Understanding research philosophies and approaches
Category : Required Readings
At Thinking Made Easy, we will help you finish your thesis by
Understandin reseraand approaches4
By the end of this chapter you should:
➔define the key terms epistemology, ontology and axiology and explain their
relevance to business research;
➔explain the relevance for business research of philosophical perspectives
such as positivism, realism, pragmatism, interpretivism, objectivism, and
➔understand the main research paradigms which are significant for business
➔distinguish between main research choices: deductive and inductive.
➔state your own epistemological, ontological and axiological positions.
Much of this book is concerned with the way in which you collect data to answer your
research question. You are not unusual if you begin thinking about your research by considering
whether you should, for example, administer a questionnaire or conduct interviews.
However, thoughts on this question belong in the centre of the research ‘onion’,
by which means we have chosen to depict the issues underlying the choice of data collection
techniques and analysis procedures in figure 4.1. Before coming to this central
point we argue that there are important layers of the onion that need to be peeled away.
Indeed, some writers, such as (1994), argue that questions of
research methods are of secondary importance to questions of which paradigm is applicable
to your research (we deal with paradigms later in this chapter). They note:
‘both qualitative and quantitative methods may be used appropriately with any research paradigm.
Questions of method are secondary to questions of paradigm, which we define as the
basic belief system or world view that guides the investigation, not only in choices of method
but in ontologically and epistemologically fundamental ways’.
In 2003 the British Medical Journal reported
that the leading independent medical journal,
The Lancet, last week took the unprecedented
step of accusing a major European pharmaceutical
company, of sponsoring biased
research into its new anti cholesterol drug.
In his editorial in The Lancet,
, the journal's editor, said the company's
tactics ‘raise disturbing questions about
how drugs enter clinical practice and what
measures exist to protect patients from inadequately
investigated medicines’. He accused
the clinical trials, which investigated the efficacy of the new drug, of including ‘weak data’, ‘adventurous statistics’,
and ‘marketing dressed up as research’. The editorial argued ‘physicians must tell their patients the truth
about the drug, that, compared with competitors, it has an inferior evidence base supporting its safe use’.
In the same edition of The Lancet the company issued a furious response. ‘Regulators, doctors, and patients
as well as my company have been poorly served by your flawed and incorrect editorial,’ wrote the CEO. He said
that he deplored the fact that a respected scientific journal should make such an outrageous critique of a serious,
well studied, and important medicine.
This chapter is concerned principally with the first two of the onion’s layers: research
philosophy and research choice. In the next chapters we examine what we call research
strategy, approaches and time horizons. The sixth layer, data collection techniques and
analysis procedures are dealt with in Chapters 7–13.
Figure 4.1The research onion
In this first part of the chapter we examine research philosophy. This overarching term
relates to the development of knowledge and the nature of that knowledge. At first reading
this sounds rather profound. But the point is that this is precisely what you are doing
when embarking on research- developing knowledge in a particular field. The knowledge
development you are embarking upon may not be as dramatic as a new theory of motivation.
But even if the purpose has the relatively modest ambition of answering a specific
problem in a particular organisation it is, nonetheless, developing new knowledge.
The research philosophy you adopt contains important assumptions about the way in
which you view the world. These assumptions will underpin your research strategy and
the methods you choose as part of that strategy. In part, the philosophy you adopt will
be influenced by practical considerations. However, the main influence is likely to be
your particular view of the relationship between knowledge and the process by which it
is developed. The researcher who is concerned with facts, such as the resources needed
in a manufacturing process, is likely to have a very different view on the way research
should be conducted to the researcher concerned with the feelings and attitudes of the
workers towards their managers in that same manufacturing process. Not only will their
strategies and methods probably differ considerably, but so will their views on what is
important and, perhaps more significantly, what is useful.
In this discussion we examine three major ways of thinking about research
philophosy: epistemology, ontology and axiology. Each contain important differences
which will influence the way in which you think about the research process. This is the
purpose of this chapter. It is not to offer a shopping list from which you may wish to
choose that philosophy or approach that suits you best. It is to enhance your understanding
of the way in which we approach the study of our particular field of activity.
Epistemology concerns what constitutes acceptable knowledge in a field of study. The
most important distinction is one hinted at above in our example of two researchers’
views of what they consider important in the study of the manufacturing process. The
researcher (the ‘resources’ researcher) who considers data on resources needed is likely to
be more akin to the position of the natural scientist. This may be the position of the operations
management specialist who is comfortable with the collection and analysis of
‘facts’. For that researcher, reality is represented by objects that are considered to be ‘real’,
such as computers, trucks and machines. These objects have a separate existence to that
of the researcher and for that reason, this researcher would argue that the data collected
are far less open to bias and therefore more ‘objective’. The ‘resources’ researcher would
place much less authority in the data collected by the ‘feelings’ researcher, who is concerned
with the feelings and attitudes of the workers towards their managers in that same
manufacturing process. The ‘resources’ researcher would view the objects studied by the
‘feelings’ researcher - feelings and attitudes, as social phenomena which have no external
reality. They cannot be seen, measured and modified like computers, trucks and
machines. You may argue, of course, that human feelings can be, and frequently are,
measured. Indeed the ‘resources’ researcher may place more authority on such data were
it to be presented in the form of a table of statistical data. This would lend the data more
objectivity in the view of the ‘resources’ researcher. But this raises the question of
whether those data presented in statistical form is any more deserving of authority than
those presented in a narrative, which may be the choice of the ‘feelings’ researcher.
The ‘resources’ researcher is embracing what is called the positivist position to the
development of knowledge whereas the ‘feelings’ researcher is adopting the interpretivist
perspective. We deal with both in the next section on epistemology, as well as the stance
of the researcher taking the position of the realist and the pragmatist.
If your research philosophy reflects the principles of positivism then you will probably
adopt the philosophical stance of the natural scientist. You will prefer ‘working with an
observable social reality and that the end product of such research can be law-like generalisations
similar to those produced by the physical and natural scientists’ (1993)
Like the ‘resources’ researcher earlier, only phenomena that you can observe will lead
to the production of credible data. To generate a research strategy to collect these data you
are likely to use existing theory to develop hypotheses. These hypotheses will be tested
and confirmed, in whole or part, or refuted, leading to the further development of theory
which may then be tested by further research.
The development of hypotheses
Brett was conducting a piece of research for his dissertation on the economic benefits of
working from home of software developers. He studied the literature on home working in
general and read in detail two past dissertations in his university library that dealt with the
same phenomenon, albeit that they did not relate specifically to software developers. As
a result of his reading Brett developed a number of theoretical propositions, each of which
contained specific hypotheses. Listed below is that which Brett developed in relation to
potential increased costs, which may negate the economic gains of home working.
Theoretical proposition: Increased costs may negate the productivity gains from home
1 Increased costs for computer hardware, software and telecommunications equipment
will negate the productivity gains from home working.
2 Home workers will require additional support from on-site employees, e.g. technicians,
which will negate the productivity gains from home working.
3 Work displaced to other employees and/or increased supervisory requirements will
negate the productivity gains from home working.
4 Reduced face-to-face access by home workers with colleagues will result in lost opportunities
to increase efficiencies, which will negate the productivity gains from home
Box 4.1 WORKED EXAMPLE
The hypotheses developed, as in Box 4.1 lead to the gathering of facts that provide the
basis for subsequent hypothesis testing. Both the examples we have cited so far, that of
the ‘resources’ researcher and Brett in Box 4.1 will be concerned with facts rather than
impressions. Such facts are consistent with the notion of ‘observable social reality’ similar
to that employed by the physical and natural scientists to which we referred in
(1998) definition earlier.
