This chapter describes our qualitative oriented methodological choices. We clarify our philosophical standings, introduce our multiple case study design, as well as disclose information regarding our theoretical sampling and data collection. To complete this chapter, we discuss ethical issues as well as the trustworthiness of our study.
Research Philosophy and Approach
Before going more into detail with the methodological aspects and design of our research, we want to clarify our philosophical standings related to the ontological and epistemological questions. In regards to the ontology, we see our standing to be the closest to the thoughts of relativism as we both believe there to exist several different possible ‘truths’ instead of one universal verity (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson, 2015). Similarly, we also believe that viewpoints and perspectives of a researcher do affect and have a significant role in the creation of knowledge. These points of view are in line with the relativist ontology and, thus, highlight the difference between our thoughts and, for instance, realism which believes in the existence of a single truth waiting for its reveal (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). In other words, we see our ontological standing to be closest to relativism.
In social sciences, a relativist ontology is normally aligned with an epistemology of social constructionism also referred to as interpretivism (to be consistent, we use the term interpretivism in this study) due to their similar perspectives (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). Following this tradition, we also see interpretivism to be the closest to our epistemological preferences. Typically for interpretivism, we are also interested in the thoughts, the experiences and the feelings of people, the meanings they give to events, and the way they communicate about them instead of focusing purely on frequency of patterns (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). Furthermore, as mentioned already in the discussion of the ontological perspectives, we also see that we as researchers and observers are part of the observed situation and, thus, cannot be completely independent from the situation. Moreover, our main aim is to expand the comprehensive understanding of chronic illness’ effect on family businesses’ adaptation instead of mapping out the causal relationships between different variables, which further highlights the interpretivism oriented epistemology of our study and sets us apart from positivism (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015).
Several facts also support the benefits related to applying an interpretivist philosophy. For instance, Nordqvist, Hall and Melin (2009) point out the interpretivist approach as a prominent key in driving family business research further, and emphasise interpretivism to be especially good in helping to thoroughly understand and analyse the complexity and the characteristic nature of family businesses. Furthermore, Nordqvist et al. (2009) underline the interpretivist philosophy to be advantageous as it treats family businesses as individual cases and thus acknowledges their heterogeneity. Moreover, Easterby-Smith et al. (2015) also argue interpretivist epistemology in general to be beneficial due to its flexible nature which accepts the use various data sources, and its fit to theory generation. In addition to the already highlighted need of deep understanding of our participants’ experiences and feelings, these points further support the suitability of interpretivist epistemology for our research.
Naturally, we also acknowledge that our choice has its weaknesses and understand that our standing might, for instance, complicate the analysing of the collected data and make the conducting of the whole research more time-consuming and demanding (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). Nevertheless, the lack of analytical tools and programs typically utilised in more positivistic research can also create challenges (Nordqvist et al., 2009). Along the way, we have also faced typical problems of gaining access due to our approach and topic (Nordqvist et al., 2009), which can be also counted as negative effects of our standing. Nevertheless, we see the advantages brought in by our approach still to be much greater than the disadvantages caused by it.
As the above presented discussion of our epistemology already alluded, our study is a qualitative study meaning that our collected data is mainly in a non-numeric form (Eisenhardt, 1989). For our purposes, qualitative data is especially suitable as it is often applied for theory building in conditions where there does not yet exist any theory or the theory is inadequate (Graebner, Martin, & Roundy, 2012). Furthermore, as Graeber et al. (2012, p. 278) also underline, qualitative data is commonly applied “to capture individuals’ lived experiences and interpretations” and, thus, highly applicable for our purposes. Moreover, typically for studies with interpretivism oriented epistemology and qualitative design, our study adopts an inductive approach and, thus, aims to inducing concepts and models from the rich and broad data we collect (De Massis & Kotlar, 2014). This is also natural for our study as there does not yet exist any theoretical or conceptual models focusing on the topic we are studying. Therefore, a deductive theory testing quantitative study is not suitable for our topic of study.
Following Easterby-Smith et al. (2015) who suggest cases and surveys to be a common study design for a relativist ontology and an interpretivist epistemology, we have chosen cases as a design of our study. By their design our case studies can be categorised as an exploratory type of case studies as their “aim is to understand how a phenomenon takes place” (De Massis & Kotlar, 2014, p. 16) and they are utilised to study the organisational dynamics under a stress situation caused by a chronic illness (De Massis & Kotlar, 2014).
De Massis and Kotlar (2014) argue that in a correct way applied a case study can be a highly useful method that can be used to “describe complex phenomena, develop new theory or refine and extend existing theories” (De Massis & Kotlar, 2014, p. 16). Eisenhardt (1989) agrees with this and emphasises the case study method to be particularly suitable for research areas where so far no theory exists. Furthermore, Eisenhardt (1989) states the case study method to be advantageous for creating theory as often theories created by these means are highly testable, repeatable, strongly supported by empirical evidence, and less biased by the researcher than some more deductive approaches. In addition, the facts that case studies are the most utilised research design among qualitative studies in the field of family business research (De Massis, Sharma, Chua, Chrisman, & Kotlar, 2012) and especially popular design in small business research (Curran & Blackburn, 2001), emphasise the applicability of case studies as the method of our study. Nevertheless, we also acknowledge the criticism towards the case study method from positivistic researchers, who are concerned about the findings’ trustworthiness and rigorousness in a case study research (Yin, 2014), and aim to take these concerns into consideration in the designing of our study.
