Exploring Diversity in Consumer Research


Julie L. Ozanne and Laurel Anderson Hudson (1989) ,"Exploring Diversity in Consumer Research", in SV - Interpretive Consumer Research, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 1-9.

Interpretive Consumer Research, 1989     Pages 1-9


Julie L. Ozanne, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Laurel Anderson Hudson, University of Virginia


Two of the dominant ways of seeking knowledge in the social sciences are positivism and interpretivism. Because these two world views are based on different assumptions and goals, the research process is different. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate and explore the interdependency of goals, assumptions, theories, and methodologies in positivism and interpretivism. This paper suggests that the knowledge outputs of these two approaches are incommensurable. Nevertheless, consumer research can benefit by exploring and encouraging diversity. First, the philosophical assumptions and goals that underlie positivism and interpretivism are examined. Next, this paper contrasts a specific positivist's and a specific interpretivist's research of the "same" phenomenon in order to demonstrate the powerful link between philosophical assumptions, goals, methods, and theories. That is, these two approaches each form an interdependent system that is self-justifying. Finally, this paper raises and discusses issues that come to light when researchers reflect on their fundamental assumptions and goals: the usefulness of different types of triangulation and ways to examine the conflict between these two systems so that alternative approaches may be envisioned.


One thing is certain, a man might feel: the building of this bridge will never be completed, but my life will surely have its end. A man might therefore risk a running leap from the unfinished edge to the shore that he thinks he sees ahead. Perhaps he has seen right and has estimated his own powers correctly. In which event, applause. Perhaps he has badly miscalculated on both counts. In which event, a certain dampness sets in. Maybe he can swim back to safety, even if somewhat less than applauded. In any event, he has found out how far he can see and how well he can jump. Even if he is never heard from again, perhaps those who are still dawdling at the edge will learn something useful (Gouldner 1973).

The dominant paradigm within consumer research is positivism (Anderson 1983, 1986; Bagozzi 1980~ Hunt 1983; Peter and Olson 1983). Generally, consumer researchers apply the methods of the natural sciences to the study of social beings. If progress is judged in terms of problem solving ability, then consumer research has "added to the bridge" of knowledge. Nevertheless, even our best theories and methods are inadequate. What the social sciences in general and consumer research in particular know about social beings and their world is small when compared to our vast "sea" of ignorance.

While our achievements should be applauded, we must actively strive to improve upon our methods and theories, as well as seek alternative approaches for studying consumers. The field of consumer research can benefit by envisioning different horizons and this monograph represents one such effort. Partly in response to the problems of positivism (Anderson 1983; Peter and Olson 1983; Rubinstein 1981; Suppe 1977), some consumer researchers are exploring interpretivism as an alternative approach to seeking knowledge (Belk, Sherry, and Wallendorf 1988; Hirschman 1985, 1986; Holbrook 1986; Holbrook and Grayson 1986; Hudson and Murray 1986; Hudson and Ozanne 1988; McCracken 1986; Mick 1986; Rook 1985; Sherry and Camargo 1987; Solomon 1983, 1986; Tucker 1967; Wallendorf 1987; Wallendorf and Arriould 1988). Interpretive researchers reject the idea that consumers can be studied like the physical world and, instead, generally hold that researchers must consider the meaning of the phenomena from the perspective of the consumers involved.

Interpretivism offers great potential problem solving ability that will attract many researchers. Yet, dangers exist. Blind conversion to interpretivism is just as dangerous as blind adherence to positivism. Each action is dangerous because each action limits our horizon. Instead, diversity offers merit by expanding our horizons.

This paper suggests that positivism and interpretivism represent two different approaches to understanding social beings and their world. However, researchers need not take an advocacy position and argue for the supremacy of one approach over the other approach (Hudson and Ozanne 1988). Rather, the fundamental conflicts between positivism and interpretivism can be harnessed to better understand each approach and to produce alternative approaches to consumer research. While the social bases of knowledge may act as barriers to the creation of alternative approaches, the basic premise of this paper is that the field of consumer research will benefit most from the acceptance and pursuit of a plurality of approaches to seeking knowledge (Belk 1986; Holbrook 1987; Lutz 1987).

