Reclaiming Qualitative Methods for Organizational Research: A Preface John Van Maanen, Editor

THE TERRITORY IS NOT THE MAP The label qualitative methods has no precise meaning in any of the social sciences. It is at best an umbrella term covering an array of interpretive techniques which seek to describe, decode, translate, and otherwise come to terms with the meaning, not the frequency, of certain more or less naturally occurring phenomena in the social world. To operate in a qualitative mode is to trade in linguistic symbols and, by so doing, attempt to reduce the distance between indicated and indicator, between theory and data, between context and action. The raw materials of qualitative study are therefore generated in vivo, close to the point of origin. Although the use of qualitative methods does not prohibit a researcher's use of the logic of scientific empiricism, the logic of phenomenological analysis is more likely to be assumed since qualitative researchers tend to regard social phenomena as more particular and ambiguous than replicable and clearly defined. The data developed by qualitative methods originate when a researcher figuratively puts brackets around a temporal and spatial domain of the social world. These brackets define the territory about which descriptions are fashioned. These descriptions are essentially idiographic maps of the territory, which must then be read and interpreted by the investigator if any nomothetic statements are to result from a given study. Doing description is then the fundamental act of data collection in a qualitative study. But. the map cannot be considered the territory simply because the map is a reflexive product of the map maker's invention. The map maker sees himself quite as much as he sees the territory. There are however better and worse maps and qualitative researchers seek to construct good ones by moving closer to the territory they study in the physical sense as well as in the intellectual sense by minimizing the use of such artificial distancing mechanisms as analytic labels, abstract hypotheses, and preformulated research strategies. Oualitative methodology and quantitative methodology are not mutually exclusive. Differences between the two approaches are located in the overall form, focus, and emphasis of study. As demonstrated by several of the research accounts in this issue, qualitative methods represent a mixture of the rational, serendipitous, and intuitive in which the persona! experiences of the organizational researcher are often key events to be understood and analyzed as data. Ouaiitative investigators tend also to describe the unfolding of social processes rather than the social structures that are often the focus of quantitative researchers. Moreover, no matter what the topic of study, qualitative researchers in contrast to their quantitative colleagues claim forcefully to know relatively little about what a given piece of observed behavior means until they have developed a description of the context in which the behavior takes place and attempted to see that behavior from the position of its originator. That such contextual understandings and empathetic objectives are unlikely to be achieved without direct, firsthand, and more or less intimate knowledge of a research setting is a most practical assumption that underlies and guides most qualitative study.
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when a given interpretive framework becomes firmly accepted and more or less set by a researcher. to record the pattern of responses these symbols elicit. questions have been raised about the extent to which our methods are guiding our theory and concern has been expressed about the degree to which our procedures have become so ritualized that the necessary connection between measure and concept has vanished. how often does this occur. Second. cryptic. qualitative methods are rather similar to the interpretive procedures we make use of as we go about our everyday life. undeliberated response is mandatory. analytic formulas can be established and focusing devices put into place such that the investigator is able to engage in quantitative study. This example also suggests that the linking of sign and signified. always contextual understandings and explanations given by social actors that provide purpose and meaning to their behavior. When crossing the street. for example. Our study of the truck involves little more than a quick scan. It is in this sense that quantitative and qualitative work are connected. the sight of a ten-ton truck bearing down on us leads to an immediate and presumably prudent action. standing for nothing so much as their readiness or stubbornness to yield to a meaningful interpretation and response. any serious reflection regarding current organization theory must at some point consider the value of alternative methods. And. There are however a number of organization theorists beginning to question the wisdom of allowing Gresham's Law to take its course unquestioned. awareness and phenomenon in social research is always dependent upon an interpretive framework. or what is the driver's intention. representation and conduct. Such data are symbolic. It is the aim of qualitative researchers to identify such symbols and. from where did it come.Reclaiming Qualitative Metiiods From this perspective. There is a growing concern about where quantitative techniques are carrying us. contextually embedded. But. We do not stop to first ask how fast the truck is traveling. and organizations and the specific. The data we collect and act upon in everyday life are of the same sort a qualitative researcher explicitly attempts to gather and record. as a way of assessing their meaning. For example. We move. groups. the gap between the theoretical constructions we use to construct our study and the availability of data to render such theories testable appears also to be 521/ASQ . Gresham's Law is at work in organizational studies wherein the programmed research is driving out the unprogrammed. Several unresolved but interrelated and crucial problems of organizational inquiry currently exist which are both epistemological and methodological in nature. Perhaps. such linkages are rarely made explicit when a study is eventually published. a glance up the road which reveals to most of us a menacing symbol of such power that a speedy. there is a rather curious and troubling distance between the generalized principles which have been postulated for the behavior of individuals. and reflexive. Since quantitative methods have held an almost monopolistic grip on the production of knowledge in the field. First. proximal and distal. if one is to consider for example the almost 25-year history of/ASQ.