Another important component of the positivist approach to research is that the
research is undertaken, as far as possible, in a value-free way. At first sight this is a plausible
position, particularly when one contrasts the perspective of the ‘resources’
researcher with the ‘feelings’ researcher in our earlier example. The ‘resources’ researcher
would claim to be external to the process of data collection in the sense that there is little
that can be done to alter the substance of the data collected. The assumption is that
‘the researcher is independent of and neither affects nor is affected by the subject of the
research’ (Remenyi et al., 1998:33). After all, the ‘resources’ researcher cannot change the
fact that there are five trucks and ten computers. In Box 4.1 Brett would collect data that
would facilitate the estimation of quantitative cost estimates and allow the hypotheses
to be tested. The ‘resources’ researcher’s claim to be value free is, on the face of it, rather
stronger than that of the ‘feelings’ researcher. It may be argued that the ‘feelings’
researcher is part of the data collection process. It would be normal for at least part of the
process of data collection on the feelings and attitudes of the workers towards their managers
would include the personal involvement of the ‘feelings’ researcher with those
workers. A personal interview, for example, will involve the ‘feelings’ researcher framing
the questions to ask and interpreting the respondent’s examples. It is hard to imagine
that the ‘feelings’ researcher would ask every respondent exactly the came question in
exactly the same way and interpret every response with computer like consistency. The
‘feelings’ researcher is a human not an automaton.
You may argue, of course, that, complete freedom from the inclusion of our own values
as researchers is impossible. Even the researcher seeking to adopt a decided positivist
stance exercises choice in the issue to study, the research objectives to pursue and the
data to collect. Indeed, it could be argued that the decision to adopt a seemingly value
free perspective suggests the existence of a certain value position.
It is frequently advocated that the positivist researcher will be likely to use a highly
structured methodology in order to facilitate replication (Gill and Johnson, 2002).
Furthermore, the emphasis will be on quantifiable observations that lend themselves to
statistical analysis. However, as you read through this chapter and the next you will note
that this may not necessarily be the case since it is perfectly possible to adopt some of
the characteristics of positivism in your research, for example, hypothesis testing, and
use largely qualitative methods.
Realism is another epistemological position which relates to scientific enquiry. The
essence of realism is that what the senses show us as reality is the truth: that objects have
an existence independent of the human mind. The theory of realism is that there is a
reality quite independent of the mind. In this sense, realism is opposed to idealism, the
theory that only the mind and its contents exist. Realism is a branch of epistemology
which is similar to positivism in that it assumes a scientific approach to the development
of knowledge. This assumption underpins the collection of data and the understanding
of those data.
This meaning (and in particular the relevance of realism for business and management
research) becomes clearer when two forms of realism are contrasted.
The first type of realism is direct realism. Direct realism says that what you see is what
you get: what we experience through our senses portrays the world accurately. The second
kind of realism is called critical realism. Critical realists argue that what we experience
are sensations, the images of the things in the real world, not the things directly.
Critical realists point out how often our senses deceive us. For example, when you next
watch an international rugby or cricket match on television you are likely to see an advertisement
for the sponsor in a prominent position on the actual playing surface. This looks
like it is standing upright on the field. However, this is an illusion. It is in fact painted on
the grass. So what we really see are sensations, which are representations of what is real.
The direct realist would respond to the critical realist that what we call illusions are
actually due to the fact that we have insufficient information. We don’t perceive the
world in television images. We move around, move our eyes and ears, use all our senses.
In the case of the television advertisement, the complete experience of it would include
seeing it from all directions and angles.
A simple way to think about the difference between direct and critical realism is as follows.
Critical realism claims that there are two steps to experiencing the world. First
there is the thing itself and the sensations it conveys. Second, there is the mental processing
that goes on sometime after that sensation meets our senses. Direct realism says
that the first step is enough. To pursue our cricket (or rugby) example, the umpire who
is the critical realist would say about his umpiring decisions: ‘I give them as I see them!’
The umpire who is a direct realist would say ‘I give them as they are!’
Business and management research is concerned with the social world in which we
live. So you may agree with writers such as (1989) who identify with the critical
realist epistemology. Their argument is that as researchers we will only be able to understand
what is going on in the social world if we understand the social structures that have
given rise to the phenomena that we are trying to understand. In other words, what we
see is only part of the bigger picture. (1989) argues that we can identify what we
don’t see through the practical and theoretical processes of the social sciences.
Thus the critical realist’s position is that our knowledge of reality is a result of social conditioning
(e.g. we know that if the rugby player runs into the advertisement that is standing up he will
fall over!) and cannot be understood independently of the social actors involved in the knowledge
derivation process. (2002).
A further important point needs to be made about the distinction between direct and
critical realism, both of which are important in relation to the pursuit of business and
management research. The first relates the capacity of research to change the world
which it studies. The direct realist perspective would suggest the world is relatively
unchanging: that it operates, in the business context, at one level (the individual, the
group or the organisation). The critical realist, on the other hand, would recognize the
importance of multi-level study (for example, at the level of the individual, the group
and the organisation). Each of these levels has the capacity to change the researcher’s
understanding of that which is being studied. This would be the consequence of the existence
of a greater variety of structures, procedures and processes and the capacity that
these structures, procedures and processes have to interact with one another. We would
therefore argue that the critical realist’s position that the social world is constantly
changing is much more in line with the purpose of business and management research
which is to often to understand the reason for phenomena as a precursor to recommending
Ageing is not all bowls, bingo and ballroom dancing
Look at television news stories about pensions and pensioners
and you are likely to see images of people playing
bowls, bingo and ballroom dancing. It seems that we
have been conditioned socially to associate older people
with activities such as these.
However, in January 2006 research results will be published
in the UK which defines segments or niches within
the older age group. These are not about age but
about different life events, such as becoming a grandparent,
finding new love, retirement, getting a new job, or
coping with bereavement. The difference is that in the
1950s, today’s 50- and 60-year-olds were the ‘first’
teenagers, and as such are no carbon copies of their own
Research from international design consultancy Ideo
into this age group backs these findings up. It found that
targeting older people alienates older people, too. It recommended
talking to their interests and aspirations, not
their age. Age, the agency concluded, is increasingly an
irrelevance. So advertising and marketing that highlight
these life events is becoming more popular instead.
Saatchi and Saatchi’s campaign for Ameriprise Financial
in the US focuses on the idea that the baby boomer generation
will approach retirement very differently to previous
generations. Instead of using actors, Saatchi and
Saatchi featured true stories of people from that generation,
in an attempt to demonstrate their individuality.
Older celebrities, too, are not living up to the ageing
stereotypes, and that makes them ideal spokespeople
for this generation. US-based Fidelity Investments, for
example, has appointed Paul McCartney as spokesperson.
This may strike some consumers as a bizarre move
for the ex-Beatle, but with his second wife and new baby,
Mr. McCartney is seen as a realistic example of a 20th
century man in his 60s.
But not all the blame for older people being ignored
and patronised can be laid at the feet of the advertising
and marketing industries. They may have a lot of money
– they represent 50 per cent of total consumer spending
in the US – but they are not always in a rush to spend it.
The biggest change for the ad industry to embrace is
that the so-called “grey market” is no minority group. By
2041, more than 20m people in the UK will be over 60 –
or 37 per cent of the population.
It seems that the grey market was the niche market.
But as one researcher pointed out ‘it’s now more mainstream,
and the upshot is that youth has become the
Box 4.2 RESEARCH IN THE NEWS
You may be critical of the positivist tradition and argue that the social world of business
and management is far too complex to lend itself to theorising by definite ‘laws’ in the
same way as the physical sciences. Those researchers critical of positivism argue that rich
insights into this complex world are lost if such complexity is reduced entirely to a series
of law-like generalisations. If you sympathise with such a view your research philosophy
is likely to be nearer to that of the interpretivist.
