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Rethinking the Case Study in International Business and Management Research

Edited by Rebecca Piekkari and Catherine Welch

This important and original book critically evaluates case study practices and calls for a more pluralistic future for case research in international business (IB) and international management (IM).
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Chapter 5: Critical Realism and Case Studies in International Business Research

Ricardo Morais


Ricardo Morais* INTRODUCTION What is the appropriate role for qualitative research and case studies? In the field of international business (IB), qualitative studies are thought to be especially appropriate ‘to discover new relationships or situations not previously conceived’ (Daniels and Cannice 2004, p. 186). Such an emphasis on uncovering new relationships may, however, reflect the underlying philosophical paradigm which the researcher has adopted – consciously or unconsciously. A positivist paradigm, for instance, assumes reality as objective and knowledge as independent of our values; science is accordingly the collection of facts. From such a perspective, the aim of research is to discover natural laws which determine human behaviour. This paradigm, which permeates the IB field, implies that qualitative studies should be restricted to exploratory research, because small samples are not suited to uncovering general laws. In Zalan and Lewis’s (2004, p. 522) words, ‘there has been a tendency within the positivist paradigm to confine idiographic research to the initial stages of scientific inquiry, stemming from a lack of familiarity with the ontological, epistemological and methodological principles of qualitative methods’. The dominance of positivism in IB research therefore restricts case studies to a subordinate role, and questions their ability to contribute to scientific explanation. In contrast, other paradigms such as constructivism and critical theory (for example, Lincoln and Guba 2000) assume that reality is subjective and knowledge is value dependent. The aim of such paradigms, therefore, is to research values rather than facts. In addition, alternative paradigms to positivism may legitimize qualitative studies...

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