tramps. public interest lawyers. and contingent. more generally. however. urban planners. in the final analysis. distinct patterns oif thought and action.grmwing. ethnicity. more open-ended. Moreover. a culture that is their own and if we wish to understand the behavior of these people and the groups and organizations of which they are a part. As a society. paradoxically. and gcwerned by strict assumptions. In particular. it is worth pointing out as a final prefacing matter that there is something of a quiet reconstruction going on in the social sciences and some of the applied disciplines. work. Given this abbreviated list of commonly voiced concerns. police officers. and function of the various types of data with 522/ASQ . we are certain to uncover special languages. mathematically sophisticated. educators. do violence to. there seems to be rather widespread skepticism surrounding the ability of conventional data collection techniques to produce data that do not distort. use. and others. Indeed. we must first be able to both appreciate and describe their culture. at issue. documents and the like. Whether we are examining the organizational worlds of middle managers. or soda! class but are grounded in organizational experiences. our interpretive frameworks which make such data meaningful have grown looser. labor economists. but. Fourth. within this society at least. fluid. the paper-and-pencil survey. welfare administrators. What this rather profound realization means for our own scholarly work in the organizational areas is an essential theme that runs through each of the articles presented in this special issue. and play in multicultural surroundings. There has come of age the significant realization that the people we study (and often seek to assist) have a form of life. psychologists. and. is not to improve the quality of the data which is. A STUDY OF STUDIES A call for papers on qualitative methods was printed in the March 1979 issue of ASQ. the lab study. high school principals. It is hardly revolutionary. we requested short contributions to the journal dealing with the meaning. records. there is an increasing distrust among organizational observers of the claims made for such analytic conveniences as the formal interview. From the pool of potential authors with firsthand qualitative research experience. the overwhelming role played by the survey instrument in organizational research has led some observers to suggest that the field is becoming simply the study of verbally expressed sentiments and beliefs rather than the study of conduct. it is becoming clear that the origins of many of these cultures are not coupled conceptually to matters such as geography. unique and peculiar problems. but a renewed interest in and felt need for qualitative research has slowly been emerging among sociologists. Third. political scientists. or otherwise falsely portray the phenomena such methods seek to reveal. our date maniputeticm techniques have become increasingly complex. production workers. To further refine our data analysis techniques. stockbrokers. the use of official statistics. health care personnel. we have become increasingly aware of the fact that we live. or professional crooks.

