Reflections On Qualitative Research In Socio-politics

Qualitative Research In Socio-politics

Thanking Cathy (Cassell) and Gillian (Symon) for giving me the opportunity to reflect on the development of qualitative research and the role of Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management (QROM). That opportunity has its roots in their kind offer to me several years ago to serve as an Associate Editor. It has been and continues to be a great experience. 

In terms of reflections, I want to focus on the socio-politics of qualitative research and, given the space available, raise more questions than answers. In other words, I want to be more speculative than definitive. 

Three things interest me about the socio-politics of qualitative research: the first is the continued apologetic tone of some researchers (especially doctoral students) when adopting a qualitative approach; the second involves explanations of qualitative research by way of contrast with quantitative research; the third is the apparent growth of interest in qualitative research.

Mea Culpa, it's qualitative 

Despite the fact that qualitative research is well established and growing in popularity and legitimacy I still find researchers apologizing for undertaking a qualitative study. One of the more common reasons proffered is that the study did not lend itself to quantitative analysis; as if the latter was the default. So why is this? Is it because I get more than my share of apologetic papers and theses? Perhaps the problem is not as commonplace as I think. Or perhaps it is the socio-politics of research and the continued dominance of quantitative thinking in the academy (Burrell and Morgan, 1979).

Qualitative research and binary thinking 

This leads me to question how the character of qualitative research is and has been constructed over time and what are the implications. Being drawn to actor-network theory and historiography (Durepos and Mills, 2012), my own inclination is to search for socio-political moments over time to understand: first, how selected events influenced the production of a phenomenon; and second, how that influence was embedded in certain actions and translations.

The growth and future of qualitative inquiry Finally

 I have a sense that qualitative inquiry has gained more adherents and legitimacy over the past two or three decades – a trend that QROM is certainly a part of. If it is the case, and we need to establish it as “fact,” it would be interesting to know how and why. 

Current debates in management and organizational history may be one area of interest in this regard given that the call for a “historic turn” (Clark and Rowlinson, 2004) is now in its 11th year and debatably has been largely resisted by a field dominated by materialist and positivist thinking.


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