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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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3. Configurational thinking in management studies


CCMs have the capacity to leverage and accelerate the diffusion of configura- tional thinking in management studies. Configurational thinking appears to be the norm in economic reality. In everyday organisational life, practitioners try to assess the impact of a newly emerging circumstance on all other conditions under consideration and, consequently, on a manager’s final decisions. The fact that a single difference may constitute a difference in kind shapes numerous business decisions. Being able to grasp the complexity of economic reality and then making accurate decisions is a key competency and the main role of man- agers, entrepreneurs, and other decision-makers. The higher an economic spe- cialist climbs up the ladder, the more intricate his or her business decisions be- come, with more constraints or conditions having to be taken into account sim- ultaneously. If decision-makers misinterpret the interactions among choices, substantial costs may arise and companies will bear serious consequences (Siggelkow, 2002). In short, configurational thinking appears to be indispensa- ble to management practice. Given the prominence of configurational thinking within economic reality, it is unsurprising that its popularity has grown in man- agement studies. However, configurational thinking has largely emerged sepa- rately from each other in the research fields of management studies. The causal logic of configurational thinking is incorporated in classical con- figurational theory which assumes that “the parts of a social entity take their meaning from the whole and cannot be understood in isolation” (Meyer, Tsui, & Hinings, 1993: 1178). The key feature of configurations and the reason...

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