Commerce professor Dr. Judith Holton wins Best Paper award from the Academy of Management

20 Sep 2016

Judith_mainDr. Judith Holton, a professor in the Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies, recently received a Best Paper award from the Academy of Management at its annual conference in Anaheim, CA. This conference is the biggest scholarly assembly in the management field with 10,000 international scholars attending. The Academy awards best paper in a variety of sub-disciplines and Holton, with co-authors Isabel Walsh (SKEMA Business School, France), Lotte Bailyn (MIT), Walter Fernandez (University of New South Wales, Australia), Natalia Levina (New York University), and Barney Glaser (The Grounded Theory Institute), received theirs in research methods.

The paper, “What grounded theory is … A critically reflective conversation among scholars,” had its beginnings at another Academy of Management Conference in 2013. Walsh and Holton held a panel symposium at that conference on a research method they both use, grounded theory (GT).

“GT is used by academics in a variety of disciplines including management, medicine, nursing, and education. Instead of using an established theory as the basis of your research and then collecting data to confirm or elaborate hypotheses, with GT you collect data first,” says Holton. “You don't start with a pre-framed question or any preconceived ideas. You remain open to discovering a main concern to emerge in the data and a pattern of behaviour that explains how that concern is managed or resolved.”

There is some controversy over what GT actually is and Walsh and Holton organized the panel of experts to explain the extent of the theory.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about grounded theory and it is frequently thought of as a qualitative research method. As classic grounded theorists, we don’t hold that view. GT can use any and all kinds of data and is a method where one of the key principles is emergence, not preconception, therefore it is beyond the borders of qualitative research.”

The panel was very well attended with many young scholars there to learn more about the methodology. Because of the level of interest, Walsh decided they should write a paper on the topic. It turned out to be a rather unique paper in a number of ways.

“Trying to publish a paper from a panel discussion is a bit challenging. She had in her mind a reflective conversation among scholars. So we took our presentation from the panel and wrote the paper as a conversation,” says Holton.

The paper was published in Organizational Research Methods, a top journal in the field. The journal editors sent it out for review to experts in the field of management and then came back with an interesting idea.

“They said, we think we would like you to do more than just revise the paper based on what the reviewers are saying, we would like to extend the conversation to include the reviewers comments.”

The result was almost a special issue, which explained to a wide range of scholars divergent perspectives on GT.

“The recognition as a prize-winning paper in a top journal was a complete surprise and an incredible honour”, says Holton.

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