change their social and economic status, but their actions are constrained by the political, social, and cultural dominance. Thus, critical research aims to be a social critique, focuses on oppositions, conflicts and contradictions in the group under study, and tries to eliminate the causes (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management). In case of critical research, Jurgen Habermas is one of the best-known proponents of critical research (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management). His philosophies have been used in management science by many researchers like Ngwenyama and Lee and Hirschheim and Klein.

The different philosophical perspectives towards a research methodology have been discussed to provide an understanding of the various methods of researches that can be undertaken. Now the paper will discuss the various methods that are used by researchers to conduct qualitative research in management and business studies.

Qualitative Research Methods

There are different methods, which can be employed to conduct qualitative research, just as there are different philosophical perspectives. A research method is a strategy that is undertaken by the researcher in order to ascertain the ways in which he will collect data and ascertain the research design. A scientific research method implies the adoption of various research skills, assumptions and practices. The four qualitative research methods, which have found strong ground in management and business researches, are action research, case study, ethnography, and grounded theory (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management).

Action Research

Action research aims to solve the “current problems while expanding scientific knowledge.” (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management 55) This research method aims to bring about an organizational change and study the process simultaneously. Therefore, the stress is on “collaboration and change” that includes both researcher and the actors. Therefore, it is an excellent method to “improve the practical relevance of business research” (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management 55).

Action research has been defined in various ways and there are numerous definitions to its account. One of the widely cited definitions of action research is that of Rapport:

Action research aims to contribute both to the practical concerns of people in an immediate problematic situation and to the goals of social science by joint collaboration within a mutually acceptable ethical framework.” (Rapoport 499)

From the definition, it is clear that action research is (1) collaborative in nature, and (2) there is ethical dilemma associated with the method. Further, it can also be stressed from the definition that action research mainly aims to enlarge the knowledge of the social science (Clark). This aspect of action research distinguishes of from other social science research methods, for only this method tries to add to the body of knowledge instead of lust applying it (Avison, Baskerville and Myers).

Action research has been widely accepted as a tool for management studies especially in organizational studies (Elden and Chisholm). Elden and Chisholm believed action research was present in management studies since the seminal work of Kurt Lewin in 1946.

The main feature that Lewin and other proponents of action research have shown that action research is a cyclical process and involves three steps viz. diagnosing, planning, and implementing. The main idea that is reflected here is that action research is a scientific approach, which studies the organizational and social problems along with the people who are experiencing it in reality (Elden and Chisholm).

Elden and Chisholm suggested five methods to be necessarily present in any research, which is considered to action research. These are:

  1. Action research aims to conduct a scientific enquiry into a situation, thus aiming at scientific enquiry and practical problem solving. This method aims to bring about change in order to imbibe positive social values.
  2. Action research is concerned with solving real world problem. Thus, it has its focus on wider context.
  3. Action research aims to bring about change. Therefore, it helps to collect data relevant and consequential to bring about the change. Therefore, data for action research has to be collected systematically over time and analysed in order to make sense of the data.
  4. As action research need to collect data from the real world actors experiencing the problem, therefore action researchers need to get sanction from the actors. Thus, action research is collaborative, by definition.
  5. For effective research outcomes, action research has to be written down and diffused in accordance with the social science practices.

It must be noted here that these five components of action research are essential features of action research, but there exists extensive discrepancy and diversity in contemporary action research styles (Elden and Chisholm; Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management).

The main advantage of doing action research is to increase practical relevance of business research. Business research has been previously been criticised of being too theoretical and irrelevant to practical application. Action research on the contrary studies business problems involving the people in the organization. So their relevance to the practical world cannot be dismissed (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management).

Myers has identified two disadvantages of action research. The first disadvantage of action research is its level of difficulty. It is argued that action research is “very difficult for many people to do the action and research.” (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management 62) Further action research articles are published in practitioner-oriented journal, thus indicating less value provided by business schools on this mode of research (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management). The other problem is “a tendency for action researchers to overstate the importance of the intervention in the organization and the contribution to the academic research.” (Myers 63)

Case Study Research

Case studies are extensively used in management and business teaching purpose. However, Myers makes a distinction between case study for teaching and research purpose. The former is aims to explain an existing theory, is primarily for the students while the latter is done to contribute to new theory of test/explore existing theory, and is aimed mainly to practitioners.

