Prediction in Social Science: The Case of Research on the Human Resource Management-Organisational Performance Link

Journal of Critical Realism 5 (2):228-250 (2006)
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Abstract

Despite inroads made by critical realism against the ‘scientific method’ in social science, the latter remains strong in subject-areas like human resource management. One argument for the alleged superiority of the scientific method (i.e. its scientificity) lies in the taken-for-granted belief that it alone can formulate empirically testable predictions. Many of those who employ the scientific method are, however, confused about the way they understand and practice prediction. This paper takes as a case study empirical research on the alleged empirical association between human resource management practices and organisational performance. By unpacking the confusion surrounding the two basic notions of prediction used, it reveals what is wrong with them, why the scientific method cannot actually make accurate predictions and why, therefore, the scientific method fails to meet its own criteria for scientificity. Finally, explanation is considered in order to prevent any confusion between it and prediction and to offer what we call tendential prediction.

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Steve Fleetwood
University of the West of England

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