The Selection Committee for the JIBS Decade Award is pleased to announce that the 2011 JIBS article “Theorising from case studies: Towards a pluralist future for international business research” by Catherine Welch, Rebecca Piekkari, Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki and Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki has been selected as the winner of the 2021 JIBS Decade Award.

The award, sponsored by Palgrave Macmillan, is designed to recognize the most influential paper published in the Journal of International Business Studies ten years prior and is presented at the annual AIB conference. In order to be considered for the JIBS Decade Award, an article must be one of the five most cited articles published in JIBS for the year being considered. This year’s Selection Committee members were JIBS Area Editor and AIB VP Administration Becky Reuber (Chair, University of Toronto, Canada), the current AIB Program Chair Gary Knight (Willamette University, USA), and AIB VP Administration Dana Minbaeva (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark). JIBS Editor-in-Chief Alain Verbeke was an ex officio, non-voting committee member.

In recommending the award-winning article, the committee noted that, “This article challenges the primacy of inductive theory-building as a rationale for the use of case studies in international business research. The authors construct a typology of research methods used to theorize from case studies which based on two dimensions: the emphasis on contextualization (weak or strong) and the emphasis on causal explanation (weak or strong). The four research methods highlighted are: inductive theory-building, natural experiment, interpretive sense-making and contextualized explanation. They describe each method and identify exemplar papers that use it, and call for a greater use in international business of methods that emphasize contextualization and causal explanation. Overall, the authors contend that international business research would be well-served by more diversity in the approaches used to theorize from case study research.

“The Selection Committee assessed this article to be the most influential paper published in JIBS in 2011 for three reasons.

“First, we consider the article to be influential because it has citation metrics associated with influence. The article is well-cited in the ecosystem of international business journals and beyond, including journals in the areas of marketing, entrepreneurship, general management, and innovation. Indeed, citations to it have increased over time, from 15 in 2012, to 25 in 2013, to over 70 in 2019. Based on metrics from both the Web of Science and the Social Science Citation Index, it has had double the number of citations of the next-most-cited 2011 JIBS article. The article has become a core citation for the advocates of qualitative research in general and for theorizing from case studies in particular.

“Second, we consider the article to be influential because it significantly raised the standards of qualitative research in international business, and it provided the basis for improving this research’s theoretical rigor. Ten years ago there were authoritative publications in other fields about the standards that should be applied to the collection and analysis of qualitative data, but little guidance specifically for international business researchers. The absence of clear expectations as to the requisite standards, combined with limited doctoral training in qualitative methods, resulted in few qualitative papers being submitted to international business journals and making it through the review process successfully. This article initiated a discussion about the need to make explicit the rationale for particular research design choices, thereby raising the bar for both authors and reviewers. It drew attention to the power of qualitative research for developing theory, not only in the realm of exploratory research, but also for refining, verifying, testing and challenging existing theory.

“Third, and perhaps most pronounced for international business, we consider the article to be influential due to its recognition of the role of contextualization in theory development. Specifically, the article advocates the articulation of the contextual characteristics influencing theoretical constructs and relationships as a key means of providing a stronger foundation for developing or extending international business theory. It provides insights on tensions and accommodations among the research goals of contextualization, causal explanation, and generalizability.

“In summary, we believe that the article ‘Theorising from case studies: Towards a pluralist future for international business research,’ is thought-provoking and opens the door for new types of scientific inquiry in the field of international business. It has provided insights on research design for both novice and experienced researchers, and has encouraged researchers to reflect on their own role in the research process. We are therefore confident that Catherine Welch, Rebecca Piekkari, Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki and Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, should receive the 2021 JIBS Decade Award.”

A session will be held at the upcoming 2021 AIB Annual Meeting in Miami, in which the authors and invited discussants will comment on the paper. A reception honoring the Decade Award winning paper and its authors will also be held as part of the closing reception at the conference. We hope that you will join us in Miami to attend these events; the date and times will be available on the AIB 2021 conference homepage when the conference program is finalized.

A retrospective by the authors, together with discussants’ commentaries, will be published in the first issue of the 2022 volume of the Journal of International Business Studies.