Interpretivism is an epistemology that advocates that it is necessary for the researcher
to understand differences between humans in our role as social actors. This emphasises
the difference between conducting research among people rather than objects such as
trucks and computers. The term ‘social actors’ is quite significant here. The metaphor of
the theatre suggests that as humans we play a part in on the stage of human life. In theatrical
productions, actors play a part which they interpret in a particular way (which
may be their own or that of the director) and act out their part in accordance with this
interpretation. In the same way we interpret our everyday social roles in accordance with
the meaning we give to these roles. In addition, we interpret the social roles of others in
accordance with our own set of meanings.
The heritage of this strand of interpretivism comes from two intellectual traditions:
phenomenology and symbolic interactionism (see chapter 9). Phenomenology refers
to the way in which we as humans make sense of the world around us. In symbolic interactionism
we are in a continual process of interpreting the social world around us (see
Box 4.3) in that we interpret the actions of others with whom we interact and this interpretation
leads to adjustment of our own meanings and actions.
Crucial to the interpretivist epistemology is that the researcher has to adopt an empathetic
stance. The challenge here is to enter the social world of our research subjects and
understand their world from their point of view.
Some would argue that an interpretivist perspective is highly appropriate in the case
of business and management research, particularly in such fields as organisational behaviour,
marketing and human resource management. Not only are business situations complex,
they are also unique. They are a function of a particular set of circumstances and
individuals. This immediately raises questions about the generalisability of research that
aims to capture the rich complexity of social situations. However, the interpretivist
would argue that generalisability is not of crucial importance. We are constantly being
told of the ever-changing world of business organisations. If we accept that the circumstances
of today may not apply in three months’ time then some of the value of generalisation
is lost. Similarly, if we accept that all organisations are unique, that too renders
generalisation less valuable.
The motivation of knowledge workers in The Japanese financial
In their 2002 Journal of Knowledge Management study use an interpretive epistemology
to study the motivation of knowledge workers in the Japanese financial services
industry. This, they felt, was a particularly interesting study in view of the fact that businesses
in Japan are being prompted to change their structure and management style with the rapid liberalisation
and the world-wide development of information technology. The traditional Japanese
management model, based on life-time employment and seniority-based salary systems, is
under threat from “westernisation” of the financial industry.
Kubo and Saka’s research is based on two data sources:
1 structured one and a half and two hours telephone interviews;
2 the primary researcher’s own on-site observations during her five year long employment as
a company analyst in a securities company.
Kubo and Saka’s research shows that there are three major factors that have an impact on
Japanese knowledge workers’ motivation to be committed to working at the same financial firm
for a long span of time. These are: monetary incentives, human resource development or personal
growth, and job autonomy or task achievement. Kubo and Saka conclude that these findings
raise considerable concerns about the ability of the traditional Japanese management
model to meet the expectations of their knowledge workers.
Box 4.3FOCUS ON MANAGEMENT RESEARCH
We noted earlier that epistemology concerns what constitutes acceptable knowledge in a
field of study. The key epistemological question is ‘can the approach to the study of the
social world, including that of management and business, be the same as the approach
to studying the natural sciences?’ The answer to that question points the way to the
acceptability of the knowledge developed from the research process.
Ontology, on the other hand, is concerned with the nature of reality. To a greater
extent than epistemological considerations, this raises questions of the assumptions
researchers have about the way the world operates and the commitment held to particular
views. The two aspects of ontology we describe here will both have their devotees
among business and management researchers. In addition, both are likely to be accepted
as producing valid knowledge by many researchers.
The first aspect of ontology we discuss is objectivism. This portrays the position that
social entities exist in reality external to social actors concerned with their existence. The
second aspect, subjectivism, holds that social phenomena are created from the perceptions
and consequent actions of those social actors concerned with their existence.
This portrays the position that social entities exist in reality external to social actors. An
example of this may be management itself (see Box 4.4). You may argue that management
is an objective entity and decide to adopt an objectivist stance to the study of particular
aspect of management in a specific organisation. In order to substantiate your view you
would say that the managers in your organisation have job descriptions which prescribe
their duties, there are operating procedures to which they are supposed to adhere, they are
part of a formal structure which locates them in a hierarchy with people reporting to them
and they in turn report to more senior managers. You may argue that managers in the
A management exodus at On Tology
As part of a major organisational change all the managers in the marketing department of
the chemical manufacturer On Tology left the organisation. They were replaced by new
managers who were thought to be more in tune with the more commercially aggressive
new culture that the organisation was trying to create.
The new managers entering the organisation filled the roles of the managers who had
left and had essentially the same job duties and procedures as their predecessors.
John wanted to study the role of management in On Tology and in particular the way in
which managers liaised with external stakeholders. He decided to use the new managers
in the marketing department as his research subjects.
In his research proposal he decided to write a little about his research philophosy. He
defined his ontological position as that of the objectivist. His reasoning was that management
in On Tology had a reality that was separate from the managers that inhabit that reality.
He pointed to the fact that the formal management structure at On Tology was largely
unchanged from that which was practised by the managers that had left the organisation.
The process of management would continue in largely the same way in spite of the change
Box 4.4 WORKED EXAMPLE
organisation where you are studying are different to managers in another organisation.
For example, their duties may differ, and this points to the notion of management in your
organisation being the creation of those social actors concerned with its creation, that is
the managers themselves. But this is to miss the point that management in your organisation
has a reality that is separate from the managers that inhabit that reality.
The subjectivist view is that social phenomena are created from the perceptions and
consequent actions of social actors. What is more, this is a continual process in that
through the process of social interaction these social phenomena are in a constant state
(1998) stress the necessity to study ‘the details of the situation to
understand the reality or perhaps a reality working behind them’. This is often associated
with the term constructionism, or social constructionism. This follows from the
interpretivist position that it is necessary to explore the subjective meanings motivating
the actions of social actors in order for the researcher to be able to understand these
actions. Social constructionism views reality as being socially constructed. Social actors,
such as the customers you may plan to study in your organisation, may place many different
interpretations on the situations in which they find themselves. So individual customers
will perceive different situations in varying ways as a consequence of their own
view of the world. These different interpretations are likely to affect their actions and the
nature of their social interaction with others. In this sense, the customers you are studying
not only interact with their environment, they also seek to make sense of it through
their interpretation of events and the meanings that they draw from these events. In turn
their own actions may be seen by others as being meaningful in the context of these
socially constructed interpretations and meanings. Therefore, in the case of the customers
you are studying, it is therefore your role as the researcher to seek to understand
the subjective reality of the customers in order to be able to make sense of and understand
their motives, actions and intentions in a way that is meaningful.
All this is some way from the position that customer service in an organisation has a
reality that is separate from the customers that receive that reality. The subjectivist view
is that customer service is produced through the social interaction between service
providers and customers and is continually being revised as a result of this. In other
words, at no time is there a definitive entity called ‘customer service’. It is constantly
This objectivist- subjectivist debate is somewhat similar to the different ways in which
the theoretical and practical approaches to organisational culture have developed in
recent years. (1983) noted that objectivists would tend to view the culture of an
organisation as something that the organisation ‘has’. On the other hand the subjectivist’s
view would be that culture is something that the organisation ‘is’ as a result as a
process of continuing social enactment. Management theory and practice has leaned
towards treating organisation culture as a variable, something that the organisation ‘has’:
something that can be manipulated, changed in order to produce the sort of state desired
by managers. The subjectivist viewpoint would be to reject this as too simplistic and
argue that culture is something that is created and re-created through a complex array of
phenomena which includes social interactions, physical factors such as office layout to
which individual attach certain meanings, rituals and myths. It is the meanings that are
attached to these phenomena by social actors within the organisation that need to be
understood in order for the culture to be understood. Furthermore, because of the con
tinual creation and re-creation of an organisation’s culture it is difficult for it to be isolated,
understood and then manipulated.
