Sub-theme 64: Qualitative Research with Archival Data

Stine Grodal
Northeastern University, USA
Anders Dahl Krabbe
King’s College London, United Kingdom
Micah Rajunov
Boston University, USA

Call for Papers

Qualitative researchers have developed an arsenal of tools for theory development, including techniques for research design, data collection, and data analysis (Grodal et al., 2021). In years past, archival qualitative data – textual traces that actors (e.g,. people, organizations or markets) leave behind when they go about their daily business – was often used as a side dish to field work – interviews and ethnographic observations – and was thus not given much methodological consideration (Yates, 2014). Today, archival research is becoming more prominent in organization studies (e.g., Aversa et al., 2021; Grodal, 2018). This recent growth has been largely spurred by the digitalization of “texts” – for example, written documents, visual representations, and physical designs (Kahl & Grodal, 2016). Some of this digitalization pertains to recent events: as our social and work lives increasingly move online, we leave digital traces of interactions both within and across organizations. Yet digitalization of data is not limited to contemporaneous data. Textual sources have been produced for centuries, and these older archives are increasingly being digitalized, providing us with unprecedent access to textual data that span both time and space. For example, all New York Times articles are now available with the touch of a keyboard, and The Library of Congress’ is steadily expanding the digitalization of its entire content. The time is thus ripe to give this important tool for theory development its deserved attention.
Drawing on archival materials presents researchers with an opportunity to extend our theories by studying phenomena from unique and unexplored angles. First, archives reflect the actions, cognitions, and meanings produced outside of the research context. In this respect, archives act as ethnographic materials in which actions and sensemaking can be observed as they occur in their natural setting . Archives can simultaneously span multiple temporal or spatial locations, allowing the researcher to transcend the physical limitations of being in multiple places at the same time. Thus we can trace organizational phenomena across longer time periods, as well as historical events no longer accessible to us, thus enriching longitudinal and process studies (Bansal et al., 2018; Langley, 1999). Lastly, archival data allows us to trace aggregate phenomena that are not readily observed with an ethnographic gaze, such as field-level studies (Ventresca & Mohr, 2002).
While archival research is increasing in prominence, we lack adequate techniques to tackle each stage of research, from sampling to collection to analysis, and lastly theory development. New challenges arises both from the heterogeneity and abundance of the archival data. First, qualitative researchers have historically drawn on snowball sampling (Biernacki & Waldorf, 1981), convenience sampling, or direct observation. These techniques arose out of the limited availability of possible sources. But the surge in archival materials now confronts us with the problem of abundance rather than scarcity. There is a nearly infinite availability of data, but our capacity to collect, analyze and theorize these data are finite. While quantitative techniques can hande such large data sets, as qualitative scholars we need to consider how we can manage this abundance throughout the research cycle, from collecting and sampling to analyzing large data sets.
Second, traditional qualitative research emphasizes data created and collected first-hand by one or a few researchers. Archival sources instead confront us with heterogeneity: Out data may have been created by multiple authors or stakeholders (sometimes anonymous), for different audiences, and presented in multiple genres (Orlikowski & Yates, 1994). In addition, digital “texts” are not only written materials; they include videos, audio, visuals; moreover, they can be paired with physical objects as well (Kahl & Grodal, 2015; Phillips & Hardy, 2002). Each text is imbued with cultural meanings that cannot be separated from its medium (Meyer et al., 2013). For example, the meaning of an emoji cannot be adequately captured through verbal description. Archival data are situated social products (Prior, 2003); they may be the subject of study (their contents) or the object of study (who created them, why, under what conditions). For this reason, archival analysis foregrounds epistemological considerations that have become taken-for-granted in qualitative field research. Heterogeneity additionally brings up questions for how we can collect and analyze such data while developing rigorous and parsimonious theories.
These are just some of the questions pertaining qualitative research using archival data that we hope to address in this sub-theme. The first goal of this sub-theme is to create a community of qualitative scholars engaged in with archival methods. Second, we aim to begin a collective conversation about the tools, techniques, and best practices that we need to tackle to collect, analyze, and theorize archival data. Studies in this track may include, but are not restricted to theoretical or empirical papers that cover these topics:

  • Reflections and/or proposed techniques for using archival methods;

  • Studies drawing on historical archives;

  • Studies that rely on contemporaneous and dynamic archives, such as a currently unfolding or ongoing event, e.g., “whistleblower files”;

  • Studies drawing on digital data, such as online discussion forums, social media, “digital ethnographies” or other sources;

  • Studies that focus on archives from a single organization, place, or single event; as well as studies that draw from multiple organizations, broad industries or field, or connect various events together;

  • Studies that use archives as a primary data source, and supplement or combine it with first-hand sources (interviews or ethnographies).


