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Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and Configurational Thinking in Management Studies

Conrad Schulze-Bentrop

This study was awarded the Preis des Präsidiums für ausgezeichnete Dissertationen der Universität Paderborn as well as the Preis der Unternehmergruppe Ostwestfalen für hervorragende Dissertationen.

Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) – especially its fuzzy set version – has emerged as a new methodological tool in management studies which is ideally suited to test configurational theories. For the first time, the peculiarities of QCA in large-N designs are comprehensively analysed. Based on a systematic compilation of 145 empirical QCA studies valuable insights for the use of QCA as a quantitative technique are presented. For example, an innovative formula is developed which can substantially improve future model specifications. In a next step, the potential of QCA in management research is outlined by tracing configurational theories in a range of disciplines including strategy, HRM, marketing, and international business. This tour d’horizon through management studies highlights the wide application area of the methodology. Finally, an illustrative study is conducted using the fuzzy set version of QCA.

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1. Introduction

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“Qualitative comparative analysis” (QCA) (Ragin, 1987) has emerged as a new methodological tool in management studies and has the capability to substantial- ly enrich the methodological landscape. With its unique technical and theoretical underpinning based on configurational thinking, QCA constitutes a sound coun- terpart to the correlation-based methodologies that have tended to dominate management research. Originally conceived in the field of political studies and sociology, QCA has recently been pioneered by a small number of management scientists for the purpose of studying organisations and management issues (e.g., Fiss, 2007; Kogut, MacDuffie, & Ragin, 2004; Greckhamer et al., 2008). The methodological newcomer QCA has shown its potential for making valuable contributions to management studies by being able to provide a holistic account of the nature of companies, teams, individuals, or economic systems. The holis- tic nature of the approach enables the study of all interactions among the dimen- sions of the unit of analysis. QCA uniquely adds to the prevailing methodologi- cal landscape because it allows for a special conception of causality, referred to as “multiple conjunctural causation” (Ragin, 1987: 101). This notion of causa- tion incorporates three key properties (cf., e.g., Rihoux, 2006b: 682): The first property, multidimensionality, implies that it is a combination of causal condi- tions rather than one condition alone that eventually produces an outcome; caus- al factors are perceived to operate in strong connection rather than in isolation from each other. For example, the combination of boiling water and leaves of the tea plant produce a tasty...

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