This paper (1) lays out the underlying philosophical differences between positivism and interpretivism and suggests that these two approaches each form interdependent systems that are self-justifying, (2) contrasts an actual example of a positivist's and an interpretivist's approach to emotion in order to demonstrate how the assumptions and goals justify the research conceptualization and methodology, and (3) discusses two issues that arise when philosophical assumptions and goals are considered: the usefulness of different types of triangulation and the exploration of alternative approaches to seeking knowledge. 'Me first issue, triangulation, involves the use of either different data, investigators, theories, or methodologies to study the same problem. The feasibility of each type of triangulation becomes clearer upon examination of each approach's philosophical underpinnings. The second issue, the exploration of alternative approaches, is tackled by employing dialectic analysis to explore the conflicts between positivism and interpretivism. Dialectics is particularly well suited here because it seeks to understand contradictions and generate knowledge based on contradiction. As will become evident in the next section, many contradictions exist between positivism and interpretivism.


This next section lays out the two opposing v iews- -positivism and interpretivism--and tries to make explicit the underlying, taken-for-granted assumptions. Because the underlying assumptions and goals of positivism and interpretivism are discussed at length elsewhere (Bogdan and Taylor 1975; Bredo and Feinberg 1982; Bruyn 1966; Burrell and Morgan 1979; Hirschman 1986; Hudson and Ozanne 1988; Kcat and Urry 1975; Lincoln and Guba 1985; Morgan and Smircich 1980; Rubinstein 1981), we only present an overview of positivism's and interpretiv ism's axiology, ontology, and epistemology.


Each approach subscribes to different goals or axiologics (see Table 1). The positivist's central goal is explanation via subsumption under universal law. (It should be noted that positivists are unable to achieve this goal because of the problem of induction--see Anderson 1983). As well, they seek prediction. A phenomenon is explained and understood if one can demonstrate an underlying systematic association of variables. Of course, if one can demonstrate a systematic association then one can also predict the phenomenon.

While some interpretivists do try to identify patterns of behavior, their central goal is understanding. Understanding involves grasping the individual and shared meanings. Interpretivist researchers may state interpretations-- their present understanding --how ever, they view understanding as a never-ending hermeneutical circle. Past interpretations influence current interpretations and current interpretations will influence future interpretations. Thus, understanding is never finished or complete. For example, in Coombs and Goodman's (1976) study of emotional detachment within intensive care units, they found that the nursing staff used terminology differently than the researchers' use of the words. Death was often referred to as the "incident" and "the situation." Knowing this shared meaning was a prerequisite to further understanding. Through active participation in the culture, the researcher strives for an insider's view or being knowledgeable of the shared meanings.


Positivists hold a realist stance regarding the nature of reality; that is, they believe that a single, unchanging reality exists, which is divisible and fragmentable. Thus, a phenomenon can be removed from its natural setting and studied in a controlled environment. Interpretivists, however, believe that reality is mental and perceptual, and many realities exist because of different individual and group perceptions. The context in which a behavior or event arises influences the meaning of the phenomenon; thus, reality must be viewed holistically and parts of this reality cannot be separated from their natural setting and studied in isolation.

In addition to holding different views about reality, both approaches make different assumptions about the nature of social beings. On the one hand, many versions of positivism hold that human behavior is determined by outside influences - -external factors and/or internal states, which act as objects that cause behavior. On the other hand, interpretivism generally holds a voluntaristic model of humans. Humans actively create and shape their environment, rather than merely reacting to their environment and internal states.


Finally, based on their separate assumptions and goals, each world view strives toward different types of knowledge. Despite the problems of induction, positivists seek to generate nomothetic statements: that is, they seek general laws that can be applied to many different people, places, and times (Kerlinger 1973). As well, the positivist believe that real causes temporally precede behavior. To achieve this type of knowledge, the positivist emphasizes adherence to the proper scientific protocol (Campbell and Stanley 1963). Adherence to this protocol allows one to produce accurate, repeatable results. At all times, care is taken to keep the researcher and the subject separate so the researcher will not influence the results. Central elements of this research protocol involve the a priori identification of a conceptual framework and the use of a controlled environment where extraneous sources of variance are minimized so "true" relationships among variables may be identified. Through applying this protocol, the positivist seeks to reveal relationships that can be generalized and predicted to other contexts.

