Special Session Summary Puzzles, Choirs, and Archives: Perspectives on Crossing the Quantitative-Qualitative Methodological Divide

James C. Ward, Arizona State University
[ to cite ]:
James C. Ward (1997) ,"Special Session Summary Puzzles, Choirs, and Archives: Perspectives on Crossing the Quantitative-Qualitative Methodological Divide", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 148.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Page 148



James C. Ward, Arizona State University

The first paper by Fournier, McQuarrie, and Mick emphasized that as consumer researchers "break out of their boxes," the use of multiple methods to examine a single phenomenon or research question will become more popular. They noted, however, that writings on method and the philosophy of science have not necessarily equipped us for this task. In their view, the received view on the use of multiple methods within the same research program tends to be grounded in notions of triangulation and convergent validation: multiple methods simply grant comfort that unbiased translation of a phenomenon has been obtained. However, they point out that very little has been written on the art of negotiating findings across methods to arrive at this larger "truth." They also observed that this shortcoming is confounded by a popular relativist philosophy that seems to imply that different methodological approaches, especially those broadly compared as "qualitative" versus "quantitative," represent different "lenses" that render "pictures of reality" that are fundamentally incommensurate.

The presenters organized their talk into two sections. In the first, the authors proposed the puzzle as a metaphor for engaging multiple methods within the context of a single line of inquiry. They went on to elaborate this metaphor by suggesting that various qualitative and quantitative methodologies be viewed as providing pieces to a bigger puzzle of interest to the investigators. They argued that in puzzles, each piece (method) is unique, but not incommensurable, because each piece helps form a picture of a larger whole. They emphasized that convergence should not be the researcher’s dominant goal. Instead, they encouraged researchers to view divergent methods as puzzle pieces that clarify one another’s meaning while retaining their own validity.

The second portion of their talk detailed practical issues that arise in implementing the puzzle metaphor and suggested possible solutions form the authors’ experiences. They observed that successful completion of the puzzle requires the researcher to ask what pieces to start with, what pieces to bring in at each stage of completion, and how emergent interpretations influence succeeding efforts to complete the picture by integrating qualitative or quantitative data. They discussed the use of qualitative data to assess and refine rather than generate grounded theory, strategies for negotiating findings across "equally valid" methods, and issues in crafting manuscripts of reasonable length that fit together qualitative findings, quantitative data, and statistical testing. Finally, they shared their experiences in managing multimethod manuscripts through the review process.

In the second presentation, Linda Price and Eric Arnould emphasized that the use of multiple methods associated with disparate paradigms is still surprisingly rare in consumer research. To suggest the theoretical and practical consequences of employing different assumptions about doing multi-method science, the presenters proposed the metaphor of doing research as if conducting a choir. They began by noting that a choir, like a research project employing disparate methods, is made up of multiple voices. Elaborating their metaphor, they observed that rather than being redundant, voices in a choir may sing in harmony, may sing partially overlapping melodic lines, may sing in different octaves, and may carry entirely different themes. Like these voices, they argued, disparate methods cannot be spoken of as better or worse than another. Instead, they urged us to see how the interplay among methodological voices may be composed by a sensitive researcher to reveal a whole greater than the sum of its parts. They continued the choir metaphor by explaining how the researcher can take advantage of multiple methodological voices by composing polyphonous cross rhythms, echoes, and interplays. They illustrated the theoretical and practical consequences of these efforts using data and conclusions from their research. They explained how multi-method research on consumption satisfaction displayed echoes, interplays, and multiplication of meanings among the multiple "voices" composing their study. They also illustrated how two sets of research, one on preference formation and one on commercial relationships illustrate how new patterns and melodic lines are revealed by the interplay among voices.

The third presentation by Ronald Hill and Beth Hirschman recounted their approach to the use of qualitative and quantitative archival data to understand consumers’ experience of the Great Depression in the United States. They began by discussing their effort to reconstruct what consumers experienced during the 1930s using data collected for Harry Hopkins, the director of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). They found that Hopkins, besides collecting quantitative data on the impact of the Depression, also commissioned the collection of qualitative data to help him gain a deeper understanding of the tragedy of unemployment, its impact on people’s lives, and the potential of federal relief to alleviate suffering. The presenters focused on how to blend quantitative and qualitative archival data to provide a holistic view of historic consumer behavior. Besides presenting a compelling view of the social and emotional impact of the depression, Hill and Hirschman provided many insights about the opportunities, problems, and limitations of blending and interpreting statistics, stories, and photos.

John Sherry followed the presentations with a set of insightful comments that drew together the presenters’ observations about the theoretical and practical advantages and problems inherent in conducting multi method research. He stimulated a lively discussion that revealed the audiences’ interest in the possibility of using multiple methods in their own research programs.