It is unavoidable that the debates on both epistemology and ontology have had a competitive
ring to them. The debate is often framed in terms of a choice between either the
positivist or the interpretivist research philosophy. Even if you accept the
(1994) argument we noted earlier, that questions of method are secondary to
questions of epistemology and ontology, you would still be excused for thinking that
choosing between one position or the other is somewhat unrealistic in practice. If this is
your view then you would be adopting the position of the pragmatist. Pragmatism argues
that the most important determinant of the research philosophy adopted is the research
question- one approach may be ‘better’ than the other for answering particular questions.
Moreover, if the research question does not suggest unambiguously that either a
positivist or interpretivist philosophy is adopted this confirms the pragmatist’s view that
it is perfectly possible to work with both philosophies. This mirrors a theme which recurs
in this book. This is that mixed methods, both qualitative and quantitative, are possible,
and possibly highly appropriate, within one study (see section 5.4).
(1998) suggest that it is more appropriate for the researcher in a particular study
to think of the philosophy adopted as a continuum rather than opposite positions. They
note that ‘at some points the knower and the known must be interactive, while at others,
one may more easily stand apart from what one is studying (1998)
contend that pragmatism is intuitively appealing, largely
because it avoids the researcher engaging in what they see as rather pointless debates
about such concepts as truth and reality. In their view you should ‘study what interests
you and is of value to you, study in the different ways in which you deem appropriate,
and use the results in ways that can bring about positive consequences within your value
Axiology is a branch of philosophy that studies judgments about value. Although this
may include values we posess in the fields of aesthetics and ethics, it is the process of
social enquiry with which we are concerned here. The role that your own values play in
all stages of the research process is of great importance if you wish your research results
to be credible. This is why we think it is worth noting this important topic here, particularly
through the example in Box 4.5.
(1996) argues that our values are the guiding reason of all human action. He
further argues that researchers demonstrate axiological skill by being able to articulate
their values as a basis for making judgements about what research they are conducting
and how they go about doing it. After all, at all stages in the research process you will be
demonstrating your values. The example in Box 4.5 illustrates the relevance of values in
research topic selection. Choosing one topic rather than another suggests that you think
one of the topics is more important. Your choice of philosophical approach is a reflection
of your values as is your choice of data collection techniques. For example, to conduct a
study where you place great importance in data collected through interview work suggests
that you value personal interaction with your respondents more highly than their
anonymous views expressed through survey data.
An interesting idea which comes from (1996) discussion of axiology is the possibility
of writing your own statement of personal values in relation to the topic you are
studying. This may be more evidently applicable to some research topics than others.
Those topics concerned with personal career development, for example, may be obvious
candidates for this process. For example, it would be an issue of personal value that it is
the responsibility of the individual to take charge of her own career development. In
areas of finance it may be a strongly held value of the researcher that as much information
as possible should be available to as many stakeholders as possible.
A statement of values may be of use both to you as the researcher and those parties
with whom you have contact in your research. The use to you would be a result of your
‘being honest with yourself’ about quite what your values are. This would, for example,
heighten your awareness of value judgments you are making in drawing conclusions
from your data. These value judgments may lead to the drawing of conclusions which
may be different from those drawn by researchers with other values. Other relevant parties
connected with your research may include any fellow researchers, your supervisor
and the university research ethics committee. This latter body may be of particular relevance
to thoughts about the role of values in research topic choice and ways of pursuing
research. Being clear about your own value position may help you in deciding what is
appropriate ethically and arguing your position in the event of queries about decisions
you have made. Chapter six goes into more detail about research ethics.
It’s good to talk: but to drive at the same time?
There are some research topics which, by their very
nature, are certain to arouse strong emotions. Therefore
it is difficult to see how the research can be approached
in a value free way. For example, who would argue that
endangering life while using a mobile phone when driving
is something that we do not have an opinion about?
Recent research by researchers at the University of
Western Australia suggests that drivers are four times
more likely to crash when using mobile phones, even if
they use hands-free kits.
They reached their estimates by looking at the phone
bill records of 456 drivers needing hospital treatment
after road crashes in Perth, Australia.
For each driver, the researchers assessed phone use
immediately before a crash and on trips at the same
time of day 24 hours, three days, and seven days before
the crash for comparison. Mobile phone use in the 10
minutes before a crash was associated with a four-fold
increased likelihood of crashing. This finding was irrespective
of whether the driver was using a hand-held or
hands-free phone. Similar results were found for the
interval up to five minutes before a crash.
and colleagues from the
University of Western Australia said: "More and more
new vehicles are being equipped with hands-free
"Although this may lead to fewer hand-held phones
used while driving in the future, our research indicates
that this may not eliminate the risk. Indeed, if this new
technology increases mobile phone use in cars, it could
contribute to even more crashes."
A spokesman from the UK Royal Society for the
Prevention of Accidents said: "This is exactly what we
have said and have known for some time. "We hope
that the people who callously think that their phone call
is more important than somebody's life will get the
message eventually when they see more and more
research like this." He said the current ban on using
hand-held mobiles while driving in the UK, which can
carry the penalty of a fine and in the future possibly also
penalty points on the driver's license, should be
extended to hands-free phones. They said a possible
solution might be to change mobile phones so that they
cannot be used when vehicles are in motion, but added
that industry was unlikely to embrace this.
Box 4.5 RESEARCH IN THE NEWS
To draw this section on research philosophies together we explore research philosophy
further through the concept of research paradigms. Paradigm is a term frequently used
in the social sciences, but one which can lead to confusion because it tends to have multiple
meanings. The definition we use here is that as paradigm is a way of examining
social phenomena from which particular understandings of these phenomena can be
gained and explanations attempted.
In our view the work of (1979) is particularly helpful in summarising
and clarifying the epistemologies and ontologies we have covered above. In
addition, these writers have offered a categorisation of social science paradigms which
can be used in management and business research to generate fresh insights into real life
issues and problems.
In figure 4.2 we illustrate the four paradigms: functionalist; interpretive; radical
humanist; and radical structuralist. Figure 4.2 shows that the four paradigms are arranged
to correspond to four conceptual dimensions: radical change and regulatory and subjectivist
and objectivist. The latter two terms are familiar to you from our discussion of
ontology in the previous section. In relation to business and management, radical
change relates to a judgment about the way organisational affairs should be conducted
and suggests ways in which these affairs may be conducted in order to make fundamental
changes to the normal order of things. In short, the radical change dimension adopts
a critical perspective on organisational life. The regulatory perspective is less judgmental
and critical. Regulation seeks to explain the way in which organisational affairs are regulated
and offer suggestions as to how they may be improved within the framework of
the way things are done at present. In other words, the radical change dimension
approaches organisational problems from the viewpoint of overturning the existing state
of affairs; the regulatory dimension seeks to work within the existing state of affairs.
(1979) note that the purposes of the four paradigms are:
■to help researchers clarify their assumptions about their view of the nature of science
■to offer a useful way of understanding the way in which other researchers approach
Figure 4.2Four paradigms for the analysis of social theory
■to help researchers plot their own route through their research; to understand where
it is possible to go and where they are going.
In the bottom right corner of the quadrant is the functionalist paradigm. This is
located on the objectivist and regulatory dimensions. Objectivism is the ontological position
you are likely to adopt if you are operating with this paradigm. It is regulatory in
that you will probably more concerned with a rational explanation of why a particular
organisational problem is occurring and developing a set of recommendations set within
the current structure of the organisation’s current management. This is the paradigm
within which most business and management research operates. As
(1979) note: ‘it is often problem-oriented in approach, concerned to provide practical
solutions to practical problems’. Perhaps the key assumption you would be making
here is that organisations are rational entities, in which rational explanations offer solutions
to rational problems. A typical example of a management research project operating
within the functionalist paradigm would be an evaluation study of a communication
strategy to assess its effectiveness and make recommendations as to the way in which it
may be made more effective.
Contained in the bottom left corner of the quadrant is the interpretive paradigm. As
has been noted, the philosophical position to which this refers is the way we as humans
attempt to make sense of the world around us. The concern you would have working
within this paradigm would be to understand the fundamental meanings attached to
organisational life. Far from emphasizing rationality, it may be that the principal concern
you have here is discovering irrationalities. Concern with studying an organization’s
communication strategy may soon turn to understanding the ways in which the intentions
of management become derailed for completely unseen reasons, maybe reasons
which are not apparent even to those involved with the strategy. This is likely to take you
into the realm of organisation politics and the way in which power is used. In Burrell and
Morgan’s (1979: 31) words ‘everyday life is accorded the status of a miraculous achievement’.
Your concern here would not be to achieve change in the order of things, it would
be to understand and explain what is going on.
In the top left corner the radical humanist paradigm is located within the subjectivist
and radical change dimensions. As we said earlier, the radical change dimension
adopts a critical perspective on organisational life. As such, working within this paradigm
you would be concerned with changing the status quo, or in
(1979:32) words ‘to articulate ways in which humans can transcend the spiritual bonds
and fetters which tie them into existing social patterns and thus realise their full potential’.
The ontological perspective you would adopt here, as in the interpretivist paradigm,
would be subjectivist.
Finally, in the top right corner of the quadrant is the radical structuralist paradigm.
Here your concern would be to approach your research with a view to achieving fundamental
change based upon an analysis of such organisational phenomena as power relationships
and patterns of conflict. The radical structuralist paradigm is involved with
structural patterns with work organizations such as hierarchies and reporting relationships
and the extent to which these may produce dysfunctionalities. It adopts an objectivist
perspective because it is concerned with objective entities, unlike the radical
humanist paradigm which attempts to understand the meanings of social phenomena
from the subjective perspective of participating social actors.
To illustrate the difference between the radical humanist and radical structuralist paradigms
we use issue of discrimination in the workplace in Box 4.6.
Employment discrimination against African American males
Discrimination in employment presents a particularly good example of the radical humanist and
radical structuralist paradigms in business and management research. Assuming the existence
of discrimination, the explanation may be due to the structures that exist in organizations such
as the procedures used for advertising posts or conducting selection interviews. On the other
hand the explanation may be embedded in the processes used for managing particular groups
of employees. These are likely to focus on the informal way in which these procedures are conducted
by managers, and other employees. So the radical structuralist approach will concentrate
rather more on formal procedures (what should be done) than the radical humanist paradigm,
where attention will be on what is done.
(2003), portray the difference between structure and process in an interesting
way. They make the distinction between structural hiring activities (the front door) and the
treatment that employees receive in the ‘firing’ process (the back door).
As a result of studying over 8000 discrimination claims to the legal authority in Ohio,
Slonaker and Wendt’s contention is that American organizations pay far more attention to front
door issues than those which focus on employment termination. To illustrate their point they
note that the USA HRM Certification Institute devote nineteen pages to hiring issues in their
learning manual. Only four pages are devoted to involuntary terminations, including one paragraph
Slonaker and Wendt’s findings show that only 7% of the discrimination claims filed between
1985-2001 related to discrimination in hiring. But 57% of all claims derived from discrimination
in termination. Moreover, African American males filed more than eight times the amount of
claims relating to termination as those that they filed which related to hiring.
The findings also showed that complainant African American males were in lower graded
positions relative to non- African American males, had shorter employment duration, were more
likely to be dismissed by their immediate supervisor (rather than HR professionals) and more
likely to be dismissed due to ‘disruptive behaviour’. This latter finding, the authors suggest, may
be due to stereotyping on behalf of organisational supervisors.
The authors conclude that these results indicate discrimination against African American
males. In addition, this discrimination occurs in the disciplinary processes adopted by supervisors
despite the procedures drawn up by the organisation’s HR professionals.
Box 4.6FOCUS ON MANAGEMENT RESEARCH
An outline research proposal on corporate social responsibility using
The purpose of Krista’s dissertation is to understand how corporations implement corporate
social responsibility (CSR) codes of conduct. Inherent in this exploration is an understanding
of the following:
■what role corporations believe they have in society;
■how this impacts the types of CSR commitments they make in their codes of conduct;
Box 4.7 WORKED EXAMPLE
■how these commitments are operationalised;
■how these actions are communicated to those who are asked or required to conduct
■how these individuals feel about their new responsibilities;
■how the actions were in fact carried out;
■what the targeted groups feel about the actions carried out;
■the successes and failures experienced during these processes.
Integrated research paradigm
anticipates using both qualitative and quantitative techniques to collect data.
However, she points out that the approach will not be from a positivist perspective, as she
believes there is no truth or absolute reality to be discovered. She argues that codes of conduct
are a human construct and the success or failure of implementing the code is dependent
upon the perspective of the individuals or groups affected. Krista contends that this
suggests a likely approach of interpretivist/ social constructivism/ interactionism (
1998, 2001, 2003). She notes that the individuals or groups
affected by the codes of conduct are also situated in historical and cultural contexts, which
impact on how they perceive the actions of the corporation and its value to them.
The focus of Krista’s research will be on the corporation and what it has learned and
has yet to learn about successful implementation of its code as defined by all affected
groups, including the marginalised, oppressed and least powerful.
Krista’s dissertation is likely to be approached from primarily an interpretivist or social
constructionist perspective in that there are multiple realities to be understood and all
impact the overall success or failure of the code implementation efforts. Identifying and
understanding the relationships between multiple realities of code implementation will
start to reveal the ‘underlying patterns and order of the social world’ ( 1980)
with regard to this phenomenon. She argues that the patterns and order themselves can
provide insight into more successful or unsuccessful code implementation techniques and
considerations. The end goals of Krista’s research are two fold. The first goal is to help the
corporation with its efforts to improve its social responsibilities to society as are appropriate
to its unique context. The second goal is to empower stakeholder representatives to
better communicate with the corporation in consensus building activities regarding needs
and wants for both parties. Krista notes that the quantitative element of this dissertation
will be used solely to determine the generalisability of this information for other corporations
around the world and will not impact the overall perspective taken.
Due to the exploratory and descriptive nature of this research (2002), data collection,
organization and analysis will be guided primarily by a grounded theory, or inductive
perspective, whereby the collection, examination and process of continual re-examination
of data will determine the research findings.
As the social constructivist perspective is considered to be an integrated perspective,
Krista contends that it is appropriate to also use mixed methods and approaches. She will
use qualitative methods in the form of case studies to create an in-depth, rich account
(2003, 2002; 1995) of how corporations implement
their codes of conduct and what stakeholders think about their efforts. The second
phase of research will be used to determine if the code implementation practices identified
in the case studies can be used to describe successful or unsuccessful implementation
of CSR codes within a more general group of corporations. A survey will be conducted
to determine whether the information found is more generalisable or specific to certain,
Bridging the relevance gap
Krista argues in her outline proposal that her dissertation will attempt to help bridge the
‘relevance gap’ between researchers and practitioners on CSR code implementation
(2003; 1998), by ensuring the research strategies
(decided on in advance with the case study companies) and the outcomes are both
rigorous and appropriate to solve the unique corporation’s questions. Therefore, her
research strategy will need to allow her to provide both context-specific recommendations
and conclusions the corporation can use and data that is potentially generalisable to a
wider range of corporations.