Interpretivists believe that phenomena are time- and context-bound and, thus, they seek idiographic descriptive knowledge. Geertz (1973) refers to this type of knowledge as "thick description." While interpretivists may identify patterns of behavior, they believe that the world is so complex and dynamic that causal relationships cannot be identified. Ile interpretivists' belief in mutual, simultaneous shaping between entities is consistent with their belief that reality should be viewed holistically (Lincoln and Guba 1985). Thus, interpretivists do not specify a priori relationships that are then tested in a fixed design. While researchers may enter the field with some general ideas and questions, they do not know enough to specify a fixed design and must rely on the assistance of informants. Meaning is cooperatively developed. The research design evolves as researchers immerse themselves in the natural and changing environment.

In summary, positivists seek the goal of explanation and prediction. A single, immutable social reality exists, which is fragmentable. Furthermore, the behavior of social beings is generally viewed as being determined by internal states and/or external forces. Finally, positivists generally seek nomothetic knowledge, assume real causes exist, and adopt a stance of separation between researcher and subject. Conversely, interpretivists seek the goal of understanding. Reality is socially constructed, thus many realities exist. Behavior cannot be removed from the context in which it occurs because meaning is context-dependent. As well, social beings are voluntaristic. Finally, the interpretivists generally seek idiographic knowledge, assume real causes cannot be identified, and view the research- informant relationship as interactive and cooperative.




The previous section delineates positivism and interpretivism as being based on different philosophical foundations. Nevertheless, the pervasive impact of these underlying assumptions and goals on the research conceptualization and methodology is still not evident. In this section, the strong link between fundamental assumptions and goals and the research process is highlighted. To illustrate this link, two different approaches to emotions research are discussed: Gordon Bower's positivist approach and Norman K. Denzin's interpretive approach. We look at the integrated research process, but most importantly, demonstrate the interdependencies of guiding assumptions, goals, methodology, and theory; that is, these two approaches form interdependent systems that are self-justifying and self-perpetuating. Thus, the meaning of a phenomenon changes as it is explored within different world views.

While these two approaches are incommensurable, we can examine the differences in assumptions between the two approaches. These differences in assumptions and goals may provide the basis for new approaches, which will be discussed in the section that follows.

Bower's Positivist Approach

Although Bower does not offer a comprehensive theory of emotion, his approach to emotion is grounded in cognitive psychology (Bower 1981; Bower, Gilligan and Monteiro 1981; Bower, Monteiro and Gilligan 1978). Nevertheless, he develops a theory of memory and emotion, which is based on the associative network model of the human memory. Briefly, memory is analogous to an electrical network in which terminals are linked by wires, just as events and concepts form linking nodes in memory. If an event is activated in memory then other associated events are also activated, like electrical power going through a network of terminals. Bower assumes that emotions are also stored in memory in an associative network. For example, an emotion, such as joy, could be linked in memory to expressive behaviors, autonomic patterns, verbal labels, past events, and so on. The emotional nodes can be activated by a variety of stimuli, which would also activate the other associated events and physical responses. For instance, the activation of the grief node might also activate memories about specific events such as the death of a friend, as well as physical responses such as crying. Therefore, consistent with positivism, humans are viewed as reactive and deterministic.

Bower conceptualizes emotion primarily as a physiological, internal state that is not dependent on the surrounding context. Thus, emotion is assumed to be an objective phenomenon. This conceptualization is consistent with Bower's methodological approach. Emotional states are context-independent so they can be removed from their naturally occurring context and studied in a controlled laboratory setting. Also, emotional states can be produced and manipulated in the laboratory by such techniques as emotional statements and hypnosis. This method is compatible with the assumption that the nature of reality is fragmentable and divisible. In fact, in many of his studies Bower manipulates mood by hypnotizing subjects in lab settings and then asking them to recall very happy or sad events in their lives. Bower confirmed that the emotional state was achieved by measuring physical indicators such as the way the subjects looked and spoke, and their autonomic nervous responses (measured by galvanic skin-response). Thus, the physical response is the emotion. Emotion is assumed to be a tangible, real state.

