Vignettes in Critical Theory Investigations

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Our main intention with this chapter is to describe how to investigate power relations in business from a critical-theoretical perspective through the use of vignettes. Power is a central, all-pervasive, but 'essentially contested concept' (Gallie in Proc Aristotelian Soc 56:167-198, 1955). The critical-theoretical paradigm provides particular insights for the study of power, because the way power is conceptualised is value-dependent, in that both its definition and use are tied to (usually implicit) value assumptions (Lukes in Power: A radical view. MacMillan Press, Basingstoke, 1974). Central to critical theory is making one's value assumptions explicit as part of the research process. The choice of a particular value system tends to empower and enfranchise certain persons or groups (and disem-power and disenfranchise others). To counteract these problems, critical theory is hermeneutic (i.e., trying to understand the socio-cultural world in which subjective meaning is located), emancipatory (i.e., changes individuals' self-consciousness, thereby changing society as a whole) and dialectical (i.e., transcending dualities like subject-object and fact and value). A way of engaging and empowering research participants is through the use of vignettes. Using vignettes in this context provides particular value, because they can act as stimulus to engender thought and action in line with the normative directives of critical theory. And vignettes have a particular relevance in business research, where their highly normative participative nature can involve and empower business stakeholders. They are likely to be more effective than most other techniques (Alexander and Becker in Public Opin Q 42 (1):93-104, 1978; Finch in Sociology 21(1):105-114, 1987). They potentially minimise the legal and ethical implications of observation studies (as also discussed in Marroun and Young in this volume). And they avoid potential Hawthorne effects in that vignettes identify knowledge, attitudes and opinions in any given situation and may not change the observed person's attitudes or behaviour as structured questioning or observation does (Wilson and While in J Interprof Care 12(1):79-86, 1998). This chapter thus describes the use of vignettes as a means to accomplish both practical and critical-theoretical research goals. After a clarifying definition of vignettes, their different intentions and purposes are described in a critical-theoretical perspective. The use of vignettes is then described, as are related evaluation criteria. Turned into methodological procedures, the use of vignettes will be illustrated by three examples, showing how theory, documents and preceding empirical research can be used as vignettes-or turned into vignettes-in doing critical business research.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCollaborative Research Design : Working with Business for Meaningful Findings
EditorsPer Vagn Freytag, Louise Young
Place of PublicationSingapore
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9789811050060
ISBN (Electronic)9789811050084
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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