Positioning qualitative research as resistance to the institutionalization of the academic labour process

Gillian Symon*, Anna Buehring, Phil Johnson, Catherine Cassell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


The focus of this paper is on the 'institutional work' (Lawrence and Suddaby 2006) of disrupting institutions, examining the rhetorical strategies employed to construct and justify meanings and interpretations. This work is explored in the context of the contemporary academic labour process; specifically, research approaches within the management discipline. A total of 45 individuals involved in funding, conducting, publishing and using qualitative management research were interviewed. From our analysis of their arguments, we focus specifically on the discursive positioning of quantitative research as illegitimate institutionalization of academic working practices and of qualitative research as legitimate resistance to this institutionalization. We identify a number of rhetorical strategies which construct and justify these discursive positions including: the undermining of success criteria; the legitimizing of interests (through claims of institutionalized discrimination) and actors (through identity claims); attributions of political action (including the construction of counter-institutions); claims to agency; and the invocation of alternative institutional logics. We argue that examining institutional work as rhetoric adds to our theoretical understanding of the discursive disruption of institutions, particularly with respect to the manipulation of contradictory meanings and the functions of agency-structure discourse; and contributes a political dimension to our understanding of the qualitative-quantitative 'divide' within management research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1315-1336
Number of pages22
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008


  • Academic labour process
  • Institutional work
  • Qualitative research
  • Resistance
  • Rhetoric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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