Bower is interested in the relationship between emotional states and memory; specifically, he hypothesizes that recall of information is better when one recalls the information while in the same emotional state as when the information was learned. Bower poses a specific question: does emotion influence recall? Consistent with the epistemological assumption of causality, he then develops a controlled, temporal sequence of events to establish this relationship. For example, in one experiment (Bower et al. 1978), a 2 x 2 factorial design was used: subjects Were either in a happy or sad mood during learning and in a happy or sad mood during recall. First, subjects were hypnotized and then told to put themselves in a happy or sad mood by imagining a scene when they had felt happy or sad. Subjects were then given a word list to learn while still under hypnosis and in the emotional state. The next day while under hypnosis, the subjects were asked to create a happy or sad mood, as before, and then they were asked to recall the list of words. At all times care was taken to standardize the procedure so that the subjects were treated in the same manner. Here, the separation of researcher and subject is evident, as well as the positivist's desire to follow research protocol.

With their research output, Bower et al. (1978) attempt to establish the hypothesized relationship between emotion and memory. For example, they report a series of three experiments. In the first two experiments, they are unable to establish the hypothesized relationship. In the third attempt they "finally produced the mood-dependent retention effect for which we had been searching" (1978, p. 582). This statement implies that the nature of reality is objective, real, and immutable.

Bower's research process is strongly influenced by positivists' assumptions, but it is also consistent with their goals. For instance, Bower (1981) speculates on extensions of his research to such areas as mood perpetuation, dream recall, and drug dissociation. Like positivists, he explicitly states that the goal of all basic science is to create theories that are generalizable. Furthermore, he stresses parsimony in his attempt to generalize cognitive theories to the area of emotion.

In summary, Bower's theory and methods are grounded on the same underlying assumptions and goals. These underpinnings provide the support and justification for the research process that he employs (Laudan 1984).

Denzin's Interpretivist Approach

Although Denzin (1978, 1983, 1984) offers a comprehensive theory of emotion, we present only the core theoretical and methodological elements of his approach. Emotions are defined as self-feelings; they are feelings of and for oneself. These feelings may include bodily sensations, but they may also include moral and value feelings, etc. While emotions are lived experiences that define the person, they occur in a social context. Emotions, such as embarrassment or shame, can only arise in an environment with the actual or imagined presence of other people and then they are experienced by the self. Finally, the meaning of emotion is based on the individual's interpretation of it; ..one person's joy may be another's sorrow" (1984, p. 5). The individual's interpretations of an emotion are always shifting, so an emotion is never experienced in exactly the same way. In summary, an emotional experience is reflective--it consists of self-feelings; it is situational-it is a lived experience that is temporal and situated; and it is relational--it involves interactions with others. Denzin's conceptualization of emotion is consistent with interpretivists' ontological assumptions. Emotion is perceptual, socially-constructed, and contextdependent.

For example, in Denzin's study of emotion in family violence, violence is "the attempt to regain, through the use of emotional or physical force, something that has been lost" (1984, p. 169). An enacted violent emotion embodies the reflective, the situational, and the relational components. The "loss" refers back to the self and the violent act is an attempt to regain what the self has lost. The violent emotion is tied to a specific, temporal situation. And this act defines the relationship between the self and other for the emotion has meaning for both. As well, people choose their actions, which is consistent with the interpretivist's voluntaristic assumption.

This basic conceptual framework leads Denzin to some methodological prescriptions. Because emotions are self-feelings, they should be studied as a lived phenomenon from the point of view of the emotional person. In addition, these feelings are found in the world and arise interactively with the world. 'There is no division between people, their emotion, and the world" (1984, p. 7). Therefore, agreeing with the interpretivist's view of reality, Denzin believes that the phenomenon of emotion should be studied holistically in the natural world of lived experience. Emotional experiences cannot be separated from the context in which they occur. Any instance of emotion in a natural setting may be studied.

The process of interpretation involves a number of steps. First, through a variety of sources--observations, interviews, filmings, and so on--the basis of the interpretation, or what is called the text, is gathered. Next, the text is divided into parts, such as phrases or acts, that are examined to reveal the inner meanings of the text. Working hypotheses and interpretations develop for each subtext and these are checked against other subtexts. The creation of a total interpretation arises as the subtextual interpretations are fit together. However, multiple interpretations often arise. In the research output, the researcher's own interpretation is presented along with alternative interpretations. Here, it is evident that the research act is an interactive, cooperative enterprise. Also, the view of multiple realities is consistent with the expectation of many alternative interpretations.

In Denzin's study of emotion in family violence, we find an example of this interpretive process. Denzin placed no restrictions on the type of data gathering techniques employed. For instance, Denzin relied on field observations, case studies, fictional literature, plays, legal cases, and in-depth interviews. And consistent with his assumptions, violent emotion was studied as a lived experience from the perspective of the violent person.