In the designing of a strong case study research a crucial step is the process of setting the unit of analysis (De Massis & Kotlar, 2014). Easterby-Smith et al. (2015) describe unit of analysis as “the main level at which data is aggregated (…) [and clarify that] individuals, groups, events, organizations” (p. 343) all can be an unit of analysis depending on the study and its focus. De Massis and Kotlar (2014) also point out that some phenomena take place on various levels, and in such cases it might be required to have several units of analysis. This is the case in our research, in which we are interested in the effects of the chronic illness not only on the family but also on the business level as well as looking at, how the coping with the illness affects other actors within the organisations such as employees. Therefore, our units of analysis are the owners’ and their families, the business management and the employees.
Lee and Lings (2008) notify that researchers planning to apply a case study method are required to decide, whether choosing a single case or several cases serves best the purposes of their study, and helps them to provide answers for their research question. A single case study is in many cases more than enough to fulfil the needs of the research, but this method might cause problems in regards to the generalisability of the results (Curran & Blackburn, 2001). Easton (1998) adds to this that even though multiple case studies might increase the breadth of the findings, they can also force the researcher to settle between findings of different cases, and therefore, the use of several cases might hamper the depth of the findings. Nevertheless, Yin (2014) points out that the use of multiple case studies has lately risen in popularity, and that they, as a more robust method, can tackle many of the weaknesses of single case studies. De Massis and Kotlar (2014) clarify this statement by saying that the use of multiple cases allows the researcher to find out, whether a certain finding is only an idiosyncratic finding or applicable for several cases, and therefore make more veridical findings. Similarly, Bryman and Bell (2011) point out as the biggest benefit of multiple cases the ability to compare findings. Furthermore, Eisenhardt (1989, 1991) advices multiple case studies to be an excellent choice for building theory out of cases as they allow replication and extension over a single setting. Based on these arguments, we have chosen to look instead of a single case at multiple cases.
As multiple case studies are not the most puritan form of case studies, one can wonder, how do they exactly differ from a cross-sectional study design. Bryman and Bell (2011) have clarified this by stating the differentiating factor to be the level of focus on the case context and its uniqueness – if special attention is given to study these characteristics, a study can be categorised as a multiple case study and therefore as an extension of a normal case study design. If no real attention is paid to the context and focus is just on general findings, a study cannot be seen as a case study (Bryman & Bell, 2011). In our study, we are aiming to look at each of our cases also as individual ones as well as to take their specific contextual features into consideration, which indicates that our research fulfils the criterion of the multiple case study method.
Different researchers’ views and emphasis of them vary rather strongly in the sampling of case studies. Some of the differences between researchers’ views can be explained by their varying epistemological standings (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). For instance, whereas Yin (2014) strongly underlines the importance of replicability instead of sampling logic in multiple case studies, Lee and Lings (2008) argue it to be always essential for a case study design that there exists a theoretical reasoning behind the choice of the cases, to be able to provide answers for the research question. Eisenhardt (1989) as well as Eisenhardt and Graebner (2007) agree with the later view and highlight theoretical sampling over other typical sampling methods as the most suitable sampling for case studies that aim for theory and knowledge creation. De Massis and Kotlar (2014) sum up these differing views and highlight the sampling of multiple cases indeed to be tricky as both the replicability of the cases as well as the theoretical considerations should be simultaneously considered to guarantee the best possible results.
In line with the above presented standpoints of theoretical reasoning, our research question and aims also set some theoretical requirements for the sampling of our case studies. Firstly, we are focusing in our study on small size family businesses and entrepreneurial couples as we are interested in the interplay of the family and the business. Furthermore, in line with the findings of Sonfeld and Lussier (2008) we believe that in the smaller size organisations the magnitude of the effects of an illness is much greater than in bigger organisations, due to the more advanced professionalism in bigger organisations. In defining what we see as a small size business, we follow the guidelines given by the European Commission (2017), which categorises all businesses employing less than 50 people and having turnover/balance sheet total less than 10 million euros. Furthermore, organisations that employ less than 10 people and have turnover/balance sheet total of less than 2 million euros are called micro size companies by the European Commission (2017). We have decided to accept companies fitting to either of these categories to our sample. In defining what we consider as a family business, we follow the definition of Jennings et al. (2013) provided in our frame of reference. Moreover, as discussed in the frame of reference, we accept entrepreneurial couples as a form of family businesses as well.
Table of Contents
1.1 Problem Discussion
1.2 Purpose and Research Questions
2. Frame of Reference
2.1 Defining Family Business
2.2 Characteristics of Family Firms
2.3 Well-Being and Business Ownership
2.4 Limitations of the Existing Family Business Research
2.5 Chronic and Severe Illness
2.6 Family Science
2.7 Theoretical Framework
3.1 Research Philosophy and Approach
3.2 Research Design
3.3 Theoretical Sampling
3.4 Research Methods
3.5 Data Collection
3.6 Data Analysis
3.7 Research Ethics
4. Empirical Findings
4.1 Case A
4.2 Case B
4.3 Case C
4.4 Case D
4.5 Expert Interview – Occupational Therapist
5.1 Stressor Event
5.3 Family Demands and Resources
5.4 Business Demands and Resources
5.5 Preconditions Affecting the Organisation’s Adaptation
6.1 Developed Model and Theoretical Contributions
6.2 Practical and Societal Implications
6.4 Future Research
8. Reference List
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The influence of owner’s chronic illness on family firm’s adaptation