A case study has different meanings. It can used to describe a unit of analysis i.e. a case study of an organization, or describe a research method. According to Myers, the purpose of case study research is to “use empirical evidence from real organizations to make an original contribution to knowledge.” (73)

As already, mentioned, case study has different meanings. In simplest form, a case is that “phenomenon described is of a general category.” (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management 74) This implies that the situation of the case analysed is used to generalize the solution for others situations in similar conditions. Myers puts forth a more narrow definition of case study more application of social sciences is that “a detailed study of a single social unit” (74). Thus in this line case study may be defined as “a very detailed research enquiry into a single example (of social process, organization or collectivity) seen as a social unit in its own right and as a holistic entity.” (Payne and Payne 31)

Case study is an empirical research that concentrates on:

  • Investigating the contemporary experience in real life context, and
  • This is done especially when the boundaries between the real life experiences and context are blurred. (Yin)

Nevertheless, Myers has pointed out that the definition by Yin is generalistic and is not being appropriate for all types of business researches. Therefore, he states three main components of case study research definition:

  1. Case study must be related to a ‘firm or organization’ even when its subject matter is something else.
  2. A case study is different from ethnographic researches. Case study when it states that a case study research “does not normally involve participant observation or fieldwork” (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management 77).
  3. A case study must be philosophically neutral implying that it can be conducted according to positivist, interpretive, and critical doctrine.

Case study research method is well suited for management studies especially information systems, marketing, organizational studies, etc. There are different approaches to case study research.

First is positivist case study research, which tries to attain the requirements of positivist social science. The justification of this kind of research is done in positivist terms where hypothesis are tested through case study (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management). Yin has shown this kind of case study when he discussed the importance of validity, internal validity, external validity, and reliability. Another example of this type of research has been found in the work of Benbasat, Goldstein, and Mead. Their approach to case study in information systems has been positivists’ line.

The second type of case study is interpretive in nature. The epistemology of this type of case study is based on interpretation and construction. In other words, they assume that social reality is an outcome of social construction. An interpretive case study defines quality of research in terms of “plausibility of the story and overall argument” (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management 78). An example of interpretive case study is found in research of Walsham and Waema who studied the strategy of a construction company in the United Kingdom. The case study focuses on the social construction of reality and on the world perspective of the actors. This research is plausible and they do not justify their research in positivist terms.

The third type of case study is critical case study, which involves “critical reflection on current practices, questions taken-for-granted assumptions, and critiques the status quo based on the theories of one or more critical theorists” (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management 78). An example of such case study research is that of Myers where he used hermeneutics to help analyse his findings (Myers, A disaster for everyone to see: an interpretive analysis of a failed IS project). In these case studies, the researcher does not validate the research or vouch for the quality of the research:

Like interpretive case studies, the author does not justify the quality of the research in positivist terms. Words such as ‘validity’ and ‘reliability’, which imply an objective reality independent of social reality, are not normally used in interpretive or critical studies.” (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management 78)

Case study is one of the most popular qualitative research methods in management studies. Its popularity is due to its primary advantage, which Myers calls “face validity”, meaning that a case study represents the real story, which “most researchers can identify with” (80). As most of the cases are on contemporary issues, more firms will benefit from the case as they too may find themselves facing similar problem. Another advantage of case study is that it allows researchers to test theories in real life situations. The main disadvantage that can be identified in case study research is access to relevant information from the organization. Thus, data collection is a problem is case study research.

Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research is an in-depth method of qualitative research. Here the stress is on observation of the people for a reasonable duration and gaining insight into human, social, and organizational aspects. Ethnography allows the researcher to experience the “action”, thus allowing them the opportunity to understand the broader concept of how actors work in their environment (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management).

Spradely defined ethnographic research as:

Ethnography is an exciting enterprise. It levels what people think and shows us the cultural meanings they use daily. It is the one systematic approach in the social sciences that leads us into those separate realities which others have learned and which they use to make sense out of their words….Ethnography offers us the chance to step outside our narrow cultural backgrounds, to set aside our socially inherited ethnocentrism, if only for a brief period, and to apprehend the world from the viewpoint of other human beings who live by different meaning systems. (Spradley vii-viii)

Ethnographic research is the means of studying the phenomenon in their social and cultural context. It is a descendent from the study of social and cultural anthropology. Hence, there is a stress on the study of cultural background in the description of ethnography by Spradely. As much of the business research recently has focused on social, cultural, and organizational research, ethnographic research has become one of the resources of studying these contexts.

