The Research Process and the Role of Theory in Business Research - 2021

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 (7-9 June 2021) is a basic seminar that aims to provide you with an overview of what is ultimately required to become an academic scholar and with a practical approach on how to reach your goal. It very much involves the students – about half the time is spent with students explaining their research question, method choice, philosophy of knowledge. It begins with a series of sessions on the classical philosophy of science followed by workshops on the practical consequences. Then students work through the practical stages of their own research such as setting out the theoretical background to the PhD, choice of research question and method.

Preparation for part ONE

1. Classical Philosophy of Science. 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 (i.e. logical empiricism, critical rationalism, or Kuhn and the structure of scientific revolutions). The assignment should exceed the presentation in Caldwell and possibly refer to some original material. Please hand in the assignments on the first day of part ONE (Monday, 7 June) in class. The distribution 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 recommend 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 concentrate 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 1500-word (max) description of his/her doctoral work by 31 May 2021. 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. The description should include:

1)    A description of 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. S

Schedule/Readings - Part ONE

Part TWO (6-8 September 2021) 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 (literature review)?

3.    What don’t we know about X?

4.    What specific question(s) about X are you investigating?

5.    What do you do theoretically and methodologically in your study 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 30 August 2021 (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).

Schedule/Readings - Part TWO

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 some ability to critically assess alleged 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
7-9 June and 6-8 September 2021
. The course will take place at Aarhus University, Department of Management, Fuglesangs Allé 4, 8210 Aarhus V. 
Please note: Due to the COVID-19 situation, Part ONE, 7-9 June, will be taught virtually (online, via Zoom).  
Part TWO, 6-8 September: Room 2610-520/2610-521.

Associate Professor John Howells and Associate Professor Peter Kesting (Part One); Professor Lars Frederiksen and Professor Tino Bech-Larsen (Part Two), Department of Management, Aarhus BSS.

No later than 26 April 2021 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.