That is. what was most difficult to deal with was the fact that the papers we received each represented something of a unique meshing of problem. we tried to eliminate those papers where prescription dominated description. To say one paper was somehow more valuable than another required the further elaboration of the somewhat loose and inarticulate standards we began with last March. we were faced with the difficult task of further specifying and making explicit our standards for what would constitute a worthy contribution in this area. theory. Four criteria eventually emerged as the reviewers attempted to decide what papers would be most appropriate for this special issue. semiotics. we wanted to achieve a disciplinary mix among the papers published. conversational analysis. John Van Maanen. etc. Moreover. makes the point in the second article that the key analytic decisions of qualitative study are most often accomplished by the investigator in the research setting itself and that the 523/ASQ . content analysis. we looked for the practical importance of a given paper to organizational researchers. Third. a large and increasing number of rather specific qualitative methods available for use in organizational research. method. discipline-based problems. But. fourth. And. Second.g. there are few guidelines to foltow when assessing the soundness of a given qualitative technique. The intent was to demonstrate the utility of qualitative methods to a variety of distinct. The first and most heavily represented set of articles addresses the use of what Peggy Sanday calls in the lead article. Yet. Unlike quantitative approaches. Essentially.. the construction of life histories. we tried to select papers that presented novel themes in organizational studies. and the person(s) standing behind it all. "ethnographic paradigms.Re^Niniiig Quidttctive MIetliods which they had wc»"ked. as this issue attests. This fourth criterion presented something of a dilemma since many qualitative methods (e. three somewhat distinct thematic groupings can be discerned. participant observation. since the number of papers submitted far exceeded the journal space available (even when exparKied to a full issue)." That there are multiple ethnographic paradigms is perhaps the crucial point of Professor Sanday's informed review of the variety of anthropological methods currently in use. constitutive ethnography. we tried to eliminate those papers that appeared to be primarily epistemological or methodological in favor of those papers which illustrated the actual use of qualitative methods. Our resolution here (and it is not without ambiguity) was to examine the findings uncovered by the method discussed in a paper and judge whether or not such findings would be relatively predictable given what is currently known about organizations and the life that goes on within them. commenting upon the mix of participant observation and ethnographic interviews used in his studies of the police. what we were after was at least a partial answer to the question: What can we learn about organizations that we do not already know by the use of a particular qualitative method? Looking at the thirteen papers of this volume collectively. there is.) are by definition quite novel to organizational research since they have been so infrequently employed in the area. First.

Todd Jick takes up this same theme in the following paper bluntly titled "Mixing Oualitative and Ouantitative Data. By so doing. figures. in the next to last paper of the set. are virtually impossible to comprehend over the short run or by simply relying on the publicly articulated and rationalized understandings presented by the members of the organization. the author calls for what amounts to a "new economics. Professor Pettigrew demonstrates the crucial importance of taking a qualitative stance toward the key events. Since the qualitative tradition in economics has largely disappeared from view. the social process of concern is that of leadership. in the following paper. observational. "Direct research" is the tag that he uses to capture the critical aspects of his method and. In his case. To begin to describe what such structure looks like requires that the investigator develop careful descriptions of the daily routines and concerns of the members of the studied organization over a lengthy period of time. makes a similar point. Essentially. Donald Light then suggests in the next paper that the structure of organizational life invariably lies well beneath the surface in a given research setting. and transition points in an educational institution as a way of understanding how organizational cultures are shaped and reshaped over time. The second set of papers represents methods less dominated by ethnographic. researchers should develop quantitative indicators where possible. Horeover. these papers succinctly suggest that the quantitative versus qualitative distinction drawn among social science methods is often an arbitrary and oversimplified distinction. Professor Piore's comments on the role played by direct. in large measure. By examples taken from his current research project." one that views the economy (both at the macro and micro levels) as a social process.selection of substantive topics to pursue in a given study cannot be disembodied from the actual research process itself. Michael Piore. in-depth interview techniques alone. also displays an interest in unscrambling social processes. Authors of papers in this set demonstrate that quantitative indicators ranging from the crude to the sophisticated can and do emerge from the use of field methods and the direct observation of organizations. as Professor Miles demonstrates in his discussion of fieldwork crises. they can guard against the entropic tendencies that are involved in team research wherein team members seek to go their own ways leading to an empirical defocusing and quite possibly the analytic deterioration of the study." After a review of the surprisingly rich literature on triangulation in social research. is a label for various social processes which. in his research on professional training. Andrew Pettigrew. Matthew Miles argues that it is a mistake to think that qualitative researchers are somehow against measurement. and on-site. Professor Jick displays the practical utility of having intimate 524/ASQ . from Professor Light's perspective. firsthand involvement in his own highly respected research has particular interest. Henry Mintzberg closes out this first set of papers with a crisp summary of the assumptions that underlie his own extensive research on the management of organizations. Structure. the points he articulates provide a rather comprehensive synopsis of the methodological positions taken by the authors of the preceding papers. however. Instead.