Ethnographic research has been adopted by many business and management researches (Suchman; Zuboff). Ethnographic research is primarily interactionist in approach. Sanders points out:

When an actor’s subjective definitions are central to the process whereby he/she chooses behaviour and these definitions arise in the context of group interaction and situational experience, a disciplined understanding of behaviour can best be achieved by tapping into cultural meanings as they are used in the immediate interaction situation. Participant observation is the predominant method employed by interactionists to achieve this goal.” (Sanders 72)

The goal of the researcher in this type of research is to become a “well-socialized member” of the actors’ social group and observe their interactions. This interaction provides the researcher direct understanding of the situation and its surroundings and enables the researcher to analyze the “complex meaning system actors use to orient their actions.” (Sanders 73) This systematic participation in the research environment allows the researcher to understand what and why people do a certain act under a particular situation (Sanders).

The advantages of ethnographic research are that (1) they are in-depth studies due to the presence of the researcher in the real situation and the information gathered are first hand, and (2) it shows that the assumptions taken by the researcher are correct or wrong. The disadvantages of ethnography are that the time duration taken to conduct a proper ethnographic study is very long. It involves a long fieldwork as well as analysing the material and writing the report. Another disadvantage of ethnographic research is its lack of breadth implying that it studies only one organization or culture. This disadvantage has been criticised stating that ethnography is in-depth only in-context to the particular situation limiting its usability to develop general models. Myer has provided an answer two the criticism stating that:

  1. The lack of generalization of the research is due to the few researches adopting this method. As more researchers adopt this method, developing a general model will become easy.
  2. Further, as it is possible to develop theory from one case study, similarly it is possible to develop theory from one ethnographic study.

Thus, ethnographic research provides the access to understanding the two basic questions in human aspect of research i.e. what people do and why they do it. Ethnographic research is used to unearth these questions, which can be answered only through interaction with the actors.

Grounded Theory

Grounded theory is a defined as a “qualitative research method that seeks to develop theory that is grounded in data systematically gathered and analysed.” (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management 106) Another definition of grounded theory is “an inductive, theory discovery methodology that allows the researcher to develop a theoretical account of the general features of a topic while simultaneously grounding the account in empirical observations or data.” (Martin and Turner 141) Glaser and Strauss defined grounded theory as an inductive research method, which helps in theory discovery using the general features of the topic and grounding the accounts from the empirical observations in theory (Glaser and Strauss). It was developed as a qualitative option of quantitative hypothesis testing.

The main difference between grounded theory and all the other qualitative theories is that grounded theory stresses that data collection and analysis should work simultaneously (Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management).

Grounded theory is useful in developing a “context-based, process-oriented descriptions and explanations of organizational phenomenon” (Myers 107). Data collection is well depicted in the research method, which allows the development of rich findings, which are closely related to the data (Orlikowski, CASE tools are organizational change: Investigating Incremental and Radical Changes in Systems Development). This feature especially important as it provides the researcher to validate any feature of the model empirically. Grounded theory is usually used in business studies to code data. The main advantage of grounded theory is that they provide tools for analysing a process (Charmaz).

From the point of view of practicality of grounded theory, it allows to build theory which when grounded in substantive investigation helps to create further research and higher degree of understanding (Douglas; Lakshman; Jones and Kriflik, Subordinate expectations of leadership within a cleaned-up bureaucracy: a grounded theory study ). However, critics believe that grounded theory is used in generic terms to indicate qualitative research wherever there is inductive analysis grounded in data (Jones and Noble). Others have criticised it for its pre-understanding status, which leads to disconnect between the coding and context (Selde´n).

Data Collection Method in Qualitative Research

Data for qualitative research can be collected through various means. Typically, interviews are a popular data collection method among researchers. Other techniques include observation of the participants, fieldwork, or archival research. Written data sources, which may be used for data collection, are published or unpublished documents, company reports, memos, letter, reports, etc. It has been suggested by researchers that qualitative data can be collected from different sources based on dramaturgical model (Denzin and Lincoln; Myers and Newman).

