Scand..L Mgmt, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 337-348, 1997
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WHAT IS A PROCESSUAL
Andrew M. Pettigrew
Warwick Business School, Warwick University, U.K.
(First received May 1997; accepted May 1997)
This essay offers a personal and therefore partial view of the nature and conduct of process research in organisational settings. Issues of time, agency, structure, context, emergence and development are crucial in human conduct and have been widely debated by philosophers and social theorists. Over the last 20 years seminal articles and books on time and social analysis have been written by Martins (1974), Adam (1990), Nowotny (1992) and Sztompka (1991, 1993). Meanwhile in the narrower fields of industrial sociology and organisational analysis important contributions have also been made by Clark (1985), Whipp (1994) and Hassard (1996). These writings epitomise the wide diversity of thinking about time, history and process but do not in themselves overturn the truism that in their theorising and empiricism most social scientists do not appear to have given much time to time. For many the social sciences are still an exercise in comparative statics.
It has been a personal ambition over 30 years to capture the dynamic quality of human conduct in organisational settings. For twenty years this was more of a solo journey (Pettigrew, 1973, 1979, 1985, 1987). Latterly I have had the benefit of some companions. (Pettigrew and Whipp, 1991; Pettigrew et al., 1992; Pettigrew and McNulty, 1995; Ferlie et al., 1996). Throughout this period a distinctive style of conducting longitudinal comparative case study research has emerged at Warwick University. Twice I have attempted to follow Donald Schon's (1983) prerequisite for a learning professional and have reflected on that practice (Pettigrew, 1990, 1992). This paper represents a further complementary attempt, but this time with an additional aim. Whereas the 1990 and 1992 papers concentrated on clarifying the theory of method guiding our research, this time I shall endeavour to balance articulation of theory of method with the implementation of that method.
The paper sets out to accomplish this task in the following way. The first section asks two core questions - - what is a process, and what is a processual analysis? The attempts made to answer these questions are then consolidated around five internally consistent assumptions guiding processual and contextual research. Section two then moves us into the actual conduct of process research, reflecting in turn on some of the craft problems and choices around issues of units of analysis, contextualisation, time, data types, triangulation, procedure and methods. These input questions of research practice are then linked to the forms of research output possible from using longitudinal comparative case study research. The paper concludes by discussing some of the 337
limitations of existing process research and how those challenges might be met in future research themes and designs.
WHAT IS A PROCESS? WHAT IS A PROCESSUAL ANALYSIS?
As specialists we are all inclined to ignore the most obvious questions or to be reticent to state the obvious for fear of being obvious. It is noteworthy that although all of the papers in this special issue are in one way or another concerned with the conduct of process research only Tuttle explicitly concerns himself with the meaning of process and offers a specific definition of processual research. At the outset of the 1995 workshop at the University of Tampere which provided the initial stimulus for this special issue, I asked the participants to express the key words they associated with the term process. The key phrases and words which followed were: "flow of events, chronology, mechanism,...
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