I Do Better Research than You — On Respect and Disagreement in Academia

Aleksi Aaltonen
4 min readApr 19, 2024

Academic researchers are often proud of their research and, in particular, how they do their research: my combination of theory, method, and epistemology is a little bit (if not a lot) better than yours.

Of course, I would have not chosen my approach unless I think it is the Right way of studying things!

The thing is that neither you nor me made an informed choice how we do our research. Instead, the way we do our research was likely handed down to us by the postgraduate program where we ended up, for whatever reason, doing our doctorates. To have originally made an informed decision about a personal approach to research is virtually impossible. It would require one to possess a solid understanding of different options before making a choice — which is only possible if you first learn and apply the different ways of doing research…

This is not to say that certain types of research would not be more popular, useful, or even better according to some criteria in different fields and at different times. For instance, I was trained to do qualitative case studies. Yet, as I saw the rising opportunities in the vast amounts of data available in the digital environment, I trained myself in computational and econometric methods to be able to tap those opportunities. As a result, I have published positivistic quantitative papers (Aaltonen and Seiler 2016, Shi et al. 2023), qualitative papers drawing on critical realism (Aaltonen and Tempini 2014) and on performativity (Aaltonen and Stelmaszak 2023), and papers that do not neatly fall into any such category (Kallinikos et al. 2013). In other words, I have done research in ways that are seemingly incompatible or even mutually exclusive.

You may call me a methodological agnostic (some may think heretic). I am less interested in committing to a certain methodology than understanding phenomena. The benefit of working with totally different methods is, however, that it allows to learn something about methodology in general. Most importantly, I have learned that:

Just because I don’t understand research done using a particular approach does not make it inferior to my research.

This may sound obvious — I would have probably agreed with such a noble statement even before I learned to do different types of reseach. However, the true test is if I can respect a different type of research in practice, especially when it comes to reviewing a paper, hiring a new colleague, or assessing a promotion case. Respect does not mean that I should pretend that I find different types of research equally valuable; indeed, I think lots of people are wasting their lives doing incredibly boring research. Yet, I must accept that they have the right to think the same about my research because:

Ultimately, we don’t know whose research is going to be truly impactful over the years, yours or mine — all we can do is to give our best shot while letting others do the same.

So, going back to my initial provocation, do I really think that my approach is the Right approach? Yes, in the sense that I think it works very well for me given my experience, interests, and skills that I have developed over the years. No, in the sense that I don’t think everyone should do research like me. The beauty of academic work is that we don’t have to agree on the Right way of doing research as long as we respect each other.

In fact, I have benefited tremendously from working with colleagues who think differently from me. Nothing exposes problems in my own thinking better than having to convince a bunch of sceptic colleagues who want to disagree with me. I recently had an interesting discussion with Nick Berente about the importance of disagreement or what Nick calls ‘adversarials’ in academic knowledge production. Knowledge does not grow when we agree with each other. Instead,

Knowledge grows when we disagree with each other and, in this sense, functioning academia is an institutionalized disagreement.

Unfortunately, disagreement among academics is not always respectful. It can be hostile. Hostility can also force us to improve our research and to strengthen our arguments, but I am not sure if it is a more effective way to improve our thinking than respectful disagreement. I hope not and I believe that the foundation for mutual respect can be found in the recognition of the following statement:

However strongly you may believe in the way you do your research, you cannot deny that other ways of doing research have also produced insightful findings and useful knowledge.

Cited papers

Aaltonen, A., & Seiler, S. (2016). Cumulative growth in user-generated content production: Evidence from Wikipedia. Management Science, 62(7), 2054–2069. https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2015.2253

Aaltonen, A., & Stelmaszak, M. (2023). The performative production of trace data in knowledge work. Information Systems Research, Articles in Advance. https://doi.org/10.1287/isre.2019.0357

Aaltonen, A., & Tempini, N. (2014). Everything counts in large amounts: A critical realist case study on data-based production. Journal of Information Technology, 29(1), 97–110. https://doi.org/10.1057/jit.2013.29

Kallinikos, J., Aaltonen, A., & Marton, A. (2013). The ambivalent ontology of digital artifacts. MIS Quarterly, 37(2), 357–370. https://doi.org/10.25300/MISQ/2013/37.2.02

Shi, R., Aaltonen, A., Henfridsson, O., & Gopal, R. D. (2023). Comparing platform owners’ early and late entry into complementary markets. MIS Quarterly, 47(4), 1727–1744. https://doi.org/10.25300/MISQ/2023/17413



Aleksi Aaltonen

I am a management scholar and thinker who writes about data and the production of academic knowledge — www.aleksi.info