Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Ontological Oscillators and Ontological Purists

Burrell and Morgan (1979: 266) talk about the problem of ontological oscillation.  For example when trying to research a phenomenon that you regard as socially constructed you may find yourself "admitting a more realist form of ontology through the back door" when you come to try and operationalise your research design.  Karl Weick doesn't think that you have to stick rigidly to one ontological view for all time ... "if people have multiple identities and deal with multiple realities, why should we expect them to be ontological purists ?" (1995:35).  I sympathise with Weick's view that the issue is simply one of being consistent within a particular piece of research.  Contrast for example two recent pieces of work that I have been involved with ... one takes a constructionist perspective on relationships between clinicians and managers in healthcare settings (see http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.03.014) whilst the other involved a survey of managers to assess their familiarity with key strategy tools (forthcoming in the International Journal of Operations and Production Management).  Both papers occupy very different space in terms of ontology, epistemology and methodology ... but both are consistent within the confines of what they claim to do.  Oscillating is fine across projects ... but you need to be a purist within pieces of work and in your PhD it is too risky to claim more than one position in relation to the ologies.

Finally, whilst shamelessly plugging my own work ... here are a few of the papers I have written on the subject of research methods ... who knows, you might find them useful.

D MacLean, R MacIntosh and S Grant, Mode 2 Management Research, British Journal of Management, Volume 13, Issue 3, 189 – 207, December 2002

N Beech, R MacIntosh and D MacLean, Dialogues Between Academics and Practitioners: the role of generative dialogic encounters, Organization Studies, 31(9), 1341-1367, 2010.

 P Hibbert, R MacIntosh and C Coupland, Reflexivity, Recursion and Relationality in Organisational Research Processes, Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Volume 5, Issue 1, 2010, 47-62.

 N Beech, P Hibbert, R MacIntosh and P McInnes, But I Thought We Were Friends ?, in S Ybema, D Yanow, H Wels and F Kamsteeg (eds), Organizational Ethnography: studying the complexities of everyday life,  SAGE: London, Chapter 10, 196-214,  2009


  1. Hi Robert,

    When you talk about Weick (1995), do you refer to "Weick, K.E., 1995. Sensemaking in organisations (Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks)?

    Congrats for this great blog.

    Thank you in advance,


  2. Robert MacIntosh9 July 2011 at 04:46

    that's the very book Pablo ... it is a very good read. Robert