Business and Management INK

In this article, co-authors Hans Hansen, Sara Elias, Anna Stevenson, Anne D. Smith, Benjamin Nathan Alexander, and Marcos Barros reflect on the inspiration behind their research article, Resisting the Objectification of Qualitative Research: The Unsilencing of Context, Researchers, and Noninterview Data, found in Organizational Research Methods.

This working title for our four-year collaboration about qualitative research is a riff on the Austin, Texas mantra (“Keeping Austin Weird”), calling on the city to retain its unique character even as it welcomed increasing popularity. In that spirit, our paper – “Resisting the Objectification of Qualitative Research: The Unsilencing of Context, Researchers, and Noninterview Data” – urges qualitative researchers to retain what makes qualitative research different and powerful and yes… weird: the researcher’s voice, multitudes of potential data sources, and meaningful contextualization. We suggest how researchers might resist the objectification of qualitative research and, by preserving its rich subjectivity, regain its original promise in developing more impactful and interesting theories.

Most of the authors met at a 2019 Academy of Management PDW about interviewing, which was packed and well received, but questions from the audience were perplexing: How many interviews do I need? When a reviewer asks for more interviews, how do I respond? How do we use interviews in a meaningful way in qualitative research? After the PDW concluded, we sat around and discussed the opportunity to say something about the tyranny of the interview in qualitative research. From this beginning, we enjoyed the diversity of our viewpoints (different philosophical approaches, theoretical areas, and career stages).

Over the next 3 years, while meeting every other week on Zoom across time zones and continents and throughout the pandemic, we gathered data about interview studies in top journals (AMJ, ASQ, HR, Org Studies) and considered what we observed. We were able to mark objectification as reflected in published interview-based research and identify a number of typical, possibly even taken-for-granted practices through which objectification occurred. Delving deeper into these, we found a disturbing pattern of silencing non-interview data, the researcher, and the research context.

We found that:

  • Non-interview data, while discussed in data collection, were not systematically analyzed and often disappeared in findings;
  • It was unclear why researchers chose a topic or context and how researchers were involved in data analysis; and
  • The research context was often held at arms-length or “thinly” described, cleaving it from phenomena and related theoretical implications.

We also drew on exemplary research in the articles we sampled to recommend how others may resist objectification. Some ideas include:

  • Considering non-interview data as equal to interview data in terms of its ability to generate insights during analysis and shape findings;
  • Including the researcher’s voice by making clear their interest in the topic/context, how access was obtained, and what they actually did in the analysis (i.e. allowing room for interpretation rather than the mere collection and compilation of data); and
  • Providing rich descriptions of context, even in appendices, in recognition of a phenomenon’s contextual embeddedness and to embed findings for readers.

With consideration of researchers’ experience and professional positions, we also offer practical advice on how to navigate this resistance depending on the level of effort it requires (e.g., changes in the write-up, data analysis or research design).

In sum, we encourage researchers to embrace the weird – the creativity and richness of qualitative research!

Hans Hansen (pictured) is an associate professor in management at the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University. He received a PhD in management at the University of Kansas and has research expertise in qualitative research, narrative theory, and organizational theory. Sara Elias is an associate professor in the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria. She has a PhD in business administration from the University of Missouri and has areas of expertise in arts entrepreneurship, aesthetics in organizations and entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship as practice, entrepreneurial imagining, creative entrepreneurial processes, qualitative methodologies. Anna Stevenson is a postdoc in organizational studies at Lund University. Her research interests include power relations and identity in organizations, inclusion/exclusion in the organization of societal change, social entrepreneurship, the role of context in the entrepreneurial process, and qualitative methods. Anne Smith is a professor of management and King & Judy Rogers Professor in Business at the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As a researcher, Smith focuses on the practice of qualitative research, specifically data analysis of interviews and photographs. Benjamin N.B. Alexander is an associate professor in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly. He received his Ph.D. from the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University and has research interests in stakeholder management, collective action, research methods, and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Marcos Barros is a professor in the Grenoble School of Management at Grenoble, Rhône-Alpes, France. He has a PhD in management and has amassed a catalog of 31 different academic research publications.

View all posts by Hans Hansen, Sara Elias, Anna Stevenson, Anne Smith, Benjamin N.B. Alexander, and Marcos Barros

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