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The Undervalued Power of Self-Relevant Research: The Case of Researching Retirement While Retiring

Teresa M. Amabile, Douglas T. (Tim) Hall

Abstract: For decades, training in management research has emphasized objectivity, typically viewed as an arm’s length distance between the topic of the research and the interests of the researcher. This emphasis has led most scholars to avoid research topics of deep personal relevance – or at least to avoid acknowledging such relevance. We argue that this headlong pursuit of objectivity has led the field to vastly undervalue what we call self-relevant research: immersive field research on a topic with which the researcher has had significant personal experience, and which is important to or part of the researcher’s self-identity. As an illustrative case, we draw on our own current experience in a team of scholars doing self-relevant research on retirement. We argue that an embrace of self-relevant research can enhance the richness, validity, and methodological diversity of management research, and can actually be essential for understanding phenomena that involve unusual experiences, high degrees of emotionality, or identity issues. We discuss the advantages and challenges that arise when researchers have a deeply personal connection to the topic of research, and we describe measures that researchers can take to leverage the advantages and mitigate the challenges of doing such personally relevant research. We also highlight the particular value of engaging in group self-reflection in the course of collaborative research of this type, and discuss implications for both the field and researchers in management science.
Keywords: relevant research / personally relevant / research on a topic / diversity / undervalue / argue / Retiring

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