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Image: Tower of London by Bob Collowân, via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

[Ed note: This is the third of six articles in a virtual panel on Who should benefit from organizational research?]

by Nancy DiTomaso

At a time when there is a growing movement for “evidence-based” recommendations from research in the social sciences, medicine, and the policy arena among other domains, it seems strange for an article meant to raise critical issues about the state of the field to call for more focus on “truth.” While there is always room for better theory and better methods, as well as more clarity in writing, we need to be careful what we label as truth, and we need to safeguard the institutional procedures by which we determine what we think of as quality in scholarship.

Truth has never been objective, because it is always tied up with perspective and embedded in relationships of power, status, and numbers (as in numbers of people in the majority, not in terms of mathematics). Although there is nothing new about having those in power attempting to use their resources to define what is considered to be true, the current political environment, where there are such deep divides over not only interpretations of truth, but even of basic facts, should underline for us how difficult it is to use truth as a guideline for determining quality in our research. Indeed, a case can be made for the origins of science being the effort to break free from the strictures of power-bound definitions of truth. As such, the procedures that have been built up over time for the evaluation of contributions to science (social as well as physical), however flawed and imperfectly implemented, have grown out of the difficulties of determining what is good science, and indeed, what is therefore, true.

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IvoryTower[Ed note: This is the second of six articles in a virtual panel on Who should benefit from organizational research?]

by Stephen Ackroyd

The question who should benefit from academic organisational research is probably best answered by the single word: everyone. But it is a silly question, because almost nobody actually does benefit from it. In Britain industrial and organisational sociology, as this area of study was originally conceived, has not developed an appropriate institutional position through which it could benefit anyone – except, of course, the academics themselves. Today any organisational research that is useful is done by managers and practitioners themselves and often also by consultants.

The research done by academics has almost no use at all. For reasons that have most to do with their complacency and lack of value commitment, academics studying organisations in the UK have largely failed to develop an institutional location from which they could be helpful to others.

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Image: Winchester Mystery House by russavia, via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Image: Winchester Mystery House by russavia, via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

[Ed note: This is the first of six articles in a virtual panel on Who should benefit from organizational research?]

Academic careers reward publication, and our system of journals often privileges novelty over cumulative insights. Judgments of quality are difficult and time consuming, and so we rely on proxy measures of “impact” that are easily gamed. Paradoxically, journals have evolved a sophisticated set of standards for evaluating research claims, but they reward being “counterintuitive.” As a result, while there is a lot of sound and fury, it is difficult to point to many areas of settled science when it comes to organizations.

Things are about to get worse unless we evolve new standards rooted in a clear sense of who and what organizational research is for.

The changing nature of organizations means that we need to reconsider who our constituencies are, as “managerial relevance” is becoming an elusive goal. Enterprises today bear little resemblance to the postwar hierarchies that animated early research. Some of the best-known companies have few employees to manage, while some of the biggest rely on computer algorithms to schedule, monitor, and evaluate. This raises a fundamental question for our field: who should benefit from organizational research? Answering this question can help guide standards of evaluation for research.

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I am delighted to announce a virtual panel on “Who should benefit from organizational research?” This panel was inspired by an Editorial Essay written by Gerald F Davis in Administrative Science Quarterly entitled “What Is Organizational Research For?” Professor Davis is editor of the Administrative Science Quarterly, the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Management at the Ross School of Business and a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan.

We have reproduced an extract of that essay here, and invited responses from five leading organization studies scholars. In each of the following days this week, we’ll post a response from the following scholars:

Steven Ackroyd, emeritus professor, Lancaster University Management School.

Nancy DiTomaso, Professor of Management and Global Business at Rutgers Business School—Newark and New Brunswick.

Paul Hirsch, the James L. Allen Professor of Strategy & Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Steven Vallas, professor of sociology, Northeastern University.

Hugh Willmott, professor in organization studies, Cass Business School, City University London, and Cardiff Business School.

In a recent blog post, Howard Aldrich argued that social scientists should drop the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research. I want to push back here and argue that there are important differences between the two methods which must be recognized to ensure high quality research. To be sure, the starting point of the discussion should be recognition of the underlying unity of research methodology, about which Charles Ragin has written eloquently. Quantitative and qualitative methods are both tools for advancing theory and knowledge. But these methods advance theory in distinct, complementary ways. To realize the full potential of research methodology requires recognizing these differences.

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Libby Levi for opensource.com via flickr.com

[Ed note: Interested readers should check out Elizabeth Popp Berman’s response to Howard’s post, which she posted on OrgTheory.]

Over the past year, I’ve met with many doctoral students and junior faculty in my travels around the United States and Europe, all of them eager to share information with me about their research. Invariably, at every stop, at least one person will volunteer the information that “I’m doing a qualitative study of…” When I probe for what’s behind this statement, I discover a diversity of data collection and analysis strategies that have been concealed by the label “qualitative.” They are doing participant observation ethnographic fieldwork, archival data collection, long unstructured interviews, simple observational studies, and a variety of other approaches. What seems to link this heterogeneous set is an emphasis on not using the latest high-powered statistical techniques to analyze data that’s been arranged in the form of counts of something or other. The implicit contrast category to “qualitative” is “quantitative.” Beyond that, however, commonalities are few.

Here I want to offer my own personal reflections on why I urge abandoning the dichotomy between “qualitative” and “quantitative,” although I hope readers will consult the important recent essays by Pearce and Morgan for more comprehensive reviews of the history of this distinction. For a variety of reasons, some people began making a distinction more than four decades ago between what they perceived as two types of research – – quantitative and qualitative – – with research generating data that could be manipulated statistically seen as generally more scientific.

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Vidal[Ed note: This is the final of 14 posts in a virtual panel on The Future of Organizational Sociology.]

In this closing essay of a virtual panel on The Future of Organizational Sociology I want to suggest a direction that was only briefly hinted at in two of the preceding 13 essays: More engagement with political economy. Harland Prechel argued for a need to focus on how political-legal institutions shape managerial behaviour and Jerry Davis discussed increasingly precarious employment for the working class. The broader subfield is also largely silent on issues of political economy, with a very few notable exceptions including Neil Fligstein and Jerry on financialization, Mark Mizruchi on the corporate elite and Harland on big business and the state.

In my view there is much to be gained from engaging traditional organizational theory with political economy focused on structures and dynamics of profit seeking, capital accumulation and class relations. A turn to political economy can help to grasp the deeper structures and historical dynamics underlying the mid-range phenomena that are typically the focus of organizational theory.

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