Comparing Organizations: New Approaches to Using Case Study, Small-N, and Set-Theoretical Methods
King's College London (UK)
Ruth V. Aguilera
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (USA)
Peer C. Fiss
Marshall School of Business of the University
of Southern California (USA)
Call for papers
Organizations are widely conceived as complex systems of interdependent factors, but empirical methodology often poorly reflects such interdependence. For example, standard linear model, such as regression analysis, treat variables as competing in explaining variation in the outcome rather than focusing on how causes may combine in specific cases to create outcomes. Meanwhile, case studies have an important tradition in organizational research, but face the challenge of generalizing across cases or using cases effectively to better 'contextualize' the boundary conditions of existing theories.
Recently, organization researchers have begun applying comparative research methods to studying 'cases' at the organizational or national level. In particular, a number of newer small-N and set-theoretic methods (Fiss, forthcoming), such as Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), have been applied to cross-national data (where N is small) or organizational analysis where causation is complex and there are more than one path to an outcome (e.g. Ragin, 2000). Similarly, case-based comparisons have been used to develop theory and explore causality where conventional statistical methods are too unwieldy (e.g. Eisenhardt, 1989).
Comparative methods invite application to a wide number of areas of organizational research in order to extend case study research designs or better understand how complex combinations of factors influence organizational outcomes, such as in research on ‘varieties of capitalism’(Kogut & Ragin, 2006), comparative corporate governance (Aguilera & Jackson, 2003), or business strategy (Kogut, MacDuffie & Ragin, 2004). By understanding organizations as complex ‘cases’ with historical and contextual uniqueness, we may gain a better understanding about perceived ‘best practices’ and their potential imitation or adaptation in different settings.
For this sub-theme, we invite contributions that draw on comparative methods, including but not limited to comparative case studies, small-N, and set theoretical methods. We encourage contributions from a diverse range of empirical fields, including both macro-institutional analyses of organizations in different countries and micro-analyses of firms. We invite submissions that reflect (but are not limited to) the following sorts of questions:
- What is the current state of the art of comparative case study and small-N analysis, and how might these be applied to studying organizations?
- What is a case, and what does case-based research in particular contribute to our understanding of organizations?
- What are synergies between comparative methods and standard statistical analyses? How can both be complementary?
- How can comparative approaches – particularly using QCA – be made more dynamic and take into account temporal processes?
- How can comparative analysis usefully be combined with narrative approaches that focus on culture and discourse?
- How can the comparative method reflect back onto and inform theory? What theoretical approaches – such as institutional theory, business systems theory, the resource-based view, frame analysis, or network theory – could benefit more from applying a comparative approach?
- Empirical applications of comparative methods in organization research, to topics such as corporate governance, international management, strategic alliances, entrepreneurship, or human resource management.
Aguilera, R.V. & G. Jackson (2003): The Cross-National Diversity of Corporate Governance: Dimensions and Determinants. Academy of Management Review, 28: 447-465.
Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. (1989): Building Theories from Case Study Research. Academy of Management Review, 14: 532-550.
Fiss, P.C. (forthcoming): A Set-Theoretic Approach to Organizational Configurations. Academy of Management Review.
Kogut, B., J.P. MacDuffie & C.C. Ragin (2004): Prototypes and Strategy: Assigning Causal Credit Using Fuzzy Sets. European Management Review, 1: 114-131.
Kogut, B. & C.C. Ragin (2006): Exploring Complexity when Diversity is Limited: Institutional Complementarity in Theories of Rule of Law and National Systems Revisited. European Management Review, 3: 44-59.
Ragin, C.C. (2000): Fuzzy-Set Social Science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
About the convenors
Gregory Jackson is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Management at King's College London. He received his PhD in Sociology at Columbia University and his concerns the institutional and comparative analysis of corporate governance, particularly in Germany, Japan, the US and UK. For more information, please see:
Ruth V. Aguilera is an Associate Professor at the Department of Business Administration at the College of Business and at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She received her PhD in sociology from Harvard University and works in the fields of comparative corporate governance, cross-border alliances, social networks, and corporate social responsibility. For more information, please see:
Peer C. Fiss is an Assistant Professor of Strategy and Organization at the Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California. He received his PhD from Northwestern University, and has worked on corporate governance, framing, and diffusion of practice, as well as applying set-theoretic methods such as Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) in management, strategy and organizational research. For more information, please see: