Business and management studies can be seen founded upon different philosophical positions, understanding of which can be seen essential to the overall quality of the study’s design. The consideration of the research philosophy in a study, not only clarifies its nature and the type of evidence required but also creates a design that might be outside of the researcher’s experience (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002, p.27). The fundamental choices in research philosophies include such contrasting directions as positivism and social constructivism. There are many points of contrast between those two philosophical positions.
However, the main point that should be indicated in the position of the observer, i.e. the research, where positivism theory implies the independence of observer from the objects observed, while in constructivism he/she should be a part of the observed (p. 30). With the constructivism approach being elaborated later in his section, the main characteristics of the positivism position in terms of the scope of this paper can be outlined through its research progress. In that regard, one of the implications of positivism is the reliance on hypotheses and deductions for the research to progress (p.30).
The realist tradition can be paralleled to positivism, in terms of the role of the observer, although including the possibility to consider the unobservable valid as well, “as long as they explain the existence or continuation of observable phenomena” (Mir and Watson, 2000, p.944). The realist tradition was seen as the dominant position in strategy research, adding to the understanding of many fundamental issues in strategic management, and serving as the basis for many theories that influenced such field (p.945). One of the underlying principles of the realist tradition is the deployment of reason in proving or refuting a theory.
The Constructivist Tradition
Analyzing the constructivist approach, it can be stated that its suitability for the context of business and management research is founded upon its view on research progress. In that regard, the ideas are induced through gathering rich data and including the complexity of the whole situation. Considering the interrelatedness of the business and managerial processes with the external environment, such a factor is influential. Accordingly, one of the advantages of such an approach can be seen in incorporating the observer into the objects observed (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002, p.30), which in the case of the present study might seem like an obstacle, considering the nature of the research.
On the other hand, it can be stated that such involvement implies social constructionism, in which the opinion held implies that the reality is socially constructed (Mir and Watson, 2000). The latter, nevertheless, can be separated into an attached and detached research, the latter of which can be applicable in this case. Accordingly, the design methods derived from such division include a case method and ethnography as appropriate designs (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002, p.57).
Qualitative vs. Quantitative
Those methods are qualitative, and in that regard, the preference for a qualitative approach over a quantitative is apparent through several considerations, based on the purpose of each approach. Considering the aims of the study that include studying the factors impacting the retail industry, the difficulties of the sector, and the company’s development, it can be stated that such aspects are related to the investigation of a phenomenon through its context.
Defining qualitative methods in terms of their purposes, they can be viewed as “an array of interpretive techniques which seek to describe, decode, translate and otherwise come to terms with the meaning, not the frequency, of certain more or less naturally occurring phenomena in the social world” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002, p.85).
The quantitative techniques, on the other hand, require that the evidence should be identified, and even though such techniques are established in the psyche of the scientific community as the most valid (Remenyi and Williams, 1998, p.134), such techniques imply that the evidence regarding a phenomenon is sufficient to establish a hypothesis that should be tested. In the case of the objectives of the present dissertation, the lack of information prevents the conceptualization of the problem presented in the study (Holden and Lynch, 2004).
The Research Strategy
The method and the nature of the qualitative data collection can define through the strategy of the research. The strategy was suggested according to the constructivist tradition to be either case study or ethnography. The purpose of ethnography in the context of business research can be seen in providing an insight into human, social, and organizational aspects of business organizations (Myers, 2009, p.92). If dividing the forces on an organization between internal and external, it can be stated that ethnography is concerned with the internal context, being “inward-looking, aiming to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants (Cohen and Court, 2003).
With the aims of the present study to investigate the phenomenon within the context of the retail industry, it can be stated that the focus is on the external environment, rather than the internal. In that regard, the constructivist approach might include both types of analysis, i.e. uncover the specific historical and discursive circumstances or focusing on the phenomenon as a consequence of unique internal factors (Mir and Watson, 2000, p.948). However, it can be stated that ethnography is not appropriate in this case, where the provided data of “insider knowledge” has little use considering that the topic of the study is concerned with the recession.
The case study, on the other hand, defined as “a strategy for doing a research which involves an empirical investigation of a particular contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context” (Saunders et al., 2009, p.145), is looking outward, “aiming to delineate the nature of phenomena through detailed investigation of individual cases and their contexts” (Cohen and Court, 2003). The main criticism of such approach can be seen in its inability to provide a basis for a scientific generalization, which in that regard, was never within the aims of this study, being focused on the retail industry, and the case of Subhiksha Company in particular. Lacking the possibility to control the studied events, the case study approach for such case, and accordingly was selected as a research approach.
