Answers to Exercise

3.1 Social media and fake news

Go online and read the article on ‘Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election’ by Hunt and Gentzkow (2017). What can you learn from this article about the social construction of truths?

Firstly, we learn that fake news is not new. It’s always been there and it’s always been a problem – but perhaps not such a big problem as it is today as a consequence of a burgeoning social media environment which makes it more difficult to evaluate the sources of information. This has increased the share of deliberately manufactured untruths -in contrast to simply mistakes or misunderstandings that might be propagated. The article suggests that individuals more often than not connect to material (whether this be fake news or real news) if it fits their already formed ideology – what the paper refers to as being an ‘ideologically aligned influence’. The paper illustrates the preferences, ideologies and differences between Democrats and Republicans in this regard. It shows how the social and political environment – as well changes in technology – shape the way in which we consume news (true and fake), and how these (fake) news come to inform our understanding of truth and what constitutes reality. With the increase in social media individuals connect to, read and absorb mainly those communications that confirm their ‘worldview’. So our worldview comes to shape our understanding of what’s real – and not vice versa – and worldviews go unchallenged as alternative interpretations or explanations in relation to the ‘real facts’ are presented as ‘fake’. This makes it increasingly difficult for individuals to spot misinformation. It suggests that not just a values or worldviews but the social construction of reality, and what comes to be seen as constituting reality, can vary a lot between individuals and groups (e.g. between voters of the Republicans and those who vote for the Democrats). References are given in the paper to the proportion of individuals in the population who have been subjected to untruths.

3.2 Applying the tree metaphor

The following quiz takes us back to the metaphor of a research tree. Based on the examples discussed in the previous section, can you answer the following questions?

1. If the research is based on a nominalist position (i.e. the roots draw their sustenance from soil infused with nominalist principles) what kind of research output might be most appropriate and expected in terms of the kind of fruit the tree produces?

The kind of fruit the tree produces would be a soft fruit such as a pear. The form the output from the research used to convince the audience of the efficacy of the work would take the form of a narrative which would serve to persuade the reader of the sense-making that had taken place from the data collection. Deep, rich insights would be presented from case studies or small surveys. Some numbers might be involved but the individual researcher would see their purpose as making sense of contradiction with the overall purpose being to generate theory grounded in the particular.

2. If the research is based on a realist position (i.e. the ontology infused in the heartwood – centre ring of the tree) what epistemological position (i.e. the adjacent ring in the tree) might be most appropriate and expected in terms of the kind of data would be collected?

The epistemological stance taken from a realist position would be a positivist one. Positivism is about discovery where hypotheses are derived from previous studies and understandings. The characteristics of the research might take the form of experiments or large surveys. These would be used to verify or falsify theories as well is generate new ones. The watchwords in relation to positivism are random samples, large surveys and numbers and data where correlations and associations are mathematically derived.

3. If the research is based on one of a number of ‘third way’ positions (i.e. the roots draw their sustenance from soil infused with a mixture of both nominalist and realism principles) how might this reflect the data collected and the type of fruit the tree produces on our fictional tree?

The data collected from a mixed methods approach could be part constructionist and part positivist. In practice this might mean some parts of the research might rely on survey methods whilst others filling gaps in understanding by adopting interview techniques with small numbers of respondents. In our metaphor of the tree the kind of output that would derive from a ‘third way’ mixed approach would be both hard and soft as reflected in a fruit such as plum.

3.3 Spotting the epistemology

Researchers normally betray their epistemology in the language they use. Have a look at the examples below. What epistemologies are likely to be associated with the following statements?

1. ‘We advance research on absorptive capacity by extending and empirically validating the conceptual distinction between potential and realized absorptive capacity’ (Jansen, Van den Bosch and Volberda, 2005: 1000).

2. ‘This paper develops a holistic model of the overall process, by integrating knowledge oriented, routine oriented, and social/context of perspectives’ (Hong, Easterby-Smith and Snell, 2006: 1027).

3. ‘This article contributes to the study of managerial agency in the absorption of new knowledge and skills … Empirical data are drawn from a longitudinal study of a …’ (Jones, 2006: 355).

4. ‘We (also) examine the influence of tacit and explicit knowledge on IJV performance. We find that relational embeddedness has a stronger influence on the transfer of tacit knowledge than it has on the transfer of explicit knowledge’ (Dhanaraj et al., 2004).

5. ‘These findings can be explained by elements of JCT and social exchange theory. As expected, when both LMX quality and empowerment were low the most negative outcomes resulted, and in general, when both variables were high the most positive outcomes resulted’ (Harris, Wheeler and Kacmar, 2009: 397).

6. ‘Organizational routines are ubiquitous, yet their contribution to organizing has been under-appreciated. Our longitudinal, inductive study traces the relationship between organizational routines and organizational schemata in a new research institution’ (Rerup and Feldman, 2011: 577).

7. ‘This brings me to a discussion of the credibility performance of agency – client relations. In some respects the very structure of a corporation can be seen in how it arranges performances … Like an individual, a corporation may be seen as a performer …’ (Moeran, 2005: 917).


1. Positivist: ‘empirically validating’. A single truth is suggested as possible through the use of the word valid.

2. Constructionist: ‘holistic model’; ‘perspectives’. There is an attempt to understand the phenomena from different perspectives.

3. Constructionist: ‘drawn from a longitudinal study’. The understanding of new knowledge and skills within the context of a single case.

4. Positivist: ‘has a stronger influence on’. Reference to relationship between variables suggest causal relationships – hence positivist.

5. Positivist: ‘when both LMX quality and empowerment were low’; ‘both variables were high’; ‘positive outcomes resulted’. Strongly positivist as it refers to notions of effects on the variables as well as measurement and predictability.

6. Constructionist: ‘our longitudinal, inductive study’. More constructionist is it makes reference to terms such as induction.

7. Strong constructionist: ‘a discussion of the credibility performance’; ‘the very structure of a corporation can be seen as …’