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Defining qualitative management research: an empirical investigation

Johnson, Phil and Buehring, Anna and Cassell, Catherine and Symon, Gillian (2007) Defining qualitative management research: an empirical investigation. Qualitative research in organizations and management: an international journal, 2 (1). pp. 23-42. ISSN 1746-5648

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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to report the findings of research which explores how the concept qualitative management research is variably constructed and defined by those who have a direct interest in, and influence upon, important aspects of qualitative management research. Design/methodology/approach – Information was gathered through the use of semi-structured interviews conducted with 44 individuals who were drawn from four observer-identified types of “expert” informant who were taken to generally represent key groups of stakeholders in the conduct, evaluation and dissemination of qualitative management research. Interview data from these individuals were analysed though an iterative process using the NVivo software package to inductively generate definitional categories and explore aspects of their interrelationships. Findings – From data analysis it was apparent that there are eight different, but often interrelated, ways in which interviewees define qualitative management research. The philosophical dimensions of each of these variable definitions are outlined and their relationships to the methodological literature are explored. The variety identified amongst informants, indicates how there is a potential dissensus possible regarding what qualitative management research might entail, as well as regarding its provenance and its academic status. This dissensus potentially can create problems with regard to its evaluation. Originality/value – So whist there is little evidence to suggest any systematic relationship between the variable institutional backgrounds of informants and how they variably define and perceive qualitative management research, philosophical influences upon this contested terrain are explored and the implications of the identified dissensus for how qualitative management research is perceived and evaluated is discussed. The implications of this evidently contested terrain are discussed with particular reference to the future constitution of qualitative management research and its evaluation.

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