  • Aversa, P., Bianchi, E., Gaio, L., & Nucciarelli, A. (2021): “The Grand Tour: The Role of Catalyzing Places for Industry Emergence.” Academy of Management Journal, first published online on September 10, 2021,
  • Bansal, P., Smith, W.K., & Vaara, E. (2018): “New ways of seeing through qualitative research.” Academy of Management Journal, 61 (4), 1189–1195.
  • Biernacki, P., & Waldorf, D. (1981): “Snowball Sampling: Problems and Techniques of Chain Referral Sampling.” Sociological Methods Research, 10 (2), 141–163.
  • Grodal, S. (2018): “Field expansion and contraction: How communities shape social and symbolic boundaries.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 63 (4), 783–818.
  • Grodal, S., Anteby, M., & Holm, A.L. (2021): “Achieving rigor in qualitative analysis: The role of active categorization in theory building.” Academy of Management Review, 46 (3), 591–612.
  • Kahl, S.J., & Grodal, S. (2015): “Multilevel Discourse Analysis: A Structured Approach to Analyzing Longitudinal Data.” In: K.D. Elsbach, R. Kramer (eds.): Handbook of Qualitative Organizational Research. New York: Routledge, 373–381.
  • Kahl, S.J., & Grodal, S. (2016): “Discursive strategies and radical technological change: Multilevel discourse analysis of the early computer (1947–1958).” Strategic Management Journal, 37 (1), 149–166.
  • Langley, A. (1999): “Strategies for theorizing from process data.” Academy of Management Review, 24 (4), 691–710.
  • Meyer, R.E., Höllerer, M.A., Jancsary, D., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2013): “The visual dimension in organizing, organization, and organization research: Core ideas, current developments, and promising avenues.” Academy of Management Annals, 7 (1), 489–555.
  • Orlikowski, W.J0,. & Yates, J. (1994): “Genre repertoire: The structuring of communicative practices in organizations.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 39 (4), 541–574.
  • Phillips, N., & Hardy, C. (2002): Discourse Analysis: Investigating Processes of Social Construction. New York: SAGE Publications.
  • Prior, L. (2003): Using Documents in Social Research. New York: SAGE Publications.
  • Ventresca, M.J., & Mohr, J.W. (2002): “Archival Research Methods.” In: J.A.C. Baum (ed.): The Blackwell Companion to Organizations. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 805–828.
  • Yates, J. (2014): “Understanding historical methods in organization studies.” In: M. Bucheli & R.D. Wadhwani (eds.): Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 265–283.
Stine Grodal is a Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, USA. Her research focuses on the emergence and evolution of markets, industries and organizational fields with a specific focus on the role categories and their associated labels play in this process. Stine’s work is interdisciplinary and blends theories from sociology and psychology with strategy. She mostly draws on qualitative methods but combines qualitative analysis with quantitative analysis and experiments when necessary. Her work has, among others, been published in ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘American Sociological Review’, ‘Organization Science’, and ‘Academy of Management Journal’.
Anders Dahl Krabbe is an Assistant Professor at King’s College London, UK. His research focuses the evolution of markets and industries, often with attention to technological change and broader cultural trends in society. In terms of methods, Anders opts for inductive, qualitative approaches, often drawing on archival material. His research has been published or is forthcoming in ‘Research Policy’ and ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’.
Micah Rajunov is a PhD candidate in the Management & Organizations Department at Boston University, USA. Trained in qualitative methods, his research experience encompasses fieldwork, archival methods, and digital ethnography. Theoretically, Micah is interested in occupations, technology, and the future of work; current projects include an analysis of physicians during the AIDS epidemic, and a study on the careers of competitive video gamers.