Modes of Analysis

A distinction is made between data collection and analysis in case of quantitative research. However, such a distinction is difficult to make in case of qualitative research (M. D. Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management). Therefore, Myer suggests that it is more appropriate to call the data analysis methods as modes of analysis rather than data analysis. These modes of analysis are actually different methods of collecting, analysing and interpreting qualitative data. Myers discussed three modes of qualitative research, which are used for business studies, which are hermeneutics, semiotics, and narrative, and metaphor approaches.

Hermeneutics is said to be a philosophy underlying a specific mode of analysis (Bleicher). Being a philosophical approach to human behaviour understanding, hermeneutics provides philosophical grounding for interpretation of the data. Hermeneutics are mainly important to understand the meaning of text analogue or text. One example of such a text analogue can be researcher trying to understand the organizational culture through oral or written documents. The main question that a hermeneutics posse is: “what is the meaning of the text?” (Radnitzky 20). According to Taylor, it may be described as:

Interpretation, in the sense relevant to hermeneutics, is an attempt to make clear, to make sense of an object of study. This object must, therefore, be a text, or a text-analogue, which in some way is confused, incomplete, cloudy, seemingly contradictory – in one way or another, unclear. The interpretation aims to bring to light an underlying coherence or sense” (Taylor 153).

Hermeneutic tradition means the tradition of understanding the text under analysis and interpretation of its parts, where descriptions are guided by expected explanations (Gadamer). This has been explained as a constant movement “from the whole to the part and back to the whole” (Gadamer 117). According to Gardner, “It is a circular relationship… The anticipation of meaning in which the whole is envisaged becomes explicit understanding in that the parts that are determined by the whole, they also determine this whole.” (Gadamer 117). As has been suggested by Ricoeur “Interpretation…is the work of thought which consists in deciphering the hidden meaning in the apparent meaning, in unfolding the levels of meaning implied in the literal meaning” (Ricoeur xiv).

Semiotics also can be treated as an underlying philosophy as well as a mode of analysis. Semiotics is more concerned with the signs and symbols of the data collected in form of language. The main idea of this is that words or signs are assigned to conceptual groups and they represent an important part of the theory that has to be tested. The importance of an idea or sign or word depends on the frequency of occurrence of it in the text being analysed. One form of semiotic is content analysis, which has been defined as “a research technique for making replicable and valid references from data to their contexts.” (Krippendorff 3) The second form of semiotic is conversation analysis, where the underlying assumption is that meanings are shaped in context of the conversation (M. D. Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management). The third form is discourse analysis where the focus is again on language and the effect it has on the listeners.

Narrative and metaphor has been historically used in literary research. They aim at telling the tale or story through the recital of facts told in first person. Social sciences have used this form of analysis in order to explain the symbolism of cultures or oral narratives or narrative and metaphor in organizations (M. D. Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management).

The above-mentioned modes of analysis are usually used in business and management research (M. D. Myers, Qualitative Research in Business & Management). There are various methods of qualitative research have been embraced by researchers in order to do away with the constraints of quantitative research. Qualitative research has become a well-adopted and accepted research methodology in business and management disciplines. They are often used in areas like organization studies, strategy, marketing (especially advertisement, consumer behaviour and communication), accounting, and management of information systems. Thus, a literature review on qualitative research will be incomplete without dwelling into the various disciplines where the research methodology has been adopted and citing various techniques used by them. The section will discuss examples of researches in business and management disciplines, which have used qualitative research methods in conducting their research.

Examples of Qualitative Research from Business Research

Qualitative research has become a popular research methodology for many disciplines of business research. The main aim of opting for a qualitative research has been to avoid the constricted outlook with which quantitative research is burdened. The objective to discover rather than to test was mostly braced with the decision to conduct a qualitative research. This section discusses the qualitative researches in business related disciplines like accounting, organizational studies, marketing, strategy, operations, and information systems, etc.

Financial studies viz. Accountancy has used qualitative research. Grey has used ethnography studies in accounting for Big Six firms (Grey, Career as a project of the self and labour process discipline; Grey, On being a proffessional in a BIG Six firm). There are other ethnographic studies, which have been conducted in accountancy discipline by Power and Coffey. Power analysed his own experience as an accountancy trainee as a retrospective while Coffey conducted an ethnographic study of the professional and organizational socialization process in the Big Six firms. Other works, which are available in the area, are by Dirsmith and Covaleski and Dirsmith, Heian and Covaleski have studies the management practice in many firms.