Krista points out that it is difficult at the earliest stages of her dissertation to predict
whether the data collected from the study will be generalisable and that it is certain that
the data will not be reproducible. Tsoukas (1994) discusses the inherent nature of change
in all human activity and thus the expectation that change will occur in all systems, groups
or individuals under study. Therefore, Krista argues, conducting research from an interpretivist
perspective assumes that the research will be virtually impossible to reproduce.
Thus, dissertation is likely to be conducted from a social constructionist or interpretivist
perspective, integrating qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques
and analysis procedures to strengthen the validity and quality of data analysis and
research findings. The purpose is to understand the different perspectives or realities that
are constructed during the implementation of social issues, how history and culture impact
these realities and how they impact the overall ‘success’ of implementation through
revealing underlying social patterns and order.
Which research philosophy is better?
It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one research approach is ‘better’
than another. This would miss the point. They are ‘better’ at doing different things. As
always, which is ‘better’ depends on the research question(s) you are seeking to answer.
Of course, the practical reality is that research rarely falls neatly into only one philosophical
domain as suggested in the ‘onion’ (see Figure 4.1). Business and management
research is often a mixture between positivist and interpretivist, perhaps reflecting the
stance of realism. Indeed, later in this chapter we shall also be encouraging you to think
in a more flexible way about the research approach and methods you adopt.
You may ask what practical use is an understanding of your philosophical position? Is
it as much use as the outer layer on a real onion, which is cast aside, with only the inner
layers retained? We think that it is of practical benefit to understand the taken-for-granted
assumptions that we all have about the way the world works. Only if we have such an
understanding can we examine these assumptions, challenge them if we think it appropriate,
and behave in a different way.
4.3. Research choices
Chapter 2 notes that your research project will involve the use of theory. That theory
may or may not be made explicit in the design of the research (Chapter 5), although it
will usually be made explicit in your presentation of the findings and conclusions. The
extent to which you are clear about the theory at the beginning of your research raises
an important question concerning the design of your research project. This is whether
your research should use the deductive process, in which you develop a theory and
hypothesis (or hypotheses) and design a research strategy to test the hypothesis, or the
inductive process, in which you would collect data and develop theory as a result of your
data analysis. Insofar as it is useful to attach these approaches to the different research
philosophies, deduction owes more to positivism and induction to interpretivism,
although we believe that such labeling is potentially misleading and of no practical
The next two sections of this chapter explain the differences between these two
approaches and the implications of these differences.
Deduction: testing theory
As noted earlier, deduction owes much to what we would think of as scientific research.
It involves the development of a theory that is subjected to a rigorous test. As such, it is
the dominant research approach in the natural sciences, where laws present the basis of
explanation, allow the anticipation of phenomena, predict their occurrence and therefore
permit them to be controlled ( 2003).
(2002) lists five sequential stages through which deductive research will
1 deducing a hypothesis (a testable proposition about the relationship between two or
more concepts or variables) from the theory;
2 expressing the hypothesis in operational terms (that is, indicating exactly how the
concepts or variables are to be measured), which propose a relationship between two
specific concepts or variables;
3 testing this operational hypothesis (this will involve one or more of the techniques
detailed in chapter 5);
4 examining the specific outcome of the inquiry (it will either tend to confirm the theory
or indicate the need for its modification);
5 if necessary, modifying the theory in the light of the findings.
An attempt is then made to verify the revised theory by going back to the first step
and repeating the whole cycle.
Deduction possesses several important characteristics. First, there is the search to
explain causal relationships between variables. It may be that you wish to establish the
reasons for high employee absenteeism in a retail store. After studying absence patterns
it occurs to you that there seems to be a relationship between absence, the age of workers
and length of service. Consequently you develop a hypothesis that states that absenteeism
is more likely to be prevalent among younger workers who have worked for the
organisation for a relatively short period of time. To test this hypothesis you utilise
another characteristic, the collection of quantitative data. (This is not to say that deductive
research may not use qualitative data.) It may be that there are important differences
in the way work is arranged in different stores: therefore you would need to employ a further
important characteristic of deduction approach,controls to allow the testing of
hypotheses. These controls would help to ensure that any change in absenteeism was a
function of worker age and length of service rather than any other aspect of the store, for
example the way in which people were managed. Your research would use ahighly structured
methodologyto facilitate replication (2003), an important issue to
ensure reliability, as we shall emphasise in Section 5.6.
In order to pursue the principle of scientific rigour, deduction dictates that the
researcher should be independent of what is being observed. This is easy in our example
because it only involves the collection of absence data. It is also unproblematic if a postal
survey is being conducted, although the high level of objectivity this suggests appears
less convincing when one considers the element of subjectivity in the choice of questions
and the way these are phrased.
An additional important characteristic of deduction is that concepts need to be operationalised
in a way that enables facts to be measured quantitatively. In our example above
the obvious one is absenteeism. Just what constitutes absenteeism would have to be
strictly defined: an absence for a complete day would probably count, but what about
absence for two hours? In addition, what would constitute a ‘short period of employment’
and ‘younger’ employees? What is happening here is that the principle of reductionism
is being followed. This holds that problems as a whole are better understood if
they are reduced to the simplest possible elements.
The final characteristic of deduction is generalisation. In order to be able to generalise
statistically about regularities in human social behaviour it is necessary to select samples
of sufficient numerical size. In our example above, research at a particular store would
allow us only to make inferences about that store; it would be dangerous to predict that
worker youth and short length of service lead to absenteeism in all cases. This is discussed
in more detail in section 5.6.
Induction: building theory
An alternative approach to conducting research on DIY store employee absenteeism
would be to go on to the shopfloor and interview a sample of the employees and their
supervisors about the experience of working at the store. The purpose here would be to
get a feel of what was going on, so as to understand better the nature of the problem.
Your task then would be to make sense of the interview data you had collected by
analysing those data. The result of this analysis would be the formulation of a theory.
This may be that there is a relationship between absence and relatively short periods of
employment. Alternatively, you may discover that there are other competing reasons for
absence that may or may not be related to worker age or length of service. You may end
up with the same theory, but you would have gone about the production of that theory
in an inductive way: theory would follow data rather than vice versa as with deduction.
We noted earlier that deduction has its origins in research in the natural sciences.
However, the emergence of the social sciences in the 20th century led social science
researchers to be wary of deduction. They were critical of a process that enabled a
cause–effect link to be made between particular variables without an understanding of
the way in which humans interpreted their social world. Developing such an understanding
is, of course, strength of inductive research. In our absenteeism example we
would argue that it is more realistic to treat workers as humans whose attendance behaviour
is a consequence of the way in which they perceive their work experience, rather
than as if they were unthinking research objects who respond in a mechanistic way to
Followers of induction would also criticise deduction because of its tendency to construct
a rigid methodology that does not permit alternative explanations of what is going
on. In that sense, there is an air of finality about the choice of theory and definition of
the hypothesis. Alternative theories may be suggested by deduction. However, these
would be within the limits set by the highly structured research design. In this respect, a
significant characteristic of the absenteeism research design noted above is that of the
operationalisation of concepts. As we saw in the absenteeism example, age was precisely
defined. However, a less structured approach might reveal alternative explanations of the
absenteeism–age relationship denied by a stricter definition of age.
Research using induction is likely to be particularly concerned with the context in
which such events were taking place. Therefore the study of a small sample of subjects
might be more appropriate than a large number as with the deductive approach. As can
be seen in Chapter 10, researchers in this tradition are more likely to work with qualitative
data and to use a variety of methods to collect these data in order to establish different
views of phenomena (2002).
At this stage you may be asking yourself: So what? Why is the choice that I make about
my research process important? (2002) suggest three reasons. First,
it enables you to take a more informed decision about your research design (see chapter
5), which is more than just the techniques by which data are collected and procedures
by which they are analysed. It is the overall configuration of a piece of research involving
questions about what kind of evidence is gathered and from where, and how such
evidence is interpreted in order to provide good answers to your initial research question.