What these three papers do share however is a fresh outlook upon the legitimate topics of organizational inquiry. but are full of the subtle ironies that challenge us to think more clearly about organizational research. if anything. Closely related to the multiple methods explored by Professor Jick as a way of handling messy research topics. clearly desirable to assess an organization's environment in qualitative terms. This can be accomplished. retrospectively through close inspection of the artifacts of organizational research such as the non-response of organizational members to survey questionnaires. "thick and generalizable analyses. Charles McClintock. the interest in qualitative methods may well increase. Taking the assessment of an organization's environment as an illustrative substantive domain.Reciaiiiting Qualitative Methods familiarity with a research setting as a means of building several quantitative indicators of what to outsiders might seem to be rather impressionistic and ill-defined concepts. In this paper. they suggest that many researchers in this area may well have been pushed inappropriately (and perhaps prematurely) toward the quantification of environmental concepts without giving due consideration to the meaning of the concepts they measure. and otherwise stimulate organizations to see what. Professor Salancik essentially calls for the application of a natural experimentation model in organizational study. Moreover." The final paper of this set is by Kirk Downey and Duane Ireland and deals with the relative advantages and disadvantages of both quantitative and qualitative methods. The authors here show that the supposed analytic match that is ideally sought between problem and method invariably leaves considerable latitude for the use of both quantitative and qualitative techniques. In brief. the authors of the papers in this third set share neither a similar approach to data collection nor a similar stance toward data as they are produced. provoke. Professors Webb and Weick issue a lively call for the creative and playful use of unobtrusive measures in organizational studies and suggest in passing the intriguing proposition that as the popularity of the governing theories of the field declines. Arguing that while research designs and analytic techniques have become far more complex in recent years. The writings that appear in this set are not only rich with tightly drawn and worked out examples. and Steven MaynardMoody in the next selection argue for a more systematic approach for constructing case studies. The third and concluding set of papers presented in this issue is distinguished solely by the novel themes explored by the authors. Diane Brannon. It is these "governing 525/ASQ . will occur. Professors Downey and Ireland show how it is possible and. The first paper is Gerald R. for example. the task of data collection still plods along the relatively parochial self-report path with researchers devoting little effort to considering the range of alternatives available to them. Salancik's seductive plea to tickle. Some of the previously overlooked assumptions and implications associated with the use of unobtrusive measures in organizational research are spelled out in the following paper by Eugene Webb and Karl Weick. in the authors' view. a method based on the logic of survey analysis is described that seems to have considerable potential for producing. Unlike the previous two groupings of papers. in many cases.

Since language or "styles of discourse" can be seen to shape organizational analysis. Chris Argyris. If this special issue sharpens the dialogue among observers of organizations and helps to create an increased awareness of the methodological options available to them. each more or less dealing with qualitative methods. thus increasing the sources of insight and discovery. Following this essay. its use in social analysis is particularly pertinent and overdue since such analysis involves not only the interpretation of a "natural text" (social behavior) but the creation of another text as well through the descriptive accounts of social behavior generated by the researcher. outlines what he considers to be the basic procedures to be employed when using theory to develop and test generalizations inferred from qualitative data. Professor Argyris's remarks take issue with the conventional wisdom suggesting that there are good reasons behind the research stigma attached to the case study. our purposes will have been achieved. it must be said that the intent of this issue is to encourage the further develpment of qualitative study as a way of increasing the diversity of the field.theories" that interest Peter Manning in the concluding article of this issue. Although the analysis of discourse has long been a key method of literary criticism. The special issue is brought to a conclusion by slightly altering the standard format of the book review section. the author suggests that the researcher's own use of language become subject to methodological concern. are reviewed in light of their possible contribution to the theory and use of such methods in organizational research. four books. Professor Manning displays how the language chosen to represent a given social world serves also to constrain and perhaps prefigure the analysis of that world. in a review essay of a recent policy-making study. We wish to encourage additionally a more penetrating and reflective approach to the study of organizations than has been the case to date. 526/ASQ . First. In closing. Taking deadly aim at the correspondence theory of truth whereby the independence of the observer and the observed is assumed. In essence.

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