Application of Grounded Theory and the Abduction Approach to the Research of Cluster Organizations

Chapter 4 presents the research methodology, accounting for the adopted research paradigm and the applied research strategies. It also presents the subsequent stages of the research process. In its second part, the chapter describes in detail the research procedure used in the course of designing and performing the study. For each of the designed research stages, the authors describe the method of sample selection and the use of data collection, analysis, and interpretation techniques. The description of the research procedure is bookended with information on the methodological rigor used in the study.

Research Methodology

No emerging research projects ever arise in an intellectual vacuum. Instead, projects arise from both the practical experience of the researcher, as well as their particular theoretical outlook. Experiences derived in the course of past empirical studies are a considerable facilitator in the stage of building and operationalizing research tools. Nevertheless, it is the researcher’s theoretical perspective which is of paramount importance in the process of designing empirical activities - as it sets the ontological, epistemic, and methodological framework in which the researcher will operate.

The social sciences, including management sciences, comprise not only multiple paradigms (as this is the term commonly used to refer to a general theoretical perspective delineating the ontological, epistemic, and methodological context of research), but also multiple diverse criteria for their selection and categorization. One of the divisions which is the most preferred in management is Burrell’s and Morgan’s classic proposal of four quadrants (Burrell & Morgan, 1979), which divides the main research perspectives of the social sciences into the functionalist paradigm, the symbolic-interpretive paradigm, the radical structuralist paradigm, and postmodernism. In Sulkowski’s (2012) modified version, the list encompasses the symbolic paradigm, the neo-positivist-functionalist- systems paradigm, the symbolic-interpretive paradigm, and the radical structuralist paradigm (the critical wall), as well as an approach based on radical humanism (postmodernism). In keeping with the latter typology, it is worth highlighting that the optic used in this publication is that of the symbolic-interpretive paradigm.

One characteristic feature of the symbolic-interpretive outlook on social reality is the belief in the intersubjective nature of its existence. This reality is created by human beings operating in different areas, who “share” their subjective sensations in the process of interpretation and meaning-making, which pertains to both objectively existing elements, as well as to thought constructs, which do not have direct representations in reality, albeit which symbolically impact individuals and their surroundings. In consequence, it should be a natural tendency for researchers who adopt this outlook to focus their attention on individuals, their subjective beliefs on specific elements of reality, as well as their intersubjectively created and maintained beliefs on the form of existence of reality. In the social and economic sphere, in which cluster organizations (COs) are embedded (which is fundamental from the perspective of the issues raised in this work), this points to the necessity of understanding the differences and similarities of the intersubjectively shared visions of committed actors. This is harmonious with one of the key premises of the symbolic-interpretive perspective, i.e. social constructivism or the belief that particular aspects of social life (in this case limited to the area of the existence and operation of COs) are constructed in the course of social processes. This means that such elements as establishing ties among cluster members, communication within the CO and its subgroups (e.g. taskgroups), cooperation among cluster members, the creation of hierarchical structures (superior and subordinate entities), as well as mechanisms of coordinating and maintaining rules do not have the status of separate entities or objectively existing creations, but are the effects of intersubjective processes of negotiating meanings among individuals representing particular beneficiaries. It is worth noting that social constructivism was regarded by Creswell (1998) as one of four main worldviews (i.e. paradigms) a researcher may adapt when analyzing reality in accordance with the scientific method.

Considering the above short deliberation on the paradigm adopted in this work as relatively sufficient with respect to its reference to the social essence of reality (ontology) and the possibilities of its knowing and understanding (epistemology), we can now turn to the dimension of reflection which is directly tied to the processes of collecting and analyzing data on this reality - the methodological dimension. Qualitative research is a natural and well-traversed path within each of the paradigms accentuating the essential nature of subjectivity and/or intersubjectivity for the description and explanation of a particular area of reality. Qualitative research enables the researcher to explore the specific nature of a given area of existence, to find meanings and significance assigned by committed entities, i.e. a specific reconstruction of reality corresponding to the beliefs and feelings of the individuals constructing and maintaining it.

References to Peirce (1931, 1958) and the philosophy of abduction (which will be discussed in the further course of this work) lead us to account for - beside the symbolic-interpretive paradigm - the pragmatic worldview as well, of which Peirce is considered the author. The term abduction (which allows for the formulation of useful explanations of observed facts) plays an important role in the conceptualization of pragmatism. Developed on a canvas of actions and their context, pragmatism puts particular focus on the practical efficiency of solving research problems, leaving the researchers with considerable freedom in terms of selecting research methods, techniques, and procedures.

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