Ethnographic studies have been adopted in other disciplines too. According to Durante and Feehan adopted ethnographic method to conduct their research on a pharmaceutical company in order to understand the effectiveness of sales team to increase the standard sales pitch to customers and help in doing so. The research objective was “common strategy-translation” in order to reduce the discrepancy in sales department’s communication to the customers and it affects the sales of the company. They studies sales representatives in field with the aim to observe the access, approach, delivery, physician questions etc. The data collected were in form of “observer’s notes, supplemented with other types of data—such as pictures of medication sample closets, to document how samples are stored at different offices” (Durante and Feehan 14). The report presented a story of the medical sample’s journey from sales representative to the physician, and then to the patients. The recommendations suggested focus on infrastructure, education, and ‘internal development of sales messages’.

Ethnographic research has also been used for consumer research (Sanders). Sanders propounds that the use of ethnographic research method to understand consumer behaviour is apt as it will provide a deeper understanding of the social, cultural, political, etc. construct which may influence their decision to buy a product. Thus, he points out:

The strength of the phenomenological orientation lies in its attention to the subjectively held, but socially shared, meaning structures which underlie behavior. The described approach is particularly appropriate for those interested in understanding consumption as a form of social behavior. The interactionist perspective directs attention to the collective action features of consumption—buyer/seller interaction is portrayed as a process in which interactants are involved in ongoing attempts to define the “other” … and the situation. In turn, these definitions are manipulated by the Interactants in order to exercise control within the purchase situation.” (Sanders 73)

Grounded theory has been used to study organizational change by Bamford. He used grounded theory to study organizational change in a large UK based manufacturing company. He collected a large volume of data through triangulation of observation in form of field notes, interview transcripts, and documents from the company, which was gathered for a period of four years. The paper’s importance lies in its description of ‘how’ the data was collected, assembled, and analyzed after condensation. The paper clearly describes the steps taken by Bamford to conduct the research and reach the recommendation, which ultimately helped in generation of the grounded model. The paper adds another level to the data analysis stage while using grounded theory for the study of change management in organizations. Grounded theory has also been used in logistics research (Mello and Flint).

In marketing literature qualitative research been used first two decades ago by Seth which he called “multivariate revolution in marketing” who stressed on the rigidity demonstrated by classical statistical tools in testing models. A decade later Hooley demonstrated that there is a gap in the academic theory and marketing practice, which was created due to the application of quantitative methods in marketing. Hooley and Hussey showed the importance of usage of pictorial depictions and in communication of information of the data, which should enhance the marketing manager’s ability to increase, have usage of qualitative data.

Gummesson studied three themes of qualitative research in marketing i.e. analysis and interpretation, theory generation, and search for scientific pluralism. The underlying assumption of the research is that market economy is dynamic and undergoing constant structural change. He stresses that the use of qualitative data is necessary to analyze marketing data properly. Gemmesson points out: “I too have doubts about the contribution of marketing as an academic discipline and the way research is performed.” (Gummesson 309-10). He believes that “marketing decisions and actions are not just based on analyses of data, because data are mostly hard to find, hard to define, and they are incomplete” (310). He stresses on the usage of interactive research methods, which would increase the validity of marketing research.

McDonald advocates the use of qualitative research for marketing planning. He states that mane researches in marketing have blindly chose quantitative research due to the demand of the time, without judging the appropriateness of the research method. He concluded that a fieldwork qualitative research method is appropriate for marketing planning research. McDonald argues that “I viewed the qualitative stage, the interview, as the foundation on which the later research would stand, as it was only at this stage that companies would be able to describe their own experiences in their own words; at the quantitative stage, they would be able to respond only in terms of the questions on the questionnaire.” (Mcdonald 30) From the research Mcdonald devices two ways of reducing interviewer and interviewee bias which include:

  1. “One is to subject qualitative research to very rigorous and unbiased criticism from a number of referees not intimately concerned with the project” (38) and,
  2. “The chances of eliminating biases are even greater when a “multiple operations” approach is taken to the collection of data, as was the case in this study” (39)

Klein and Myers have presented a set of rules for conducting field study in information systems research. They believe that case study methodology has been widely accepted as a method for proper scientific research in information systems research. Orlikowski studied the extent to which information technology (IT) can be used in work process to form control over organizational systems. He employed a field study in an organization, which had implemented IT. They studied the impact the implementation of IT had on the production process and found that IT helped in strengthening the control mechanism in the organization. Walsham and Waema presented a case study of the implementation process of information systems (IS) in a medium-sized UK based organization. The case study was used to develop general strategy of IS implementation. Myers used critical hermeneutic method of data analysis in order to build a case study of the central payroll process in New Zealand Education Department. The case study tried to trace the implementation process and the strategic failures that led to the eventual scrapping of the program. Myers suggests critical hermeneutics to be the critical tools for study of IS implementation.

