Big Data in Social Sciences: An Attempt at Proving the Existence of Leadership and Management Fashions with Big Data and Quantitative Methods

Philippe Clees & Stella Louise Bergmann Burns

Student thesis: Master thesis


We apply big data mining and analytic technologies to the study of leadership fashions in order to investigate how such technologies can transform research methodologies in the field of leadership and management studies. We review dominant theories about leadership and management fashions, and the limited manual and bibliometric research methods that scholars have used to investigate them. By contrast, we employ robotic process automation to collect 160 million data points indicating word usage connected to leadership within academic research (Academia), leadership development firms (Business) and the leadership offerings of triple-accredited business schools (Education) between 2008 and 2018. We employ NMDS plots and word cluster analysis to search for patterns and themes that would indicate the diffusion of leadership fashions across these three contexts. Our analysis points to a moderate fashion effect within academic leadership research over the ten year period, but finds no conclusive effect within Business or Education circles. Neither does our analysis indicate any diffusion of leadership fashions across these contexts, and therefore does not confirm the contention in previous research that academics play a key role as management or leadership fashion setters. The results of our analysis do not rule out the possible role of academics as fashion setters, or the existence of leadership or management fashions altogether. But they do call into question the ways that researchers have studied these topics previously, and they challenge scholars to adopt new methods for digging deeper into these topics in the future. We conclude that big data technologies can help make leadership and management research more relevant by drawing on more direct forms of data in exponentially greater quantities, and in the instance of our case study, by providing scholars with a more realistic perspective on their own role and influence over the diffusion of leadership and management fashions and ideas.

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages119
SupervisorsEric Guthey