Reflections on Choosing the Appropriate Level of Abstraction in Social Science Research

15 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2014

See all articles by Johann Peter Murmann

Johann Peter Murmann

University of St. Gallen; UNSW Australia Business School - AGSM

Date Written: January 15, 2014


Although researchers often do it subconsciously, every explanation involves choosing a level of abstraction at which the argument proceeds. The dominant North American style of research in Organization Theory, Strategy, and International Business encourages researchers to frame their explanations at the highest level of abstraction where country level contextual factors are suppressed. Yet to provide powerful explanations for recent developments in China, researchers are drawn to a greater level of context specificity. This tension is evident in the Child and Marinova (2014) paper. One way to reduce the tension is to identify general causal mechanisms that combine in different ways to produce different results depending on context. This research strategy is more effective than seeking invariant, general patterns of development across all time and place.

Keywords: Unit of Analysis, Levels of Abstraction, Explanations

JEL Classification: B4, M1, F21, P2

Suggested Citation

Murmann, Johann Peter, Reflections on Choosing the Appropriate Level of Abstraction in Social Science Research (January 15, 2014). UNSW Australian School of Business Research Paper No. 2014 STRE 01, Available at SSRN: or

Johann Peter Murmann (Contact Author)

University of St. Gallen ( email )

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Institute of Management and Strategy
St.Gallen, 9000
+41 71 224 23 64 (Phone)


UNSW Australia Business School - AGSM ( email )

UNSW Sydney, NSW 2052
+61-2-9385-9733 (Phone)


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