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Qualitative Research
Methodology and Methods

Dr Natalya Sergeeva
28th of November 2019

Research Philosophy

Research philosophy is typically described as a way of
understanding and examining organisational phenomena
by social theorists (e.g. Hughes and Sharrock, 1997; May, 2011).

Philosophical ontology is typically described as being
concerned with the nature of reality. Ontology reflects
the assertions that people make about how the world
operates (e.g. Robson, 2011).

Objectivists Subjectivists

Social constructionism

Strong Weak

Reality is socially
constructed by people

• Acknowledges particular
social structures and material

• Knowledge is socially
constructed through
language and actions, but
accepts that there are
material entities

Weak social constructionism

A relativist ontology (multiple realities), a subjective
epistemology (creation of understandings by people), and
a naturalistic set of methodological procedures (in the
natural world). (Denzin and Lincoln, 2013)

Overview of ontological debate

• Objective reality: There is an objective reality which
exists independently of human perception.

• Perceived reality: There is a ‘true’ reality, but its full
nature can never be identified. Individuals perceive
reality from their own perspectives.

• Constructed reality: Reality is socially constructed in the
minds of individuals. Different individuals attach
multiple meanings to phenomena, socially constructing
different realities.

• Created reality: There is no reality at all and everything
exists in the mind of the observer.

Source: Lincoln and Guba (1985) and Guba and Lincoln (2011)

Overview of ontological debate
• Functionalist (objective-regulation): Society has a real existence and

a systematic character, and is directed toward regulation. The
paradigm advocates a research process using the rigour of the
scientific method.

• Interpretive (subjective-regulation): Society does not possess the
concrete form. The meaning of social situations is a matter of inter-
subjective interpretations.

• Radical humanist (subjective-radical change): Shares the
interpretive paradigm that reality is socially constructed, but
contends that this social construction is constrained by a situation in
which actors find themselves the prisoners of the social world they

• Radical structuralist (objective-radical change): A materialist
conception of the social world that implies constant change through
political and economic crises (e.g. Marx, Lenin).

Source: Burrell and Morgan (1992)


Multiple realities which represent different combinations of
subjective and objective ontological assumptions about the
nature of social science:

“More likely is the possibility that over time, people will act
like interpretivists, functionalists, radical humanists, and
radial structuralists.”
Weick (1995: 35)

”Relational ontology”

“Meaning making is not objectively given or subjectively
constructed but, rather, part of an ongoing relational
process. It emerges in and through interactions between
actors and artefacts that become entangled with one
another. Actors who become involved have their own
narratives to offer, depending upon their recollections of
past experiences and their future aspirations.”
Garud (2013: 159)

”Ongoing reality”

“To talk about sensemaking is to talk about reality as an
ongoing accomplishment that takes from when people
make retrospective sense of the situations in which they
find themselves and their creations.”
Weick (1995: 15)

”Becoming ontology”

“Postmodernist thinking, on the other hand, privileges an
ontology of movement, emergence and becoming in which
the transient and ephemeral nature of what is “real” is
accentuated. What is real for postmodern thinkers are not
so much social states, or entities, but emergent relational
interactions and patternings that are recursively intimated
in the fluxing and transforming of our life-worlds.”
Chia (1995: 581)

Epistemology is the more appropriate approach to the
science of knowledge, of what people think can be known
about the world (e.g. Hughes and Sharrock, 1997; May, 2011).

According to the social constructionist position, the aim of
social inquiry shifts from structures and material entities
towards processes and contexts (cf. Burr, 2003). From this
perspective, the focus is placed upon
a) intra-individuals (cognitive) activity which is more or

less influenced by
b) inter-individual (social) processes.
From a social constructionist perspective, organisational
actors individually and collectively engage in the
construction of social reality.

Contextualist research

“Such an approach directly questions the relevance of
narrowly constructed positivist research methodologies and
points toward the need to understand the way in which
complex processes are enacted and legitimized.”
Green et al. (2010: 119)

Purpose of enquiry
The accepted wisdom of social science dictates that the
choice of research strategy should be directed by the
research purpose of the enquiry (e.g. Saunders et al.,

Exploratory, descriptive or explanatory types of research
are frequently distinguished (e.g. May, 2011).

Purpose of enquiry
Descriptive: tends to provide answers to ‘what’, ‘who’ and
‘where’, ‘how many’ and ‘how much’ questions (e.g. Bryman,
2012). These questions are likely to favour survey methods or
analysis of archival data.

Explanatory: ‘How’ and ‘why’ research questions, however, are
more explanatory in nature and are likely to be used in case
studies, interviews and experimental research. Explanatory
(analytical) research seeks to explain a situation or a problem.

Exploratory: The emphasis is placed on how and why meanings
and interpretations are attached to phenomena. It is explorative
in nature and is likely to be used in qualitative research enquiry.

Research approach
Deductive proceeding from theory to empirical data.
Deductive reasoning tends to empirically test
hypothesis and using quantitative methods.

Inductive is typically understood as proceeding from
data to theory. Inductive reasoning is frequently
described as a process of moving from the empirical
data to theory building.

