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Critical Essay: Meta-Analysis: A Critical Realist Critique and Alternative

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Matthew BrannanORCiD, Professor Steve VincentORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Meta-analysis has proved increasingly popular in management and organisation studies as a way of combining existing empirical quantitative research to generate a statistical estimate of how strongly variables are associated. Whilst a number of studies identify technical, procedural and practical limitations of meta-analyses, none have yet tackled the meta-theoretical flaws in this approach. We deploy critical realist meta-theory to argue that the individual quantitative studies, upon which meta-analysis relies, lack explanatory power because they are rooted in quasi-empiricist meta-theory. This problem, we argue, is carried over in meta-analyses. We then propose a ‘Critical Realist Synthesis’ as a potential alternative to the use of meta-analysis in organisation studies and social science more widely.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Brannan M, Fleetwood S, O'Mahoney J, Vincent S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Human Relations

Year: 2017

Volume: 70

Issue: 1

Pages: 11-39

Print publication date: 01/01/2017

Online publication date: 11/11/2016

Acceptance date: 12/09/2016

Date deposited: 01/11/2016

ISSN (print): 0018-7267

ISSN (electronic): 1741-282X

Publisher: Sage


DOI: 10.1177/0018726716674063


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