Philosophy of Science and Epistemological Methods in Business, Management and Organization Studies

Updated: about 7 hours ago
Deadline: 09 Dec 2022


Philosophy of Science and Epistemological Methods in Business, Management and Organization Studies

Associate Professor Ann-Christina Lange,  Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, CBS
Associate Professor Morten S. Thaning , Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, CBS

Course coordinator
Ann-Christina Lange and Morten S. Thaning


For whom is this course valuable? For PhD-students who want to strengthen their methodological foundation and research design, and who seek to improve their capacity to handle theoretical complexity and analytical ambiguity. 
The course pedagogy combines extensive discussion of fundamental methodological and epistemic issues with feedback sessions that helps to integrate the course learnings into the PhD-projects of the participants. The course discusses foundational questions of relevance for PhD-projects with both qualitive and quantitative methodologies.

Before the beginning of the course every participant is asked to hand-in a short 3 page essay addressing the following three questions:

  • What is the theme or object of your research project?
  • What are the most important theories of your research project and why are these theories relevant?
  • Describe the most important epistemic challenges of the project and its methodology in its current form? (E.g. What type of knowledge do you seek to produce? What is the nature of your empirical material? What are the challenges in accessing and interpreting the empirical material?)

Please post the papers in the Assignments section of Canvas. The submission deadline is one week before the beginning of the course.


Course content

This course gives an overview of different epistemological positions and their relationship to quality and normative criteria for theoretical and empirical analysis within business, management and organization studies.  The course combines the reading of programmatic texts that suggest criteria for “good” analysis with a close reading of actual theoretical and empirical studies.
The purpose is to solidify the students’ ability to argue for, discuss, and practice consistent and reflexive criteria of quality when developing their research design. The course complements existing methods courses and assumes that the students are familiar with the basics of qualitative and quantitative methods and moves from there into a deeper and more critical and reflexive practice of analysis that can properly handle ambiguity and analytical complexity.

The first part of the course (session 1) will assist the participants in diagnosing the epistemic challenges of their particular research project and introduce them to the idea of criteria of quality for social science research. In this session, we will also introduce the discussion of the particular nature of business, management and organization as a specific field of scientific inquiry.
The second part (session 2,3,4, 5 and 6) will present five key epistemological perspectives: Positivism/Critical Rationalism, Phenomenology/Hermeneutics, Critical Theory, Social Constructivism and Transcendental Empiricism. It will also introduce key discussions about normative criteria for doing analysis: How are notions of “quality” tied up with the object of study, the position of the researcher, the implicit comparisons that drive analysis, the degree of iteration between theory and data etc.?
In the third part of the course (sessions 7,8 and 9), the students will be working closely with their own theoretical or empirical analysis and selected texts relating to their projects. Here, the intention is to work actively with the students PhD projects in order to guide their writing and justification of their research design. In the final part (session 10, 11 and 12) the students will be given an opportunity to discuss the epistemic challenges in a plenary format to review and guide their future research.

Altogether, the course serves as a thorough preparation for doing the kind of theoretical design or empirical analysis that will be expected of the students in the PhD thesis.

Teaching style
Pedagogic format with extensive group discussion as well as extensive feedback.

Lecture plan

The course is taught in 12 sessions of each 3 hours (e.g. 9.00-12.00). Session 1-6 is taught in week 40 and 41, three sessions each week.  Session 7-10 will be taught in week 44-45, two sessions every week. The final two sessions (11 and 12) will be held as a feedback workshop in week 49 (9.00-15.00). For a full course plan and syllabus see CANVAS.