The end product is an in-depth, complex interpretation and Denzin concludes that "emotionality and the self are at the core of violence" and "that self stands in bad faith with itself" (1984, p. 167). Denzin uses the interpretation to make suggestions for breaking the violent network existing in the family. For example, the family must create new patterns of nonviolent behavior to change the meanings of the home and family interactions. These suggestions, however, are not predictions; they are prescriptions that assume that people freely choose their actions, but " the meanings of this new choice cannot be estimated, for freedom's possibilities cannot be charted" (1984, p. 200). The purpose of offering the interpretation is to help people understand their lives, not to predict them.

What emerges from this analysis of Denzin's approach is an intimate relationship among his philosophical assumptions, theory, and methodology. The same philosophical assumptions underlie both the theory and the methodology. The methodology is consistent with the theory, while the theory supports the methodology (Laudan 1984). The same parallel holds for the relationship among Bower's assumptions, theory, and methodology. Within each researcher's approach these three components combine to form an interdependent system that is both self-justifying and self-perpetuating. Thus, what is perceived as emotion is radically different between the two approaches. Moreover, the outputs of the two approaches are different. The end product of Denzin's research is a detailed and descriptive interpretation, which can be used to make prescriptions, but its primary purpose is to help ordinary people understand their individual lives. The end product of Bower's research is an explanation of an association between emotion and memory, which can be generalized to a number of other domains.

We question whether these two researchers are even studying the same phenomenon. However, we do not question the value of both research enterprises. In fact, the field of consumer research is large enough to incorporate both research traditions as separate intellectual activities.


The previous section laid out, in a concrete example, the pervasive impact of philosophical assumptions and goals on the research process. A number of issues become salient when we consider the underpinnings of our approaches. For example, how should the review process deal with potential incommensurability between reviewers and authors? Can knowledge outputs from different world views be merged into a single analysis? What problems arise when theories Or methods are borrowed from incommensurable paradigms? How are other approaches, such as critical theory, philosophically related to positivism and interpretivism? If we reevaluate and alter our assumption base, can alternative approaches he constructed? These examples represent just a few of the issues that arise when we reflect upon our assumption base.

This paper will tackle two specific issues: triangulation and exploring alternative approaches. The former issue is discussed because of its prevalence within consumer research, while the latter issue is discussed because of its potential long-run implications.


The definitions and aims of the concept of triangulation vary. Denzin (1978) identified four different types of triangulation: 1) data triangulation-which uses a variety of data sources, such as times, situations, and individuals; 2) investigator tri angulation-- where more than one researcher is used; 3) theory triangulation- -where a situation is examined from the standpoint of competing theories; and 4) methodological triangulation --where many methods are used to study the same problem. Neither positivism nor interpretivism explicitly addresses the issue of triangulation across paradigms. Most of the discussion of triangulation within these two approaches assumes that the same philosophical assumptions underlie the data, theories, and methods. Therefore, the discussion that follows is relevant within positivism and interpretivism, respectively.

Within positivism, data, investigator, and methodological triangulation are generally consistent with positivist assumptions and aims for generalization, researcher objectivity, and the discovery of "truth." Convergent results arc expected from these types of triangulation. It is the convergence of data, investigators, and methods that is of interest to the positivist. For example, Hunt (1983) states that scientific knowledge "must be objective in the sense that its truth content must be intersubjectively certifiable (p. 243)." Thus, different investigators can empirically test the same theory and get the same results. Any individual differences should converge on a single reality in the aggregate. Theory triangulation, however, is generally aimed at pitting one theory against another to discover the "true" theory. Or, an attempt is made to subsume two or more theories within a single, comprehensive theoretical framework.

Within interpretivism, these types of triangulation are also acceptable, but for different reasons. Data, investigator, theory, and methodological triangulation allow for the emergence of patterns, along with the recognition of many differing descriptions of reality. The interpretivist's expectation is that some patterns might emerge but there would also be divergent results, reflecting the many social constructions of reality. Moreover, these divergent results are of interest to the interpretivist. Here, theory triangulation is different from the positivist's approach. Theories are interpretations of phenomena and--consistent with their view of real i ty- - interpretivists accept the existence of multiple interpretations.

