Who moves to the methodological edge? Factors that encourage scientists to use unconventional methods

Sharon Koppman, Erin Leahey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Breaking from tradition is necessary for scientific advancement, yet we know little about the factors that encourage scientists to break from tradition in their research, particularly by using methods that are unconventional in their fields. To address this gap, we integrate the sociology of science with insights from organization theory, which delineates the evaluative advantages bestowed on those with elite status and a consistent professional identity. We use a mixed methods design. Bibliometric data on articles using three unconventional methods in sociology—Correspondence Analysis, Qualitative Comparative Analysis, and Sequence Analysis—allow us to identify which types of scholars have a greater hazard of using unconventional methods and the conditions under which these associations hold. Interviews with published, unpublished, and likely users reveal how scholars manage the career risks associated with unconventional method use. We find that scholars who are male and affiliated with top-tier universities, as well as those already committed to an identity consistent with the use of unconventional methods, have a greater hazard of using them in published work, though these associations depend on the extent to which the method diverges epistemologically from conventional methodology and the visibility of its lineage. In addition, we identify five successful (and two unsuccessful) strategies scholars use to manage their use of unconventional methods. Taken together, results from this mixed methods study advance knowledge on scientific practice, extend organization theory, and provides guidance to policymakers and administrators who aim to foster risky, path-breaking research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103807
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Gender
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Research methods
  • Scientific careers
  • Status
  • Unconventionality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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