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Developing Corporate Governance Research through Qualitative Methods: A Review of Previous Studies


  • Terry McNulty,

  • Alessandro Zattoni,

  • Thomas Douglas

Address for correspondence: Alessandro Zattoni, Strategic Management Department, SDA Bocconi School of Management, Viale Isonzo 23, 20135 Milano, Italy. Tel: 39 0258362527; Fax: 39 0258362530; E-mail:


Manuscript Type


Research Question/Issue

The article is concerned with the prevalence, character, and development of qualitative research within the field of corporate governance. The paper provides an overview of published qualitative research in the field of corporate governance based on a structured literature search of papers published in scholarly peer-reviewed journals between 1986 and 2011.

Research Findings/Insights

A fine-grained search based on key words resulted in a sample of 78 qualitative corporate governance studies. A review and content analysis of these studies show that qualitative studies in governance have grown in number since the 1990s, but remain a small fraction of the published work on corporate governance. Studies are mostly developed by UK and European scholars, published in European journals and tend to explore boards of directors more than other governance related actors and mechanisms. These studies utilize a range of disciplines, predominantly management, adopting a wide range of methods, the most prevalent being that of the interview, often in combination with other methods to get a better account of the empirical phenomenon.

Theoretical/Academic Implications

The search reveals an eclectic range of theories, spanning several disciplines, which is serving to generate, elaborate, and refine theorizing about corporate governance and the associated meanings, mechanisms, processes and relationships. There is much scope and need for more qualitative studies of significant rigor and relevance which explore the array of interactions and processes involved in corporate governance, across different levels of analysis and contexts.

Practitioner/Policy Implications

After over two decades of research and reform of corporate governance, problems of practice remain, and corporate governance prescription via codes and other forms of regulation is increasing in search of better governance. Qualitative research can assist policy-makers and practitioners to develop more efficient governance mechanisms, by shedding light on the efficacy of policy prescription. Qualitative research provides a basis for rethinking and challenging some of the dominant assumptions and meanings about how governance actors and institutions actually function.