Skip to main content Accessibility help

Qualitative research on family businesses: The relevance and usefulness of the interpretive approach

  • Mattias Nordqvist (a1), Annika Hall (a1) and Leif Melin (a1)


Family business research has grown over the last decade and there are increasing requests for deeper insights into the nature and workings of these organizations. Currently, family business research is dominated by quantitative research methods. In this article, we argue that these studies should be complemented by a research approach that is more apt to capture the specific complexity and dynamics unique to family businesses. We suggest that the interpretive approach within the broader umbrella of qualitative methods has this potential. The article discusses issues, choices, requirements and implications for family business scholars engaged in interpretive research. We also offer suggestions for how editors and reviewers can assess interpretative research.



Hide All
Ainsworth, S and Wolfram Cox, J (2003) Families Divided: Culture and Control in Small Family Business, Organization Studies, 24: 14631485.
Alvesson, M and Sköldberg, K (2000) Reflexive Methodology. London: Sage
Asplund, J (1970) Om undran inför samhället. Lund: Doxa (In Swedish).
Astrachan, JH (2003) Commentary on the Special Issue: The Emergence of a Field. Journal of Business Venturing, 18(5): 567572
Berger, P and Luckman, T (1966) The Social Construction of Reality, New York: Doubleday.
Blumer, H (1969) Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.
Burrell, G and Morgan, G (1979) Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis. Hampshire: Gower.
Chrisman, JJ, Chua, JH and Steier, LP (2005) Sources and Consequences of Distinctive Familiness: An Introduction. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 29(3): 237247.
Cole, PC (1997) Women in Family Businesses, Family Business Review, 10(4): 353371
Copeland, AP and White, KM (1991) Studying Families. London: Sage.
Craig, J and Moores, K (2005) Balanced Scorecards to Drive Strategic Planning in Family Firms, Family Business Review, 18(2): 105122
Denzin, NK (2001) Interpretive Interactionism. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.
Dyer, WG Jr (1994) Potential Contributions of Organizational Behaviour to the Study of Family-Owned Businesses. Family Business Review. 7(2): 109131.
Dyer, WG Jr (2003) The Family: The Missing Variable in Organizational Research Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 27(4): 401.
Eisenhardt, KM (1989) Building Theories from Case Study Research. Academy of Management Review. 15(4): 532550.
Emerson, RM (2004) Working with ‘key incidents’. In Seale, C, Gobo, G, Gubrium, JF and Silverman, D (Eds) Qualitative Research Practice. London: Sage.
Fletcher, D (2000) Family and Enterprise. In Carter, S and Jones-Evans, D (Eds) Enterprise and Small Business: Principles, Practice and Policy (pp. 155165) London: Prentice Hall.
Fletcher, D (2002) A Network Perspective of Cultural Organising and ‘Professional’ Management in the Small, Family Business. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 9(4): 400415.
Gergen, MM and Gergen, KJ (2001) Qualitative Inquiry: Tensions and Transformations. In Denzin, N and Lincoln, Y (Eds), Handbook of Qualitative Research (pp. 10251046) London: Sage.
Giddens, A (1979) Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis. London: MacMillan.
Gubrium, JF and Holstein, JA (2001) Analyzing Interpretive Practice. In Denzin, N and Lincoln, Y (Eds), Handbook of Qualitative Research (pp. 487508) London: Sage.
Habbershon, TG, Williams, ML and MacMillan, IC (2003) A Unified Systems Perspective of Family Firm Performance. Journal of Business Venturing, 18: 451465.
Hall, A, Melin, L and Nordqvist, M (2006) Understanding Strategizing in the Family Business Context. In Poutziouris, P, Smyrnios, K and Klein, S (Eds). Family Business Research Handbook. (Ch 14) Edward Elgar, Cheltenham UK and Brookfield VT.
Hall, A and Nordqvist, M (2008) Professional Management in Family Businesses: Extending the Current Understanding, Family Business Review, 11(1): 5169.
Hamilton, E (2006) Whose Story is it Anyway? Narrative Accounts of the Role of Women in Founding and Establishing Family Businesses, International Small Journal, 24(3): 253271.
Hammersley, M (1989) The Dilemma of Qualitative Method: Herbert Blumer and the Chicago tradition. London: Routledge.
Handler, WC (1989) Methodological Issues and Considerations in Studying Family Businesses. Family Business Review, 2(3): 257276.
