Family business research has grown a lot over the last decade but is still an emerging field (Chrisman et al., 2008). Since the seminal papers of Handler (1989) and Daily and Dollinger (1993), few studies, except recently (De Massis & Kotlar, 2014; Melin et al., 2013; De Massis et al., 2012, Dawson & Hjorth, 2012, Litz et al., 2012), have focused on issues related to research methods that may provide greater understanding of the family business field. Even if they don’t represent the majority of the research process in the field of family business, qualitative methods could be the best approach to analyze many issues in family business (Reay & Zhang, 2014). Using our experience on qualitative case study research in family business,1 this chapter makes a step forward by the objective of identifying the type of interactions entering in family business research and their influence on the data collected in qualitative case study research approach. The development of the field of family business and Family Entrepreneurship is based on the assertion that “family businesses are different from non-family business in some important ways” (Chrisman et al., 2005). Family entrepreneurship is quite new and defines the role of families in entrepreneurial activities (Heck et al., 2008). As explained by Zachary et al. (2013), the family is very important because it is from the family context that entrepreneurial behavior is created. Family entrepreneurship relies on a family business following an entrepreneurial dynamic. However, there is still no consensus on the exact definition of family business although there is great effort to find an acceptable definition (Miller & Le-Breton-Miller, 2007). Even today the question “What is family business?” asked by Lansberg et al. (1988) in the first paper of Family Business Review, remains valid and proves the high complexity of family business (Peredo, 2003). The reason why the field has grown a lot lies in the fact that researchers believe that the family components shape the business in a way that the family members of the executive in non-family firms do not and cannot (Chua et al., 1999; Lansberg 1983). The systemic approach defines the family business as composed of subsystems driven by different rationalities (Donnelley, 1964; Whiteside & Brown, 1991; Beckhard & Dyer, 1983; Davis, 1983). Considering Family Entrepreneurship, the subsystems identified are individual, entrepreneurs, the family, and the business. All these systems interfere together and enter into interactions to create the whole organization. Because of the place of family, informal relations inside the business, relationship, attitudes, behaviors, values, both individual and familial, play an essential role. Interactions inside the business led by a family appear to be very specific and an interesting way to explore the uniqueness of family firms. The question of methodology has a high relevance for research into family business and Family Entrepreneurship. Between 1961 and 2008, 22 percent of
the articles on family business examine small samples. Concerning empirical studies, 10.1 percent are based on the case study method (Benavides-Velasco et al., 2013). Qualitative research methods, which include descriptive articles (Handler, 1989) dominated the early work in the field (Sharma et al., 2012). But they were very descriptive and the field needed a more rigorous approach. Nowadays, most of the research in family business follows quantitative methods (Sharma et al., 2012; Dyer & Sanchez, 1998; Sharma, 2004). Vought et al. (2008) show many differences between practical and theoretical aspects of family business research. Many authors criticize the lack of primary data (Ibrahim et al., 2008) and highlight the interest that could represent qualitative methods coming from the field (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990) to evaluate specific aspects of family business, like values (Klein et al., 2005). Quantitative methods show limits “to understand the forces that drive the empirical observations” (Zahra & Sharma, 2004). “There is a need for qualitative and interpretive research in the field of family business” (Nordqvist et al., 2009). Nowadays, the field is enriching of different kinds of qualitative approaches (Sharma et al., 2012). Qualitative methods are “an umbrella term covering a range of interpretive techniques which seek to describe, decode, translate and otherwise come to terms with the meaning, not frequency, of certain more or less naturally occurring phenomena in the social world” (Van Maanen 1979). They cover a plurality settled by three major methodological milestones (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008): Glaser and Strauss (1967) Discovery of Grounded Theory, Van Maanen (1979) “reclaiming qualitative methods for organizational research,” and Denzin and Lincoln (1994) Handbook of Qualitative Research. “Qualitative methods are especially well suited because they allow to understand the most complex elements (relationship, power, intangible knowledge transfer)” (De Massis et al., 2012). Among the large number of qualitative methods, the case study method caught our attention because it fits well with the particularity and complexity of the family business field including the context (Stake, 1995). Case studies represent one of the most used qualitative methods in organizational studies (Eisenhardt, 1989; De Massis & Kotlar, 2014). As explained by De Massis and Kotlar (2014), case studies are a powerful methodology that can be used in a rigorous, creative, and wide-ranging variety of ways to advance family business research. Moreover, “case studies could be particularly relevant to family business research because family firms exist at the intersection of two systems – the family and the business (Tagiuri & Davis, 1992) – that interact in producing idiosyncratic organisational outcomes” (De Massis & Kotlar, 2014). This method allows the researcher to pay attention to the role played by individuals in the process observed and the interactions between them. Yin (1994) was one of the first to define the case study, stating that it is an empirical study that examines a contemporary phenomenon in its real context when the boundaries with the context are not clearly defined and for which several data sources are used. “In qualitative case study, we seek greater understanding of the case. We want to appreciate the uniqueness and complexity, its embeddedness and interaction with its context” (Stake, 1995). Case studies can be conducted following different orientations (De Massis & Kotlar, 2014) from positivism (Yin, 2009), which is dominant in family business research (De Massis & Kotlar, 2014; Kontinen et al., 2013), to inductive approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) based on grounded theory. The qualitative research in family business and Family Entrepreneurship based on interactions focus mainly on interpretivism approach (Stake, 2005; Miles & Huberman, 1994). It is an
abductive approach of the research that considers data and existing theory in tandem (Alvesson & Karreman, 2007). According to this approach, the knowledge is created in the mind of the researcher (Stake, 1995, 2005).