Session 1:  Diagnosing epistemic challenges in research
Monday 3 Oct, 9.00-12.00
Alvesson, Mats and Sköldberg, Kaj. 2000. On reflexive interpretation – the play of interpretive levels. In: Reflexive Methodology – new vistas for qualitative research. London: Sage.
Seale, Clive. 1999. The Quality of Qualitative Research. London: Sage. Chapter 1: Why Quality Matters. Chapter 3: Trust, Truth and Philosophy. Chapter 5: Guiding Ideals.
Gersel, Johan and Thaning, Morten S. 2020. The plight to choose. Journal of Management Education, Vol. 44, No. 5, 10: 663-676.
Session 2: Overview Seminar. Positivism and Critical Rationalism
Wednesday 5 Oct, 9.00-12.00
Alvesson, Mats and Sköldberg, Kaj. 2000. Reflexive Methodology – new vistas for qualitative research. London: Sage, pp. 12-51.
Gorton, William. 2006. Karl Popper and the social sciences. New York State University Press. (excerpt)
Friedman, Milton. 1953. The methodology of positive economics. In: Essays in positive economics. University of Chicago Press.
Cook, Charles and Garratt, Dean. 2005. The positivist paradigm in social science research. In: Research methods in the social sciences. Sage.
Donaldson, Lex. 2005. Organization studies as a positive science. In: The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory. Oxford University press
Koch, Elard et alt. 2006. Popperian epidemiology and the logic of bi-conditional modus tollens arguments for refutational analysis of randomised controlled trials. Medical Hypotheses 67(4):980-8.
Roethlisberger, Fritz and Dickson, William. 1939. Management and the Worker. New York: Wiley. Introduction.
Critical perspective
Lakatos, Imre. 1970. Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. In: Lakatos, I. (ed.): Criticism and the growth of knowledge. Cambridge University Press.
Session 3: Overview Seminar. Phenomenology and Hermeneutics
Friday 7 Oct, 9.00-12.00
Heidegger, Martin. [1927] 1993. Being and Time. (excerpt)
Gadamer, Hans Georg. [1960] 2004. Truth and Method. Continuum. (excerpt)
Titchen, Angie and Hobson, Dawn. 2005 Phenomenology. In: Research methods in the social sciences. Sage
McCloskey, Deidre. 1994. Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics. Cambridge University Press. (excerpt).
Painter-Morland, Mollie and Ten Bos, Rene. 2015. Should Environmental Concern Pay Off? A Heideggerian Perspective. Organization Studies.
Critical Perspective
Foucault, Michel. [1971] 1984. Nietzsche, genealogy, history. In: The Foucault Reader. Penguin Books
Session 4: Overview Seminar. Critical Theory
Monday 10 Oct, 9.00-12.00
Alvesson, Matts and Sköldberg, Kaj. 2000. Reflexive Methodology – new vistas for qualitative research. London: Sage. (excerpt: pp. 124-147).
Honneth, Axel. 2005. Bisected Rationality: The Frankfurt School's Critique of Science. In Gutting, C. Continental philosophy of science.
Anderson, Elizabeth. 2020 [2000]. Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (free internet resource).
Watts, Lynelle and Hodgson, David 2019. Critical Social Science and Critical Theory. In: Social justice theory and practice for social work.
Piketty, Thomas. 2019. Capital and Ideology. Harvard university press (excerpt).
Willmott, Hugh. 2005. Organization Theory as a Critical Science? Forms of Analysis and ‘New Organizational Forms. The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory
Critical perspective
Sloterdijk, Peter. [1983] 1987. Critique of Cynical Reason. University of Minnesota Press. (excerpt)
Session 5: Overview Seminar. Social Constructivism
Wednesday 12 Oct, 9.00-12.00
Alvesson, Mats and Sköldberg, Kaj. 2000. Reflexive Methodology – new vistas for qualitative research. London: Sage. (excerpt: pp. 167-199).
Latour, Bruno. 1989. Clothing the naked truth. In: Hilary Lawson & Lisa Appignanesi (eds.), Dismantling Truth. Weidenfeld.
Butler, Judith. 2007 [1990]. Gender Trouble. Routledge. (excerpt).
Irigaray, Luce. 2006. In science, is the subject sexed? In Gutting, C. Continental philosophy of science. John Wiley and Sons.
Chia, Robert. 2005. Organization Theory as a Postmodern Science. The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory.
Pullen, Alison and Rhodes, Carl. 2012. Parody, subversion and the politics of gender at work: the case of Futurama’s ‘Raging Bender’. Organization Studies 20 (4) 512-533.
Critical perspective
Boghossian, Paul. 2006. Fear of knowledge. Against relativism and constructivism. Oxford University Press (excerpt).
Session 6: Overview Seminar. Transcendental Empiricism
Friday 14 Oct, 9.00-12.00
Haraway, Donna. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs and Women – the reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge. (excerpt: Chapter 9: Situated Knowledges p. 150-183).
Latour, Bruno and Woolgar, Steve. 1986. Laboratory Life – The construction of scientific facts. Princeton University Press. (excerpt).
Adkins, Lisa and Lury, Celia. 2009. What Is the Empirical?. European Journal of Social Theory 12: 5-20.
Mol, Annemarie (1999), 'Ontological Politics: a Word and Some Questions', pages 74-89 in John Law and John Hassard (eds), Actor Network Theory and After, Oxford and Keele: Blackwell and the Sociological Review.
Knorr Cetina, Karin D. (1999), Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge, Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press.
MacKenzie, Donald. 2008. En Engine, Not a Camera. How Financial Models Shape Markets. The MIT Press. (excerpt).
Gherardi, Silvia. 2019. Theorizing affective ethnography for organization studies. Organization 26 (6) 741-760.
Critical Perspective
John Law, ‘ The Materials of STS’, version of 9th April 2009, available at http://www.
Session 7-10: Peer Workshop
Tuesday 1 Nov, Thursday 3 Nov, Tuesday 8 Nov, Thursday 10 Nov,
Participants and teachers will decide on readings in collaboration after beginning of course.
Session 11: Common Epistemic Challenges and Individual supervision
Friday 9 Nov, 9.00-15.00
This session has no readings.
Session 12: Feedback to exam assignments and relation to PhD project
Friday 9 Dec 9.00-15.00
This session has no readings.

