Global-wide business calls for a research methodology with integrity to bridge distance. Noorderhaven (2004: 85) argues that “the hermeneutic approach to social reality and social research” is indeed a suitable methodology. Derived from the Greek word ‘hermeneuein’—meaning to explain; put in words or translate—philosophical hermeneutics pertains to the act of understanding phenomena as signs. “It is not enough to observe the signs; their meaning should also be established” for interpretation to be efficacious.
Noorderhaven (2004: 92) illustrates the “application of hermeneutic methodology” by means of a number of published clinical studies about close collaboration of international business alliances. It is important to note that none of the illustrative case studies were deliberately hermeneutic, however, observes Noorderhaven “the researchers show a remarkable sensitivity to the importance of sensemaking processes within the alliances/joint ventures”. He focusses on three aspects, namely:
- The influence the initial expectations and conditions of alliances forming
- The various cycles of collaborative sense-making—the going through hermeneutic circles, namely from understanding single elements to understanding the whole—within alliances that are under way, including impediments to shared meanings
- The researcher’s interpretations in addition to those of the incumbents—what Giddens (1984: 284) names ‘double hermeneutic’ (cited by Noorderhaven 2004: 95) contribute to sense-making. The goal of hermeneutic analysis—according to Hans-Georg Gadamer (1999) who rejects the traditional hermeneutical rule denouncing interpretations that were not implied by the writer (cited by Noorderhaven 2004: 95)—“is not to take for granted the interpretations and meanings produced by incumbents”.
Noorderhaven, N.G. 2004. Hermeneutic methodology and international business research, 84-104. In R. Marschan-Piekkari & C. Welch (Eds). 2004. Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods for International Business. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.