Types of Data
The study will use secondary data, where the context of the research implies that the original resources are the interviews with the people affiliated with the company or the industry. With the latter being difficult to achieve, the rationale of using secondary data can be seen basically like the only option in this case, as it is the only source in researches requiring national and international comparisons (Saunders et al., 2009).
The only exception, in this case, can be seen in the interview with Subramaniam, whose primary source, although the publication of this interview might serve as an intermediary, and thus, the interview might be considered as secondary data as well. In that regard, the data collected is multiple-source secondary data, mostly area-based (Saunders et al., 2009). The source of the data is mostly the internet, using which the case study will be compiled, while the theoretical foundation for the study will vary between books and scholarly articles. In terms of internet sources, all of them will be assessed on a credibility basis.
Accordingly, it should be stated that all of the information collected, which will form the case study is to be obtained from public resources, which will ensure that no ethical principles will be violated. The latter is concerned with such aspects as the invasion of privacy and harm to participants, both of which are absent in this study. No personal data will be used in this study, except the data which is/made public by parties unaffiliated with the researcher.
The limitations and the shortcomings of the research methodology chosen for the study are general for the selected strategy, i.e. case study, which is the inability for generalization. Accordingly, the lack of primary sources might be considered as a limitation, where an interview as a primary source would have helped in providing rich data, specifically considering the episodic nature of an aspect of the studied phenomenon, i.e. the recession. Such aspects can be minimized through obtaining diverse secondary data, combining retrospective information with newer information to enrich the data, provide multiple perspectives and avoid bias.
The present study aims to understand the retail industry in India, the factors influencing the subject of the investigation, Subhiksha Company, as well as its development pattern, within the context of the recent recession. A constructivist approach, combined with a case study strategy will be used to collect secondary qualitative data to provide an insight into the phenomenon of the fall of the retail giant. Such insight will help to shape recommendations for the company to reverse its downfall.
The development of a strategy for an organization is based on the ability to assess the external and internal environment in which the organization operates. An accepted method of analyzing the internal strengths and weaknesses of an organization is Porter’s Five-Forces Model, an analysis that assesses the competitiveness of the industry in which an organization operates (Porter, 2008). Such an approach might be seen as a long-term strategic development model, which might not consider the need for quick shifts in strategic directions under the influence of such a phenomenon as a recession.
Nevertheless, the usefulness of such toll might be seen not in shaping a strategic direction, but in its ability to provide an assessment of the industry, so the company can assess its overall health as well as its position (Porter, 2008, p.4). In stable environments, it can be stated that the usage of Porter’s model is largely justified through the creation of a long-term plan. However, in a constantly changing environment, either due to its regulatory nature or due to demand shifts caused by economic conditions, such a strategy might be viewed as ineffective.
On the opposite side for such an approach, a more adaptive model for strategic development can be used, which can be seen through the contributions made by Hofer and Schendel (1978), Steiner (1979), and Mintzberg (1978) (Rabin et al., 2000). The distinctive feature of such a model is its ability to form the strategy as a response to the external environment, in which the organization operates (Rabin et al., 2000).
The organization in such a model is viewed as a biological organism, which does not deal with the environment, but change with it. The rationale of such a model lies in the fact that the development of a long-term strategy might not be practicable, a conclusion that might be reached in light of the recent recession. Managing a strategy, rather than planning a strategy is one of the paradigm shifts resulting from the adaptive model (Rabin et al., 2000).
A general framework for strategic management was provided in Chaffee (1985), cited in (Johnson, 1988), and which included three generic categories. The adaptive model described earlier is a single category in such a framework, which the main characteristic is its focus on incremental strategy change. Under such a framework, the nature of the adaptation can be described as “satisficing behavior in a political, or programmed, context or within the cognitive limits of management” (Johnson, 1988, p.78). Incrementalism is a notion that has several explanatory accounts, among which the following definitions might be found useful:
[A] management learning process
[T]he outcome of the political and social processes in the organizations
[A] cognitive process… in which collective managerial cognition results in enactment, selection and retention processes… that take form in incremental processes of strategic change (Johnson, 1988, p.75)
An interesting point in the analysis of incrementalism is its applicability for explaining the strategic changes within an industry similar to that of the present study, which is the retail industry, in the context of a recession albeit in the UK. In that regard, it was found that within the phenomenon of incrementalism, a constructive tension should exist for the effective management of strategy.
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