Learning objectives
  • Diagnose the epistemic challenges facing your specific academic inquiry and how it relates to the practice of businesses, management and organizations.
  • Acquire an overview of the scientific traditions and methodologies that have been developed as tools to overcome typical epistemic challenges in contemporary social science by exemplifying how different criteria of quality are translated into actual theoretical or empirical analysis.
  • Learn to appreciate the relative strength and weaknesses of the major scientific traditions and methodologies.
  • Understand how the different strengths and weaknesses of the major scientific traditions and methodologies relate to different conceptions of the nature, aim and scope of human knowledge. Hereunder, to explain the nature of the iterative process between theoretical framework and empirical data in an analysis.
  • Learn to justify the important choices in the methodological setup of your research project by combining diagnosis and refinement of relevant tools and criteria from major traditions of social science.

  • Relevance for The Nordic Nine (N1, N2, N6 and N8)
    This course in philosophy of science develops the ability of researchers to place and justify their research in a broad historical context (N1; see Learning objectives 2 and 3). The course cultivates the academic virtues of critique, curiosity and rigor and thereby prepares the participants to handle ambiguities and analytical complexity in their future research processes (N2; see Learning Objectives 1 and 6). In terms of the pedagogical approach, the course emphasizes openness to critique, collaboration in peer research processes as well as the value in iterative learning processes for scientific research (N6 and N8; see Learning Objectives 4 and 5).


    Write a max. 10 page individual essay that critically discuss the implications, limitations and consequences of the empirical analysis. (See course plan on CANVAS for more information).

    Participants should be present at all sessions and must be present at a minimum 10 sessions in order to pass the course.


    Start date

    End date




    Course Literature

    See lecture plan.
    List of readings (preliminary; see Canvas at beginning of semester for finalized list)
    The readings for the overview seminars are divided into three categories.
    Position – These readings provide an overview of the position and its core assumptions, often as formulated by one or more of its main representatives.
    Application – These reading exemplify applications of the position. We have sometimes chosen examples of applications because of their pedagogical clarity or because they are extremely influential, but most of the applications have been chosen because they demonstrate the contemporary relevance of position for contemporary business, management or organization studies.
    Critical Perspective – This texts questions core assumptions of the position. Sometimes this text creates a bridge to the next overview seminar.

    DKK 7.800,- (The fee covers the course and lunch)

    Minimum number of participants

    Maximum number of participants

    Copenhagen Business School 
    DK-2000 Frederiksberg
    Room: TBA

    Contact information
    For administrative issues: 
    Nina Iversen
    CBS PhD Support
    For course related issues:
    Associate Professor Morten S. Thaning
    Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy

    Registration deadline

    Please note that your registration is binding after the registration deadline. 
    In case we receive more registrations for the course than we have places, the registrations will be prioritized in the following order: Students from CBS departments, students from other institutions than CBS.
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