Second, it will help you to think about those research strategies and approaches that
will work for you and, crucially, those that will not. For example, if you are particularly
interested in understanding why something is happening, rather than being able to
describe what is happening, it may be more appropriate to undertake your research
inductively rather than deductively.
Third, (2002) argue that knowledge of the different research traditions
enables you to adapt your research design to cater for constraints. These may be
practical, involving, say, limited access to data, or they may arise from a lack of prior
knowledge of the subject. You simply may not be in a position to frame a hypothesis
because you have insufficient understanding of the topic to do this.
Combining research choices
So far we have conveyed the impression that there are rigid divisions between deduction
and induction. This would be misleading. Not only is it perfectly possible to combine
deduction and induction within the same piece of research, but also in our experience it
is often advantageous to do so.
Deductive and inductive research
Sadie decided to conduct a research project on violence at work and its effects on the
stress levels of staff. She considered the different ways she would approach the work were
she to adopt:
■the deductive approach;
■the inductive approach.
If she decided to adopt a deductive approach to her work she would have:
1 to start with the hypothesis that staff working with the public are more likely to experience
the threat or reality of violence and resultant stress;
2 to decide to research a population in which she would have expected to find evidence
of violence, for example a sizeable social security office;
3 to administer a questionnaire to a large sample of staff in order to establish the extent
of violence (either actually experienced or threatened) and the levels of stress experienced
4 to be particularly careful about how she defined violence;
5 to standardise the stress responses of the staff, for example days off sick or sessions
with a counsellor.
On the other hand, if she decided to adopt an inductive approach she might have decided
to interview some staff who had been subjected to violence at work. She might have
been interested in their feelings about the events that they had experienced, how they
coped with the problems they experienced, and their views about the possible causes of
Either approach would have yielded valuable data about this problem (indeed, both may
be used in this project, at different stages). Neither approach should be thought of as better
than the other. They are better at different things. It depends where her research
Box 4.8 WORKED EXAMPLE
We return to the topic of using multiple methods in section 5.6. In the box opposite we
summarise some of the major differences between deduction and induction.
At this point you may be wondering whether your research will be deductive or inductive.
(1994) suggests a number of practical criteria. Perhaps the most important
of these is the nature of the research topic. A topic on which there is a wealth of literature
from which you can define a theoretical framework and a hypothesis lends itself
more readily to deduction. With research into a topic that is new, is exciting much
debate, and on which there is little existing literature, it may be more appropriate to work
inductively by generating data and analysing and reflecting upon what theoretical
themes the data are suggesting.
The time you have available will be an issue. Deductive research can be quicker to
complete, albeit that time must be devoted to setting up the study prior to data collection
and analysis. Data collection is often based on ‘one take’. It is normally possible to
predict the time schedules accurately. On the other hand, inductive research can be
much more protracted. Often the ideas, based on a much longer period of data collection
and analysis, have to emerge gradually. This leads to another important consideration,
the extent to which you are prepared to indulge in risk. Deduction can be a lower-risk
strategy, albeit that there are risks, such as the non-return of questionnaires. With induction
you have constantly to live with the fear that no useful data patterns and theory will
emerge. Finally, there is the question of audience. In our experience, most managers are
familiar with deduction and much more likely to put faith in the conclusions emanating
from this approach. You may also wish to consider the preferences of the person marking
your research report. We all have our preferences about the approach to adopt. You
may be wise to establish these before nailing your colours too firmly to one mast.
This last point suggests that not all the decisions about the research approach that you
make should always be so practical. (2000) uses an architectural metaphor to illustrate
the approach choice process. She introduces the notion of the researcher’s preferred
style, which, rather like the architect’s, may reflect ‘. . . the architect’s own preferences
and ideas . . . and the stylistic preferences of those who pay for the work and have to live
with the final result’ ( 2000:1). This echoes the feelings of
(1988:59), who argue that ‘needs, interests and preferences (of the researcher) . . . are typically
overlooked but are central to the progress of fieldwork’. However, a note of caution:
it is important that your preferences do not lead to your changing the essence of the
Major differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research
■moving from theory to data
■the need to explain causal relationships between variables
■the collection of quantitative data
■the application of controls to ensure validity of data
■the operationalisation of concepts to ensure clarity of definition
■a highly structured approach
■researcher independence of what is being researched
■the necessity to select samples of sufficient size in order to generalise conclusions
■gaining an understanding of the meanings humans attach to events
■a close understanding of the research context
■the collection of qualitative data
■a more flexible structure to permit changes of research emphasis as the research
■a realisation that the researcher is part of the research process
■less concern with the need to generalise
■The term research philosophy relates to the development of knowledge and the nature of
■Your research philophosy contains important assumptions about the way in which you view
■There are three major ways of thinking about research philophosy: epistemology, ontology
and axiology. Each contain important differences which will influence the way in which you
think about the research process.
■Epistemology concerns what constitutes acceptable knowledge in a field of study.
■Positivism relates to the philosophical stance of the natural scientist. This entails working
with an observable social reality and the end product can be law-like generalisations similar
to those in the physical and natural sciences.
■The essence of realism is that what the senses show us is reality, is the truth: that objects
have an existence independent of the human mind.
■Interpretivism is an epistemology that advocates that it is necessary for the researcher to
understand the differences between humans in our role as social actors.
■Ontology is a branch of philosophy which is concerned with social beings.
■Objectivism is the philosophical position which holds that social entities exist in reality external
to social actors whereas the subjectivist view is that social phenomena are created from
the perceptions and consequent actions of social actors.
■Pragmatism holds that the most important determinant of the research philosophy adopted
is the research question.
■Axiology is a branch of philosophy that studies judgments about value.
■Social science paradigms can be used in management and business research to generate
fresh insights into real life issues and problems. The four paradigms explained in the chapter
are: functionalist; interpretive; radical humanist; and radical structuralist.
■There are two main research choices: deduction and induction. With deduction a theory and
hypothesis (or hypotheses) are developed and a research strategy designed to test the
hypothesis. With induction, data are collected and a theory developed as a result of the data
Help with these questions is available at the end of the chapter.
4.1 You have decided to undertake a project and have defined the main research question as ‘What
are the opinions of consumers to a 10% reduction in weight, with the price remaining the same, of
“Snackers” chocolate bars?’ Write a hypothesis that you could test in your project.
4.2 Why may it be argued that the concept of the manager is socially constructed rather than ‘real’?
4.3 Why are the radical paradigms relevant in business and management research given that most
manages would say that the purpose of organisational investigation is to develop recommendations
for action to solve problems without radical change?
REVIEW AND DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
4.4 If you were to follow up the (2003) study on discrimination against African-
American males what philosophical stance may underpin your research choice?
4.5 You have chosen to approach your research project following a process of deduction. What factors
may cause you to work inductively, although working deductively is your preferred choice?
4.6 Visit an online database or your university library and obtain a copy of a research based refereed
journal article that you think will be of use to an assignment you are currently working upon. Read
this article carefully. What research philosophy do you think the author has adopted? Use
Section 4.2 to help you develop a clear justification for your answer.
4.7 Think about the last assignment you undertook for your course. In undertaking this assignment
were you predominantly inductive or deductive. Discuss you thoughts with a friend who also
undertook this assignment.
4.8 Agree with a friend to watch the same television documentary.
a To what extent is the documentary inductive or deductive in its use of data?
b Have the documentary makers adopted a positivist, realist, interpretivist or pragmatist philosophy?
Do not forget to make notes regarding your reasons for your answers to each of these questions
and to discuss your answers with your friend.
