Focusing on Process and History: Path Dependence

Paul Donnelly, Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Article

J. Hogan, P. Dolan and P. Donnelly (eds) Approaches to Qualitative Research: Theory and Its Practical Application, pp.125-50. Cork: Oak Tree Press.


In recognition of the calls for more processual and historically informed organizational theorizing, this chapter considers the notion of path dependency, an approach which holds that a historical path of choices has the character of a branching process with a self-reinforcing dynamic such that preceding steps in a particular direction induce further movement in the same direction, thereby making the possibility of switching to some other previously credible alternative more difficult. Path dependence seeks to assess how process, sequence and temporality can be best incorporated into explanation, the focus of the researcher being on particular outcomes, temporal sequencing and the unfolding of processes over time. Thus, proceeding from a consideration of the position afforded history in the organizational literature, this chapter outlines the tenets of path dependence theory, before sketching out its application in the practice of doing research.