However, all forms of inter-paradigm triangulation may present problems. A researcher who is unreflective of the assumptions underlying data, theories, and methods from different paradigms might try to combine the outputs of different world views. But making the results of research from different world views based on different assumptions fit together is to change them (Hudson and Ozanne 1988).

In the previous section, it was clear that what was perceived to be the phenomenon of emotion changed when investigated by different researchers using different methodologies and theories. Different approaches address different questions and will not come together to form a single, well-integrated picture of the phenomenon. Regarding methodology, Shapiro (1973) describes her difficulty in integrating the data of a more interpretive methodology and the data of a more positivist methodology. She concluded that the conflicts were the result of her measuring different things; that is, the phenomenon became different when studied through the use of different methodologies. In fact, due to the different world views, what results is what Wallendorf (1985) calls divergent validity. That is, different results would be expected because the phenomenon studied changes due to the research methodologies, which are based on different assumptions and goals. If the aim of triangulation is to find the "truth" or reduce error, triangulation across incommensurable paradigms will not accomplish this goal. As Fielding and Fielding (1986) point out, if the assumptions of certain theories and methodologies are more consistent with certain research questions, it is unlikely that the inadequacies of one approach will complement the adequacies of another. The researcher who reflects on underlying assumptions would not expect triangulation across paradigms to reduce uncertainty.

Exploring Alternative Approaches Using Dialectic Analysis

The second issue is how these two views might generate insights from which new systems could be constructed. We have suggested elsewhere that dialectic analysis would be helpful in dealing with diversity (Hudson and Ozanne 1988).

While many meanings of dialectics exist, here, dialectics is used to refer to a method for juxtaposing opposing points of view (Churchman 1971; Hudson and Ozanne 1988; Mason and Mitroff 1981; Mitroff and Mason 1983; Morgan 1983). Consistent with an Hegelian interpretation (Churchman 1971), the researcher explores one viewpoint (thesis) and builds the best possible support for this position based on any available data. Next, the researcher constructs an opposing viewpoint (antithesis) and constructs a different view of reality from the available data. This antithesis is the viewpoint that is in greatest conflict or competition with the thesis. Finally, the opposition between the thesis and antithesis is studied. Through debate and juxtaposition of conflicting parts, different alternative approaches may be realized (see Mitroff and Mason 1983 for applications to a number of different domains). Here, the researcher is struggling with the conflict in order to arrive at a new thesis, which may or may not resolve the conflict. Nevertheless, somehow the researcher gets beyond the conflict by moving to a higher plane, giving a different perspective, or resolving the conflict. This new thesis is called the synthesis. Thus, the goal is to achieve fuller and richer forms through the careful examination of the contradiction (Churchman 1971; Mitroff and Mason 1983). It is important to note that the existence of a contradiction does not insure that a fuller form will be realized. Instead, a third approach, which may be different from the thesis and antithesis, may evolve.

Because of the relationship between positivism and interpretivism, dialectics is a particularly appropriate method for dealing with these two approaches. First, these world views represent two diametrically opposed ways of seeking knowledge (Hirschman 1986; Hudson and Ozanne 1988; Lincoln and Guba 1985). A method that attempts to deal with conflict across polar positions would be a useful approach for dealing with diverse ways of seeking knowledge. In addition to offering a method that may resolve contradictions or encourage change, dialectics as a method tries to make explicit what is often implicit. Dialectics specifically focuses on differences in fundamental underlying assumptions (Mitroff and Mason 1983). The questioning and rethinking of these implicit assumptions is an important source of change. (Dialectics does not offer a neutral point from which to view positivism and interpretivism. We believe that no such point of neutrality exists. Instead, dialectics challenges one approach by comparing its underlying assumptions to another approach's assumptions.)

Whether assumptions are made explicit or remain implicit, it is clear that they provide the foundation and justification for the research process. In this section, two underlying differences between the positivist research of Bower and the interpretivist research of Denzin are explored: the nature of social beings and the nature Of reality. Examination of these conflicts Sometimes results in insights and a synthesis of the conflict that may offer ideas for creating new alternative approaches to research.