REVIEW ANDG YOUR RESEARCH PROJECT
Diagnosing your research philosophy
Indicate your agreement or disagreement with each of these statements. There are no right or
strongly agree slightly slightly disagree strongly
agree agree disagree disagree
1 For the topic being researched there is one
single reality, the task of the researcher is
to discover it.■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
2 Business and management research is
value laden.■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
3 A researcher can not be separated from
what is being researched and so will
inevitably be subjective.■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
4 A variety of data collection techniques should
be used, both quantitative and qualitative.■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
strongly agree slightly slightly disagree strongly
agree agree disagree disagree
5 The reality of what is being researched exists
independently of people’s thoughts, beliefs
and knowledge of their existence.■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
6 Researchers must remain objective and
independent from the phenomena they are
studying, ensuring that their own values do
not impact on data interpretation.■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
7 Business and management research should
be practical and applied, integrating different
perspectives to help interpret the data.■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
8 Business and management researchers need
to employ methods that allow in depth
exploration of the details behind a
phenomenon.■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
Now discuss your answers with your colleagues. To guide your discussion you need to think
What do you consider to be the nature of reality?
To what extent do your own values influence your research?
What is your relationship with what you research?
How might knowledge of this impact upon your own research?
Marketing music products alongside emerging digital
Esmée had been working in the music industry as a
Marketing Director for a small and successful independent
record label for over fifteen years before
deciding to study at University. She had witnessed
many changes in the music industry over her
career, the most significant of which was the transition
from selling cassettes, vinyl records and CDs at
retail to selling digital music online. She had
observed that the music industry had not taken
much notice of the potential for marketing and distributing
digital music online until Shawn Fanning
developed his peer-to-peer (P2P) file trading application,
in 1999. While the music industry
focused on shutting the service down, Napster
became even more popular with music fans and
consumers who were interested in discovering and
sharing new music and creating custom compilations
or playlists without having to buy entire
albums. Early on, Esmée had decided that she needed
to understand why Napster was so popular and
consumers so enthusiastic about sharing music
online. She decided to download the Napster application
and was surprised to find older songs that
were no longer available at retail, previously unreleased
recordings, alternative studio versions and
bootleg recordings made at live concerts. While
searching for and downloading music, Esmée also
began to interact with communities focused around
their file trading activities. While the music industry
viewed Napster and other P2P file trading applications
with deep suspicion and focused on the
issues of piracy and loss of royalties to shut them
down, her interactions with P2P file traders provided
her with significant insights into how the consumer’s
relationship to music was changing. P2P file
trading applications and other digital music technologies
represented new ‘meanings’ for music fans
and distinct new channels for music marketing and
distribution. As online music sharing became even
more popular, Esmée observed that both major and
independent record labels continued to struggle
with and resist the very technologies that were fundamentally
redefining their industry. She was puzzled
by this and wanted to develop a more consolidated
understanding of the current state of the
music industry and to gain in-depth knowledge of
the potential that new technologies had for transforming
the entire industry.
Nearing the end of her studies, spent
many weeks struggling with identifying the focus of
her final research project and thinking about how
her own value systems and beliefs were likely to
impact on her research. She reflected that in the
programme’s Innovation and Technology
Management module, she had learned about the
technical and strategic issues of digital music distribution
involving content creators, artists, record
companies and retailers. After reading
(2003) article Alternate Distribution Strategies for
Digital Music, Esmée realised that success in digital
music distribution hinged on the music industry’s
ability to identify and address the new marketing
and sociological issues associated with the consumer’s
switch to new forms of music consumption
and that record labels would need to re-evaluate
their current practices in context of these new technologies
and channels for music marketing and distribution.
Additionally, while reading for the
Leadership and Organisational Management module,
she had come across
(2002) article on the cultural industries in which
they observed that despite the social, economic and
political significance of the cultural industries, management
research had neglected to focus their
efforts on cultural production. They argued that
there was a need for empirical research into the
organisational and managerial dynamics of cultural
production and had found that even where it had
been studied, many management researchers had
failed to appreciate the particular nuances and
dynamics that characterise these industries.
arranged a meeting with her supervisor
and outlined her realisation that ‘managing’ in the
cultural industries related less to producing products
and more to creating, managing and maintaining
the meaning or ‘symbolic aspect’ of the product.
She explained to him that this was especially
relevant to the music industry’s transition to digital
music technologies and that her final project would
focus on how traditional marketing departments in
record labels could approach redefining their
notions of ‘music products’ while adapting to
emerging digital music distribution channels. This
would entail understanding how the process of
symbol creation and the management of meaning
by record labels would need to be managed in order
to adapt to the emergence of new symbols and
potential meanings enabled by the development of
new digital music technologies. She added that her
experiences as a Marketing Director provided her
with unique insights that would inform and guide
her research. Her tutor responded by commenting
that her research project sounded interesting and
relevant and that, in his opinion, the best way forward
would be to adopt a positivist research philosophy
using a survey strategy and administering a
questionnaire to marketing personnel across major
and independent record labels in order to produce
data suitable for statistical analysis. After the meeting,
Esmée reflected on her tutor’s comments. She
was surprised that he proposed adopting a positivist
philosophy. Based on her previous experiences
with peer-to-peer communities, she believed that
adopting an interpretivist philosophical stance and
using unstructured interviews would be more suitable
for her research project. Esmée contemplated
on how she should communicate this to her tutor
and on how she would be able to convince him
that approaching her research project as an interpretivist
and using unstructured interviews would
be preferable and just as rigorous an undertaking .
1 Why is it important to consider epistemology and
ontology when undertaking research?
2 What will Esmée need to do in order to respond or
challenge her tutor’s assertion that she adopt a quantitative
3 How does Esmée understand the role that her values
play with regards to her research project?
4.1 Probably the most realistic hypothesis here would be ‘consumers of “Snackers” chocolate bars did not
notice the difference between the current bar and its reduced weight successor’. Doubtless that is what
the Snackers’ manufacturers would want confirmed!
4.2 Although you can see and touch a manager you are only seeing and touching another human being. The
point is that the role of the manager is a socially constructed concept. What a manager is will differ
between different national and organisational cultures and will differ over time. Indeed, the concept of the
manager as we generally understand it is a relatively recent human invention arriving at the same time as
the formal organisation in the past couple of hundred years.
4.3 The researcher working in the radical humanist or structuralist paradigms may argue that it is predictable
that managers would say that the purpose of organisational investigation is to develop recommendations
for action to solve problems without radical change because radical change may involve changing managers!
Radicalism implies root and branch investigation and possible change and most of us prefer ‘fine
tuning’ within the framework of what exists already, particularly if change threatens our vested interests.
4.4 The study does seem to have thrown up some very useful data which indicated the likelihood of discrimination
against African-American males. However, the conclusions that the authors draw are tentative,
given that they are largely based on survey evidence. This seems like a piece of research that would
benefit from a study rooted in the radical humanist paradigm. may be perfectly justified
in the drawing the conclusions they draw. But what they do not do is explain what it is that the
supervisors actually do to generate the data which is evident. Neither do they explain what may motivate
the supervisors’ actions.
4.5 The question implies an either/or choice. But as you work through this chapter and, in particular, the next
on deciding your research design, you will see that life is rarely so clear cut! Perhaps the main factor that
would cause you to review the appropriateness of the deductive approach would be that the data you
collected might suggest an important hypothesis, which you did not envisage when you framed your
research objectives and hypotheses. This may entail going further with the data collection perhaps by
engaging in some qualitative work, which would yield further data to answer the new hypothesis.
■Improve your SPSS and Nvivo research analysis with practice tutorials.
■Save time researching on the Internet with the Smarter Online Searching Guide.
■Test your progress using self-assessment questions.
■Follow live links to useful websites.
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