Handbook of Research on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
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Handbook of Research on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

Edited by Elizabeth Chell and Mine Karataş-Özkan

This insightful Handbook focuses on behaviour, performance and relationships in small and entrepreneurial firms. It introduces a variety of contemporary topics, research methods and theoretical frameworks that will provide cutting edge analysis, stimulate thought, raise further questions and demonstrate the complexity of the rapidly-advancing field of entrepreneurship.
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Chapter 7: The Critical Incident Technique: philosophical underpinnings, method and application to a case of small business failure

Elizabeth Chell


The Critical Incident Technique (CIT) was first used in a scientific study over half a century ago (Flanagan, 1954). The significance of this time span is that then the assumption of a functionalist or positivist approach to social science investigations was largely unquestioned. It was the dominant paradigm in the social sciences as it was in the natural sciences (Burrell and Morgan, 1979; Pittaway, 2000). In 1998 I began to consider how CIT might be utilised from an interpretivist perspective (Chell, 1998; 2004). This means that there are two main variants of the CIT—positivist and anti-positivist. The CIT is thus a very flexible method which may be used in task analysis in specific occupations to identify those factors that lead to successful or unsuccessful performances; or, more broadly as an exploratory tool to develop a depth of understanding of the context and actions of a subject in the face of what they perceive to be critical incidents that affect outcomes of success or failure. The use and further development of the CIT method has been carried out in small business and entrepreneurship research, management, marketing and the service sector (Gremler, 2004; Chell and Pittaway, 1998). Reviews have focused on the CIT's trustworthiness as a method (Butterfield et al., 2005), its practical value, and its ability to explore issues and build theory from the respondents' perspective (Gremler, 2004).

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