Research methods are one of the most important sections in dissertations and research essays. A good research essay requires a well-designed and well-conducted research method. There must be some good research questions to start with for the research. They have to be answerable, measurable, meaningful and relevant to the previous studies. The chosen method is relevant to the later parts of the research and should be the best way to discover answers to the research questions. The sampling part is depended by the research content. The sample size should be adequate and with limited or no bias. For the analytical part, sufficient explanation of tables and graphs and the findings should be presented in quantitative research essays; while in qualitative essays, there should be selective but detail interpretation of data related to the thesis statement of the research. In the article on middle management issues (Thomas and Linstead, 2002), the authors have chosen a qualitative, inductive and basic research method. It also adopts a socially constructed epistemology paradigm. They have opposed the preceding studies on the debate of positive or negative prediction of middle management. The positive ones believed a promotion of work in middle management would occur. The new delayered structure would be free from bureaucracy. The new managerial role will be more strategic focused and fortified. Negative ones believed middle management is despondent with job insecurity, superfluous and redesigning on managerial roles. Instead of coming to a conclusion on the debate, they turned the emphasis on constructing a social constructionist framework which includes more diversity and different opinions. They tend to believe that middle managers are complex roles of strategy and diversity. Middle managers are singular individuals, so each of them are different and should be included in the research. Rather than focusing on answering the question ‘What is happening to middle management in contemporary organizations’? (Thomas and Linstead, 2002, p. 71), they aimed to discover the relationship between restructuring and middle management in organisations. There are two main research questions, which are how the behaviours of middle management ‘reproduce, reinforce or transform the macro structure of capitalism’? (Thomas and Linstead, 2002, p. 73) and how does current discourses ‘constituted or reconstituted, created and contested’ the identities of middle managers? (Thomas and Linstead, 2002, p. 75). This research has provide an insight of middle managers constructing their identity of stability and significance in restructured organisations. It also exposed the common discourses in these organisations which can affect their construction of identity. Moreover, the authors believed that organisations are changing expeditiously and there is no absolute answer to the debate on the optimistic or pessimistic future of middle management.
In this essay, the epistemological asumptions in the article will be described and evaluated. There will also be appraisals on the research design, sampling strategy, research methods and analytical strategy respectively. In addition, the degree of relevance to the research questions will be reviewed and some suggestions for improvement will be provided. Finally, there will be a conclusion with the significance of the research to existing knowledge on middle management.
2. Epistemological assumptions and its relevance to research questions
The researchers have adopted a socially constructed epistemological assumption in the article. Epistemology is the study of nature and the source of knowledge, with regards to its limitations and credibility. It examines the relationship between the researcher and the person being researched (Collis and Hussey, 2003; (Remenyi,D. et al., 1998). Ontological assumption is related to the study on nature of reality, and the existence of human in different forms in relation to the researcher (Collis and Hussey, 2003). Positivist paradim is usually regarded as methods of measurement. It is related to the science of social reality and has no effect on subjective individuals (Collis and Hussey, 2003). They are opposed to phenomenological paradigm which is related to the psychology of social reality and has relation to subjective individuals. It usually adopted methods like observation and case studies (Collis and Hussey, 2003). The researhers argued that contemporary studies focus too much on epistemology postivit researches. Previous researches have been attempting to define a positive or negative future for middle management, and using different methods to try to measure and derive to a conclusion. This meant differences in middle managers are excluded as data are being generalised. Besides, they have been trying to answer the general question ‘What is happening to middle management’?, which the authors considered it as an unsolvable question. Some articles on ontology assumptions refered managerial work as observable and objective using quantitative methods. But the authors in this article adopted an epistemological phenomenology approach. They posited that phenomenological approach can better understand the situation and difference between each managers for the research. Researchers also believed knowledge of middle management should be studied from the views of managers as they are socially constructed and self-governed (Thomas and Linstead, 2002).. This has determined the close relationship between the researchers and those being researched.
The epistemological assumption in the research has reflected that the researchers wish to determine the identity of middle managers through investigating their work and social life in reality. This is related to the second research question about how middle managers’ identities being affected by current discourses. Through investigating middle managers’ work and social life in reality, the real identity of middle managers will emerge. Current discourses about middle management will affect or created by middle managers. This also affects the constitution of their real identity. However, the epistemological assumption seems not very much related to the first research question about middle managers’ behaviour on capitalism. Moreover, they do not explain clearly what is the macro structure of capitalism. They merely putting the focus on constructing a theoretical framework which includes differences of middle managers; and is slightly related to the epistemological assumption. Instead of only focusing on the framework, they should explain clearly what is meant by macro structure of capitalism, and how it relates to the research and the epistemological assumption.
3. Research design and its appraisal
The article adopted qualitative, exploratory, inductive and basic research approaches. It also used case study design, which has a detailed analysis of one or more cases. The case study in this research is a very general one to contemporary organisations. The criteria of qualitative research design is to demonstrate reliabilty, validity and reflexivtiy (Bryman and Bell, 2011). Drawing from the limitation of previous research on differences of middle managers, the researchers believed these differences can be demonstrated through adopting qualitative method. The research is designed in an exploratory research approach. Exploratory research is exploring the valid answer for a problem that have not been researched, or not clearly defined before (Remenyi et. al., 1998). Researchers discovered that past research merely focus on the debate of optimistic or pessimistic future on middle management. But these studies did not explore the true identities constructed by middle managers. For inductive research, it is a type of logical research which discovers from specific observation to generalised theories (Collis and Hussey, 2003). In this article, researchers start with inadequate definition and misunderstanding on the true identity of middle managers, with current discourses in middle management. Then after several interviews with middle managers, they have derived to a conclusion that middle managers construct and stabilize their identities through enactment in organisations. Most of them felt insecured with their job after restructuring and delayering within organisations. Basic research aims to enhance the knowledge in particular studies. Researchers are usually driven by curiousity and the desire to learn new knowledge when applying basic research. It is related to the outcome of the research (Collis and Hussey, 2003). This research article aims to discover the knowledge of middle management in reality. But it can never be a solution to a real world problem, which is the purpose of adopting applied research (Remenyi,D. et al., 1998). The researchers has reviewed many literature on the debate of middle management. They have discovered the limitation of previous research mostly emphasize on epistemological positivit paradigm and neglected differences on middle managers. Then they have decided to adopt the epistemological, constructivist and phenomenological paradigm, deriving the two research questions mentioned above.The researchers have also used a triangulation of methods to conduct the research. They have used case studies and individual interviews for collecting data from middle managers (Thomas and Linstead, 2002).
The strength of adopting a qualitative method for this topic is the abouding research data could be collected and analysed exhaustively. Secondly, the researchers have successfully addressed the limitations of previous researches, that is the lack of diversity. By adopting the qualitative research and indivdual interviews, personal difference between middle managers can be demonstrated explicitly.The logic of the article, through adopting the inductive research, is also fluent and sensible. From focusing on the wrong assumptions of preceding studies on middle managers and the need to discover their true identity; to extracting meanings from work life of middle managers and conclude with a generalised figure of them. Lastly, the researchers have did some reflection on the relationship between their assumptions and their findings.