Phenomenological Assumptions and Knowledge Dissemination within Organizational Studies

by Corinne Bendersky & Kathleen L. McGinn

Overview — Field-wide integration of knowledge generated by subfield specialists is critical for new discoveries and for a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of complex phenomena. In spite of the value of broadly disseminating knowledge within the social and physical sciences, scholarly discourse tends to be contained within subfields of research. Further constraining innovation and understanding, knowledge dissemination between academics and practitioners or clinicians is often limited and inaccurate. In this article, UCLA professor Corinne Bendersky and HBS professor Kathleen L. McGinn introduce "phenomenological assumptions"—revealed beliefs about the fundamental qualities of the phenomenon under investigation and its relationship to the environment in which it occurs—as barriers limiting the integration of knowledge generated within a subfield into the broader intellectual discourse of its field. Key concepts include:

  • Explicating assumptions underlying academic research may make new information more transparent and easily adopted.
  • Assumptions can pose a barrier limiting the integration of knowledge generated within a subfield into the broader intellectual discourse of its field.
  • Specifically, assumptions that negotiations are one-shot "at the table" interactions make it more difficult for non-negotiations organizational scholars to recognize and appreciate the relevance of the findings to broader organizational research.
  • The negotiation studies in this data set, spanning 15 years of published research in top-tier journals, seldom were explicit about the assumptions made and seldom acknowledged reasonable boundary conditions for their findings.

Author Abstract

Phenomenological assumptions—assumptions about the fundamental qualities of the phenomenon being studied and how it relates to the environment in which it occurs—affect the dissemination of knowledge from sub-fields to the broader field of study. Micro-process research in organizational studies rests on implicit phenomenological assumptions that vary in the extent to which micro-processes are viewed as parts of larger systems. We suggest that phenomenological assumptions linking micro-processes to organizational contexts highlight the relevance of micro-process research findings to broader organizational questions, and therefore increase the likelihood that the findings will disseminate to the larger field of organizational research. We test this assertion by analyzing studies of negotiation published in top peer-reviewed management, psychology, sociology, and industrial relations journals from 1990 to 2005. Our findings illuminate a continuum of open systems to closed systems phenomenological assumptions revealed in this micro-process research. Analysis of the citation rates of the articles in our data set by non-negotiation organizational research indicates that more open systems assumptions increase the likelihood that a negotiation article will be cited in organizational studies, after controlling for other, previously identified effects on citation rates. Our findings suggest that sub-fields can increase the impact they have on the broader intellectual discourse by situating their phenomena in rich contexts that illuminate the connections between their findings and questions of interest to the broader field. 48 pages.

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