Panel Discussion: Always learning something new – methods for budding and more experienced IB scholars

Panel discussion in the 16th Vaasa International Business Conference
Always learning something new – methods for budding and more experienced IB scholars

Rebecca Piekkari, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
Niina Nummela, Turku School of Economics, Finland
Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, Turku School of Economics, Finland

This panel offers three perspectives to the state-of-the-art qualitative research in international business (IB). During the last decades, IB has taken leaps in incorporating qualitative approaches to be part of the research tradition. Nevertheless, based on recent literature reviews, qualitative research yet remains in the minority position of IB empirical research and methodological theorizing. In addition to establishing the position in IB via special issues and increased numbers of published empirical studies, and the organization of conference sessions and special interest groups dedicated to qualitative research methods, there have also been calls for progressing the ways qualitative research is conducted in IB. These discussions relate to the necessity to conduct rigorous and relevant qualitative research that serves the knowledge production needs of IB, enhances theorizing and teases out yet unnoticed observations and findings keeping the field influential, vivid and progressive.

”What can IB teach colleagues from other disciplines about qualitative research methods?”

This talk will focus on the uniqueness of IB as a field for the advancement of contextualization in the use and application of qualitative research methods. One of the strengths of our field lies in the potential to take context seriously. Firms can be studied as part of the global economic, political and social system rather than in a vacuum. At best, the context for IB scholars is a research object rather than merely a research site like for many other fields. In this regard, IB researchers have the advantage of explaining in and with context rather than away from context to arrive at universal and generalizable theories and constructs. The talk will argue that recent advances in qualitative research methods emphasize that context does not only have descriptive but also explanatory value.
“Navigating the messiness of mixed-methods research”

Scholarly research is expected to be methodologically rigorous: exact, precise and compliant with the norms, standards and practices set by the academic community. We assume empirical studies to be carefully planned and structured and the research process to be reported transparently and in detail. When publishing, therefore, authors often polish the descriptions of their research processes to provide only a sneak peek into the ‘muddling through’ that happened in practice. Mixed-methods research is no exception to this tendency; when reporting such studies, authors often try to present a ‘clean’ version of the study, passing over anomalies, irregularities and challenges. This presentation focuses on how to navigate through the messiness of mixed-methods research from the viewpoint of empirical and design-related mess.

“The roles of temporal context and history in IB theorizing”

Both context and temporal aspects have gained attention in IB research recently. Especially, when endeavouring to gain a deeper and richer understanding of IB phenomena, and possibly also more enduring theoretical contributions, embracing the (temporal) context is becoming a must. However, when theorizing, by definition of theories, we face the demands of generalizability and reductionism that can easily strip off context and time, that is, aspects that can hold significant explanatory power within the phenomenon. Similarly, from another perspective, when assessing the suitability of a theory to our research framework, we rarely come to think of the time and context that gave rise to the theory originally and how they might impact its later applicability. A possible remedy to the situation could be the use of history research methods in combination with qualitative methods, such as qualitative longitudinal studies and microhistories that could offer us, via transparency, theories with broader applicability.

The panel encourages new, budding researchers as well as more experienced scholars to explore qualitative research approaches with rigour and enthusiasm. The mastery of methods and their application purposefully, creatively and rigorously to solve topical research problems in a complex world is a key to increasing the quality, strength and relevance of IB theories and the field as a whole.