The Nature of Social Beings. The positivist's and interpretivist's assumption about the nature of social beings is contradictory. Positivist approaches view social beings as passive subjects who can be manipulated. The researcher directs the study and the subject follows. This view was demonstrated by Bower in his information Processing approach to his subjects. Here, man is a thing or an :hp2.object:ehp2., whose moods are manipulated. Ile researchers role is to identify the laws that underlie behavior. On the other hand, interpretive approaches stress humans as agents who are completely volitional. The meanings of phenomena are sought from the perspective of those people involved. This view was exemplified by Denzin in his examination of emotion as a lived phenomenon from the point of view of the informant. Informants were assumed to choose their actions freely.

Neither of these positions seems tenable. Some actions of consumers do not appear to be chosen freely. For instance, it is unclear the extent to which our language and conceptual categories influence the way in which we view the world or to what extent we can break away from these influences. Furthermore, societal influences, in the form of socialization, may direct consumers' behavior to some extent. Social norms and consequences often make it difficult to perform, or, in some cases, not perform certain behaviors. However, a choice still exists. People do deviate from social norms, form new words and conceptual categories, and create new ideas. Perhaps some middle ground position is more reasonable: that is, humans seem to indicate some evidence of choosing freely and some evidence of being influenced by internal/external forces. In other words, humans are neither entirely voluntaristic nor entirely deterministic.

A resolution of this contradiction by taking a middle ground position would influence the way that research is done. For example, a problem that would become relevant is when do people behave more voluntaristically and when do they behave more deterministically. In fact, Mark Snyder (1979) has worked on this issue in his research on self-monitoring. Upon studying a phenomenon, it would be important to examine the phenomenon for indications of volition. For example, in the United States, a consumer might take for granted that he/she is going to use some form of money in exchange for a good in the marketplace. In another culture, there may be a more conscious choice because the form of payment is not taken for granted. When consumers are not aware of the taken for granted assumptions, it might be more appropriate for the researcher to structure and guide the study. However, in the case where the consumer makes a conscious choice, it might be more appropriate for the informant to be relied upon to direct the study. A middle ground, as is outlined here, may make viable different research approaches. Thus, syntheses may open up our choice of research process as opposed to constraining choice.

The Nature of Reality. Some conflicts do not easily lead to a synthesis. For example, the positivists hold a realist view and assume that a single, immutable reality exists. As well, a phenomenon can be removed from the context in which it arises. This stance was reflected in Bower's view of emotion primarily as a physiological, internal state that is not dependent on the surrounding context. Denzin's approach, which is consistent with interpretivism, holds that reality is perceptual and, thus, many realities exist. In addition, the meaning of a phenomenon arises and gets part of its meaning from the surrounding environment. It seems clear that the issue of one or many realities is not resolvable by taking a middle ground position (i.e., a few realities exist). Here, it seems like researchers must take their own stand.


In summary, the philosophical assumptions and goals that underlie positivism and interpretivism were examined. In a concrete example of two different approaches to emotions, it was demonstrated how each approaches' assumptions and goals justify and are consistent with their chosen theories and methods. In many ways, these two world views are incommensurate and generate very different outputs (Anderson 1986). These two positions represent two different ways of knowing. But benefit may be realized by understanding the philosophical foundations of these approaches. In fact, many problems that face consumer research must be resolved at a philosophical level. Two issues were explored from an analysis of the underlying philosophical assumptions: triangulation and the existence of alternative approaches. It was suggested that the usefulness of four different forms of triangulation depends on whether or not the data, investigator, theory, or method are based on different assumptions. In addition, a method for exploring new approaches, dialectic analysis, was discussed. Dialectic analysis explores the conflict between opposing views in order to find a synthesis. The goal here was not to find the best synthesis or integration of positivism and interpretivism--an ideal union of these two world views probably is impossible. Nevertheless, alternative positions do exist. As we question our assumption base and explore alternative assumptions (Laudan 1984), we inject the potential for flexibility and change in our approaches for studying consumers.

New approaches to consumer research were not created in this paper, however, potential starting points exist: goals, the nature of social beings, the nature of reality, and so on. To construct a new research paradigm from a new assumption base represents a tremendous challenge. This challenge may result in a better understanding of one's current approach, a broadening of one's own approach, or--perhaps for a few researchers--a leap off the safety of the bridge to swim in unfamiliar waters toward unknown shores.


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Julie L. Ozanne, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Laurel Anderson Hudson, University of Virginia


SV - Interpretive Consumer Research | 1989

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