While most of the prior work in the strategy-as-practice research stream has been conceptual or qualitative in nature, there is also potential in researching strategy practices quantitatively. There are a number of different benefits that can be gained in comparison to a solely qualitative research orientation. Qualitative methods have advanced the strategic management field with groundbreaking theoretical and empirical insights. Their importance in theory-building is uncontestable, as demonstrated by some of the highly influential qualitative articles from our field (for example, Barley 1986; Brown and Eisenhardt 1997; Burgelman 1983b). Despite these advantages, however, the reliance on a single dominant research method can also be constraining. A broader range of methods may be useful in examining the macro-level patterns emerging from the micro-level data, for establishing boundary conditions or in showing that the qualitative insights also have broader generalizability (Edmondson and McManus 2007). Moreover, the innovative use of quantitative methods could also lead to the emergence of novel insights that might not be achievable with purely qualitative research designs.
Strategy-as-practice research has historically had a strong reliance on qualitative data and related research designs in order to go deeper in understanding the micro-level strategy practices that the dominating quantitative research methods could not capture. Bacause of this important mission, an epistemic culture has emerged around the study of strategy practices over time. The term ‘epistemic culture’ refers to how a research community generates knowledge. It is an implicit property, and can be inferred from the dominant research practices at work in a research stream (Knorr Cetina 1999). The epistemic culture of strategy-as-practice research has been strongly influenced by sociological practice theory, in which the use of qualitative research methods has been particularly prominent.
While the epistemic culture of a research stream plays a strong role in the choice of a research method, we argue that the maturity of the research focus should also drive decisions on the choice of appropriate research methods. For example, the life cycle perspective distinguishes early, intermediate and mature stages in a research field's life cycle (Edmondson and McManus 2007): At the early stage of a new research field, theory and paradigm development tend to favour inductive theory-building. This stage is typically associated with qualitative methods to develop the foundational concepts and relationships.