Abductive occupies the ‘middle ground’ between
deductive and inductive reasoning.

Middle ground

“The reality of grounded theory research is always one
for trying to achieve a practical middle ground between
a theory-laden view of the world and an unfettered
empiricism. A simple way to seize this middle ground is
to pay attention to extant theory but constantly remind
yourself that you are only human and that what you
observe is a function of both who you are and what you
hope to see.”
Suddaby (2006: 635)

Research methods

• Participant observation

• Interviews

• Focus groups


“Interviews do more than provide information on
cultural and subjective meanings. Rigorous analysis of
accounts provides two intertwined sets of findings:
evidence of the nature of the phenomenon under
investigation, including the contexts and situations in
which it emerges, as well as insights into the cultural
frames that people use to make sense of these
Silverman (2011: 137)


“Interviews do more than provide information on
cultural and subjective meanings. Rigorous analysis of
accounts provides two intertwined sets of findings:
evidence of the nature of the phenomenon under
investigation, including the contexts and situations in
which it emerges, as well as insights into the cultural
frames that people use to make sense of these
Silverman (2011: 137)

We typically use EXPERT interviews

Expert Interviews

An expert is an individual who possesses expertise on a
specific matter and has the ability to report on it.

The expert’s role is to offer insights into what, why or
how to do something, on a specific discussion, based on
his/her competence and experience (Mieg, 2001).

We typically use EXPERT interviews


• Structured

• Semi-structured

• Open-ended

• Narrative interviews

Sampling strategy

• Should be informed by the research focus

• Rationale why these participants

• Details of the interviewees (anonymised!)

REMEMBER: Be realistic in your expectations!
These participants need to be accessible and available!

Think about how you will recruit them


Interview details

• Interview questions need to be designed to answer
the research questions driven by the theory

• Procedure of the interview (how long, where)

• How many interviews in total

• Sample of interview transcribed (Appendix)

Designing your interview

• Decide your sample
• Decide the type of questions
• Create a topic guide

Types of questions

Demographic: Questions on an individuals characteristics, such as
age group, education, income (only if relevant)

Behavioral: Questions concerning personal activities or
circumstances related to the respondent

Attitude: Questions investigating his/her opinion on a subject

Example of a topic guide

Topic Guide

Background and
Experience Questions

Personal Role in the organisation

Organisation Aim of the organisation
Everyday activities

Knowledge Questions Interactions Clients/Users
Employees (Internal)

Services Type
Stages of development

Attitude Questions Technology Buzzwords ‘Artificial Intelligence’ ‘Machine Learning’
‘Big Data’

Social Role Connections

Analysis of interviews

• Thematic analysis

• Details of coding

• Use of Nvivo software

• Narrative Inquiry

Thank you!

Q & A

Berg, B. L. (2009). Qualitative research methods. San Francisco, USA: Allyn & Bacon.

Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods (4th ed.). NY, USA: Oxford University Press.

Bryman, A. and Bell, E. (2007). Business research methods (2nd ed.). NY, USA: Oxford

University Press.

Burrell, G. and Morgan, G. (1992). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis:

Elements of the sociology of corporate life. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

Charmaz, K. (2002). Qualitative interviewing and grounded theory analysis. In J. F. Gubrium

and J. A. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of interview research: Context & method, 675-694.

London, UK: Sage Publications.

Charmaz, K. (2011). Grounded theory methods in social justice research. In N. K. Denzin and

Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Strategies of qualitative inquiry, pp. 291-336. London, UK: Sage

Dainty, A. (2008). Methodological pluralism in construction management research. In A.

Kniight and L. Ruddock (eds.) Advanced research methods in the build environment, pp.

1-13. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y. S. (2011). (Eds.). The Sage handbook of qualitative research (4th

ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y. S. (2013). Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials. (4th

ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. and Jackson, P. R. (2008). Management research. London,

UK: Sage Publications.

Gibbs, G. R. (2007). Analyzing qualitative data. London, UK: Sage Publications.

Guba, E. G. and Lincoln, Y. S. (2011). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and
emerging confluences in N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of
qualitative research, pp. 529-544.London: Sage Publications.
May, T. (2011). Social research: Issues, methods and research (4th ed.). London, UK: Open

University Press.

Morgan, G. and Smircich, L. (1980). The case for qualitative research. Academy of

Management Review, 5(4), 491-500.

Mieg, H. A. 2001. The social psychology of expertise. Mahwah, NJ.

Robson, C. (2011). Real world research: A resource for users of social research methods in

applied settings. (3rd ed.). Sussex, UK: Wiley & Sons.

Saunders, M., Lewis, P. and Thornhill, A. (2012). Research methods for business students (6th

ed.). London, UK: Pearson.

Sayer, A. (1997). Essentialism, social constructionism, and beyond. The Sociological Review,

45(3), 453-487.

Silverman, D. (2011). Qualitative research. London, UK: Sage Publications.

Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1994). Grounded theory methodology: An overview. In N. Denzin

and Y. Lincoln, Handbook of qualitative research (eds.). California, USA: Sage Publications.

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