Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods on Human Resource Management
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Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods on Human Resource Management

Innovative Techniques

Edited by Keith Townsend, Rebecca Loudoun and David Lewin

This Handbook explores the opportunities and challenges of new technologies for innovating data collection and data analysis in the context of human resource management. Written by some of the world’s leading researchers in their field, it comprehensively explores modern qualitative research methods from good project design, to innovations in data sources and data collection methods and, finally, to best-practice in data analysis.
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Chapter 9: Thinking about philosophical methods in human resources

Kerrie L. Unsworth and Matthew T. Hardin


Much has been said about the lack of new or surprising theory in the management sciences (see, for example, Cornelissen and Durand, 2014) and the situation may be even more dire in the field of human resource management (HRM). Although our work in this field is not lacking a theoretical basis, a great deal of it has come from simply applying theories from other disciplines to our own (for example, translating the resource-based view of the firm from strategic management). Developing theories in HRM could improve the field and give new insights in how best to apply it but how does one create new and exciting theory? A special issue in the Academy of Management Review in 2011 identified a number of tools (for example, Alvesson and Sandberg, 2011; Corley and Gioia, 2011; Okhuysen and Bonardi, 2011; Suddaby et al., 2011), but at the heart of this problem is the need to engage in theorising for theorising’s sake. In other words, we need philosophy. In this chapter, we outline the philosophical method, explain some specific techniques and apply them to HRM. By doing so, we hope that others can see the benefits and usefulness of philosophical methods in HRM. A great deal of HRM knowledge is based on empirical research; and the preference for empiricism over theorising alone is apparent in what is published in the key HRM journals. There is nothing wrong with this approach, however, we suggest that conceptual methods and “armchair research” are valid and illuminating in and of themselves; they can be used to broaden our understanding of the world of HRM. In this chapter we describe and show how the methods of the discipline of philosophy can be used to gain understanding. Given that “the aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things, in the broadest possible sense of the term, hang together, in the broadest possible sense of the term” (Sellars, 1962 [1963], p. 35), this seems like an appropriate avenue for HRM at this stage in the discipline’s development.

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