Other case study approaches which has been adopted in management of IS researches are that by Benbasat, Goldstein and Mead. They have provided suggestions to researchers who intend to undertake this method for IS research. they provide a detailed description as to how a case study has to be conducted and suggestions as to the staa colelction emtnhod, analysis and recommendation. They studied foru IS implemetions, strategy and planning relaed case studies and consluded that the IS researchers failed to “provide clear descriptions of where their topics fit in the knowledge building process.” (Benbasat, Goldstein and Mead 380). They conclude that the case study has been used a method for developing hypothesis indicating that further quantiative or qualtiative analysis is required to jsutify the research. They beleivethis would provide a clear research plan.

Shah and Corley advocated the use of a combined method i.e. both qualitative and quantitative methodology in doing organizational research. They believe that grounded theory can be extended by using both qualitative and quantitative data in order to expand the validity of the research. Other researchers who have supported the idea of using a combined methodology to produce a refine theory are Cialdini, Fine and Elsbach, Jick, and Weick. Jick combined the quantitative qualitative techniques using triangulation method and demonstrated that it yielded a more systematic approach to qualitative research and provided a more complete picture of the phenomenon. Fine and Elsbach showed how ethnography could be used in social psychology theory building. Ziednois has used qualitative research to study the ‘patent portfolio races’ in large manufacturing plants. She drew qualitative insights, which were tested by use of quantitative test. In similar lines, Gioi and Thomas approached the study of strategic change through sue of grounded theory by using in-depth interviews of actors and then tested then quantitatively. Ely studied women in top management level on organizations and studied the presence of social identity and role of demographics using both qualitative and quantitative data.


The literature review presents a detailed understanding of the qualitative research methodologies and their employability in conducting research. The review begins with a detailed understanding of qualitative research in general.

First, the historical path of qualitative research in social sciences was traced. Here the historical line identified which is: traditional (1900-1970), blurred genres (1970-1986), representation crisis (1990-1995), post-experiential examination (1995-2000), methodological contested present (2000-2004) and fractural future (2005). This section dealt with the historical evolution of qualitative research as employed in social science research and its present state, which is called “blurred genres” (Dezin and Lincoln). Moreover, it was revealed the interdisciplinary nature of the research.

A detailed review of the qualitative quantitative debate showed that quantitative research was known for its positivism and qualitative study was described as “phenomenology, Verstehen, and symbolic interactionism” (Bryman 78). It was observed that proponents of qualitative research stressed this methodology is appropriate to understand the human aspect of research. Further, there has been criticism based on paradigm, which demonstrated that the debate on epistemology is based on the different kinds of metaphoric insights required to capture the essence of the social world. Problems related to technique, data collection, and analysis was studied. The debate showed that one methodology could not be superior to other as their usage depends on the context of the research.

It was therefore concluded from the qualitative quantitative research that qualitative research’s strength lies in endeavours to resolve complexity, provide a detailed and contextual analysis. Other strengths that have been identified of this particular research method are reflexivity and flexibility (Mangen).

Qualitative research in business research has been used in various management disciplines. The review first details the methodologies and modes of analysis that has been suggested by proponents of qualitative research in business like Glaser and Strauss, Yin, Myers, Kaplan and Maxwell, Gummesson, Guba and Lincoln, Orlikowski and Baroudi, Benbasat, Goldstein, and Mead, et al. This section went on detail the philosophical aspects of qualitative research, which eventually give way to the different methods of qualitative research, detailing their usage, advantages and disadvantages. A detailed data collection process and analysis method has been indicated in the review. The next section dealt with the examples of the various qualitative researches conducted in different management disciplines like organizational studies, strategy, marketing, operations, and accountancy. The study also showed that the usage of a mixed methodology is also well accepted in business researches.


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