The Research Process and the Role of Theory in Business Research - 2024

This doctoral seminar is aimed at 'early' doctoral students in the field of business and social science. The course consists of two parts.

Part ONE (10-12 June 2024) aims to provide you with an overview of research and science, the path to becoming an academic scholar, and practical guidance on conducting scientific work. It commences with a series of sessions on classical philosophy of science, addressing fundamental questions about research, including its purpose and potential, the role of theory and its empirical foundations, and the significance of scientific communities. This foundational knowledge equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the essence of science and research. Following this, practical workshops guide students through the stages of their own research, encompassing the establishment of the theoretical framework for their PhD, selection of research questions, and methodological considerations.

Preparation for part One

1. Classical Philosophy of Science. Each student is required to submit an assignment, not exceeding 1000 words in length. The assignment should elucidate the fundamental tenets of one of the contemporary doctrines within the philosophy of science, specifically focusing on logical empiricism, critical rationalism, or Kuhn's theory as presented in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." This assignment is expected to go beyond the content presented in Caldwell and ideally include references to original sources. Assignments are due on the first day of Part ONE during the class session. The allocation of the topics will take place after students have signed up for the seminar (then students will also get more detailed information about the assignment). This implies that a number of participants will work on the same topic in parallel. You might cooperate with your group (we even encourage you to do so), but you must hand in individual assignments (i.e. you must not hand in identical or similar assignments within your group). Please focus on the essential, work out the most important lines of your argument and do not lose yourself in the details: What are 'your' philosophers criticizing? How do they want to solve their problem? What remains relevant today? What can we learn from them for our research activities?

2. Student Presentations of Research. Each student is to submit (by email to Lisbeth Widahl) a description of his/her doctoral work by 3 June 2024. To this end, a template will be made available before the course. We will work with these documents throughout the course but especially on the second day during the student presentations that are based on these documents. Amongst others, the template will require the description of the doctoral work with regards to:

1)    The field of knowledge within which the project is located, i.e.  a description of the relevant theories and work addressing those theories that you wish to join

2)    A preliminary research question. This should be expressed as one sentence and should derive from your review of the field

3)    A suggested method appropriate to the research question and field

4)    Key references

Students will be asked to present to the class a) their research question and why it matters; b) the relation of the question to theory; c) an argument for why their choice of method is appropriate.

Part One: Schedule/Readings

Part TWO (11-13 September 2024) elaborates on part ONE by providing additional room for a focused discussion with regard to the concept and importance of theory in business research. Thus, the course offers PhD students hands-on tools to build theory and insights into the instruments and concepts of validating theory. As such, we offer students guidance to link research questions to theory, for defining constructs, thinking through relationships and processes that link constructs, and deriving new theoretical models (or building on existing ones) based on those relationships. We seek to illustrate how to use analyses as well as grounded and emergent approaches to theory construction. Students are enabled to develop ideas from across theoretical and analytical levels as well as from neighboring research fields. An explicit aim of the course is to provide students with a deeper appreciation of theory-building in order to support them in crafting effective research papers and grant applications.

Finally, as a secondary aim, part TWO of the course strives to create an 'esprit de corps' among the students and thus to highlight possible venues for research collaboration across the different research fields. Therefore, while students learn about different formats of research outputs, processes, and theory validations relative to the several specific research fields, they will also be exposed to the potential and advantages of cross-disciplinary research.

Preparation for Part Two

As a follow-up to the assignment of Part One of the course, we ask each participant to prepare a three-page (max.) document wherein they reformulate their PhD proposal using the following seven questions as a framework:

1.    What is the phenomenon/mystery (X) in your study? What is your study a case of? Why is it interesting?

2.    What do we know about X (super short literature review)?

3.    What don’t we know about X?

4.    What specific question(s) about/mechanisms leading to X are you investigating?

5.    What do you do theoretically and in terms of methods to address what we don’t know about X? Why is it appropriate / timely?

6.    What new / counterintuitive insights (theoretical and practical) about X is your study potentially generating? Why are these insights important and interesting?

7.    What are the boundary conditions and limitations of your study?

The three pages must be submitted by 4 September 2024 at 12 noon (to this email). Subsequently, each participant receives three pages from two participants for a careful and supportive review. These will be used in class as outset for small group discussions (groups of three PhD students).

Part Two: Schedule/Readings

Learning objectives:

After the course, the PhD student will

  • understand what makes social “science” a form of scientific research
  • understand the complex relation between empirical and theoretical insights
  • know how to acquire scientific insights and assess them critically
  • have some understanding of the source of scientific insights
  • have an idea of how to deal with scientific communities
  • be able to position his/her research in a social science research field
  • have reflected on and clarified his/her research question
  • know what makes a “good” literature review
  •  know how to develop a review of the literature (including citation-based reviews)
  • have reflected on the fit between their research question, literature review and choice of method
  • understand the role of scientific “communities” – and have an idea of how to manage them
  • be able to identify and understand what constitutes a theory (including causality, assumptions etc.) and to distinguish theory from taxonomies, morphologies, colloquialisms etc.
  • be able to develop own conceptual frameworks and mid-range theories
  • be able to apply different theoretical lenses to an empirical problem in order to see how theory in the social sciences sometimes influences our conclusions

The course is based on a high level of student involvement. Students are expected to be thoroughly prepared and to take an active part in the presentation and discussion of the material. Given the high content-to-time ratio, teaching is based on lecturing, illustrations and discussions and its success is predicated on interactive student involvement. The assessment has the following parts:

  • Each student is to submit an assignment (not longer than 1000 words) in which he/she works out the core ideas of one of the contemporary doctrines of philosophy of science and to give a 45-minute presentation in class
  • Each student is to submit (by email) a 1500-word (max.) description of his/her doctoral work
  • Participants are required to present their research attending especially to the theory foundation, the building and 'testing' of their PhD work (10 min. with a follow-up O&A session, 5 min.).

5 ECTS points.

Requirements (applicants from other departments/universities):

  • The participant must be enrolled as a PhD student

Time and place
10-12 June 2024 
(room: 2636-U30) and 11-13 September 2024 (room: TBA). The course will take place at Aarhus University, Department of Management, Fuglesangs Allé 4, 8210 Aarhus V. 

Associate Professor Peter Kesting (Part One) and Professor Lars Frederiksen (Part Two), Department of Management, Aarhus BSS.

No later than 1 May 2024 to: Lisbeth Widahl, Department of Management, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University, Fuglesangs Allé 4, DK-8210 Aarhus V (by email). Application form.
Please note that your application is binding. Applicants from the Department of Management will be given priority over applicants from other departments/universities.

Participants from other universities will be charged a fee that covers meals during the course (for more information, please contact Lisbeth Widahl). Participants are required to find their own accommodation.