Howard, RJ (1982) Three Faces of Hermeneutics: An Introduction to Current Theories of Understanding. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Huff, A (1998) Writing for Scholarly Publication, London: Sage.
James, HS Jr (1999). What can the Family Contribute to Business? Examining Contractual Relationships. Family Business Review, 12(1): 6171.
Johannisson, B and Huse, M (2000) Recruiting Outside Board Members in the Small Family Business: and Ideological Challenge, Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 12: 353378.
Lindholm, S (1979) Vetenskap, verklighet och paradigm. Stockholm: AWE/GEBERS (In Swedish).
Maranhao, T (1991) Reflection, Dialogue, and the Subject. In Steier, F ed. Research and Reflexivity. London: Sage.
Maxwell, JA (1998) Designing a qualitative study. In Bickman, L and Rog, DJ (Eds) Handbook of Applied Social Research Methods. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.
McCollom, ME (1988) Integration in the Family Firm: When the Family System Replaces Control and Culture. Family Business Review, 1(4): 399417.
McCollom, ME (1992) Organizational Stories in a Family Owned Business, Family Business Review, 5(1):324.
Melin, L (1977) Strategisk inköpsverksamhet – organisation och interaktion. Doctoral Dissertation. Linköping University, Sweden (In Swedish).
Melin, L and Nordqvist, M. (2007) The Reflexive Dynamics of Institutionalization: The Case of the Family Business, Strategic Organization, 5(4): 321333.
Miles, MB and Huberman, AM (1994) Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.
Nordqvist, M and Melin, L (2008) Strategic Planning Champions: Social Craftpersons, Artful Interpreters and Known Strangers, Long Range Planning, 43(3): 326344.
Nordqvist, M (2005) Understanding the Role of Ownership in Strategizing: a Study of Family Firms. JIBS Dissertation Series No. 029, Jönköping International Business School, Sweden.
Ödman, P-J (1979) Tolkning, förståelse, vetande: hermeneutik i teori och praktik. Stockholm: AWE:GEBERS. 2nd edn 1991 (In Swedish).
Orum, AM, Feagin, JR and Sjoberg, G (1991) Introduction: The nature of the case study. In Feagin, JR, Orum, AM and Sjoberg, G, A Case for the Case Study. Chapel Hill NC: The University of North Carolina Press.
Palmer, RE (1969) Hermeneutics. Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press.
Pettigrew, A (1990) Longitudinal Field Research on Change: Theory and Practice. Organization Science, 1(3): 267292.
Pettigrew, A, Thomas, H and Whittington, R (2002) Strategic management: The strengths and limitations of a field. In Pettigrew, A, Thomas, H. and Whittington, R (Eds) Handbook of Strategy and Management. London: Sage.
Ram, M (2001) Family Dynamics in a Small Consultancy Firm: A Case Study, Human Relations, 54(4): 395418.
Schwandt, TA (1997) Qualitative Inquiry: A Dictionary of Terms. London: Sage.
Schwandt, TA (2000) Three Epistemological Stances for Qualitative Inquiry: Interpretivism, Hermeneutics and Social Constructionism. In Denzin, NK and Lincoln, YS (Eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research. (2nd edn). Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.
Seale, C (2004) Quality in Qualitative Research. In Seale, C, Gobo, G, Gubrium, JF and Silverman, D (Eds). Qualitative Research Practice. London: Sage.
Sharma, P (2004) An Overview of the Field of Family Business Studies: Current Status and Directions for the Future. Family Business Review, 17(1): 136.
Stake, RE (1995) The Art of Case Study Research. London: Sage.
Stake, RE (2000) Case Studies. In Denzin, NK and Lincoln, YS (Eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd edn). Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.
Steier, L (2007) New Venture Creation and Organization: A Familial Sub-Narrative, Journal of Business Research, 60: 10991107.
Stewart, A (2003) Help One Another, Use One Another: Toward an Anthropology of Family Business. Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice, 27(4): 383396.
Suddaby, R (2006) From the Editors: What Grounded Theory is Not, Academy of Management Journal, 49(4): 633642.
Weber, M (1921/1968) Economy and Society (3 vols). Totowa NJ: Bedminster Press. English translation.
Weick, KE (1995) Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.
Whetten, DA (1989) What Constitutes a Theoretical Contribution? Academy of Management Review, 14(4): 490495.
Yin, RK (2001) Case study research: design and methods (4nd edn) Newbury Park CA: Sage.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Management & Organization
  • ISSN: 1833-3672
  • EISSN: 1839-3527
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-management-and-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed