Naturalistic, Humanistic, and Interpretive Inquiry: Challenges and Ultimate Potential


Shelby D. Hunt (1989) ,"Naturalistic, Humanistic, and Interpretive Inquiry: Challenges and Ultimate Potential", in SV - Interpretive Consumer Research, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 185-198.

Interpretive Consumer Research, 1989     Pages 185-198


Shelby D. Hunt, Texas Tech University

[The author wishes to thank Professors Roy Howell, James B. Wilcox and Robert W. Wilkes of Texas Tech University and Professor Harvey Siegel of the University of Miami Philosophy Department for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.]


Many researchers are now both advocating and adopting naturalistic, humanistic, and interpretive inquiry methods. The purpose of this paper is to provide a constructive and critical commentary on this developing trend in consumer research. This paper proposes that in order for naturalistic, humanistic, and interpretive methods to reach their ultimate potential, they must respond to (at least) four separate challenges. Although these challenges reveal that I find some of the positions (apparently) advocated by naturalistic, humanistic, and interpretive researchers to be problematical, this does not mean that I do not admire and respect their efforts. Rather, I agree with Laudan when he states that in academia "healthy disagreement (unlike imitation) is the deepest sign of admiration" (1977, p. ix).


In recent years several researchers have been adopting naturalistic, humanistic, and interpretive inquiry methods for studying both marketing and consumer research phenomena. The volume in which this paper is published represents a natural outgrowth of interest in these procedures and the purpose of this paper is to provide a constructive critique of them. Several factors severely delimit both the breadth and depth of the critique, including page limitations and (more importantly) the diversity and heterogeneity of the papers in the volume and the naturalistic, humanistic and interpretive methods.

At the outset, I should admit my own positive bias towards the humanities and their function in both academe and society. I strongly believe that naturalistic, humanistic and interpretive inquiry can play a positive role in developing both marketing and consumer research. At the same time, we must recognize that naturalistic, humanistic and interpretive research efforts are in their early, formative stages in marketing and consumer research. Therefore, the extent to which these methods can develop their ultimate potential depends in part on the paths taken by their "early adopters." This commentary is offered in the constructive spirit of one colleague's suggestions as to which "paths" advocates of these methods might take in order to maximize the likelihood that the potential will be fulfilled.

I suggest that the ultimate fulfillment of the potential of these methods depends in part on how advocates of naturalistic, humanistic and interpretive inquiry respond to four challenges. Each challenge poses its own set of problems, but each appears to be amenable to resolution.


Many of the discussions involving naturalistic, humanistic and interpretive inquiry (hereafter referred to as "N-H-l" methods) seem to start off with a ritualized bashing of those scholars who hold contemporary views as to the nature of science and scientific inquiry. These scholars are labeled "positivists" and their views are contrasted with the enlightened views of N-H-1. Unfortunately, instead of characterizing the view of contemporary social science, the ritualized bashing degenerates into blatant mischaracterizing or (worse) caricaturizing.

The paper by Ozanne and Hudson typifies the procedure of both mischaracterizing and caricaturizing contemporary social science (hereafter referred to as C-S-S). First, consider that they label C-S-S as "positivist." Now, the term positivism was coined in the 19th century by the French philosopher Saint Simon, one of the founders of a movement known as social positivism, which had as its central objective the promotion of a more just society through the application of the knowledge generated by science and the scientific method. August Comte, Saint-Simon's colleague, articulated and developed the movement's "positive philosophy of science," which has been claimed by Laudan to be "the most important single development in the last century" as to theories of the scientific method (1968, p.29). Later in the 19th century, the physicist Ernst Mach continued the development of positivist philosophy and strongly influenced Einstein in the development of relativity theory (Holton 1970). The positivist movement culminated with the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle in the 1920's. However, a key premise of logical positivism, the verifiability principle, was demonstrated to be untenable in the early 1930's. Thereafter, the Vienna Circle was disbanded (under pressure and persecution from the Nazi's), and logical positivism, formally speaking, ceased to be. Many of the logical positivists continued to work in the general area of empiricist philosophy and some became associated with the research program (in Lakatosian terms) now called logical empiricism.

Although many philosophers of science characterize their philosophy as being empiricist, I know of no contemporary philosopher of science who characterizes his/her work as "Positivist." For example, Laudan calls his perspective "historical empiricism" (1979, p. 46). Furthermore, although many practitioners of C-S-S call their work empirical," none characterize its nature as positivistic." In fact, most philosophers of science and practitioners of C-S-S would object strongly to being labeled "positivist." Then why do Ozanne and Hudson (as well as many others in these debates) choose to identify practitioners of C-S-S with a label that not only mischaracterizes their views, (associating them with such discredited beliefs as for example, the verifiability principle) but one which practitioners find objectionable? The answer lies in applying some concepts of the illuminating paper by Stern in this volume. In particular, Stern points out that words have both a denotative and a connotative meaning. Although "positivist" denotes a set of views (including the discredited verifiability principle) held by an identifiable set of people at a particular period of time, over the last several decades the term (rightly or wrongly) has taken on a highly pejorative connotation. Thus, by adopting a pejorative, rather than neutral, label for C-S-S, Ozanne and Hudson bring negative connotations into the debate.

Phillips (1987) has chronicled the ongoing diatribe being conducted by a host of writers (including, he notes, Lincoln and Guba) against contemporary social science. In a section entitled "Rampant Anti-Positivism," he concludes:

[T]here have been many exaggerated claims about the evils of positivism, and about the beneficial effects of its demise.... First, many factual errors are made when researchers refer to positivism. Indeed, without suggesting that those who make the errors are dishonest, it seems as if the word "positivism" arouses such negative feelings that it is often used in a blanket way to condemn any position at all that the writer in question disagrees with, irrespective of how positivistic that position really is (1987, p. 94).

Note that Ozanne and Hudson use "interpretive" to identify naturalistic, humanistic and interpretive inquiry. Although "interpretive" may not accurately denote all the characteristics of N-H-I inquiry (as Professor Belk has commented to me), it to my knowledge has no pejorative connotation. Furthermore, it at least is a label chosen by practitioners and advocates of N-H-1, themselves, and not "pinned" on them by advocates of C-S-S.

As a straightforward example of caricature, consider Ozanne and Hudson's claim that a fundamental premise of practitioners of C-S-S is that an "immutable social reality" (p. 2) exists, a "single unchanging reality" (p. 2). "Immutable" is a very strong word implying that social reality is totally unchanging. Can anyone seriously claim that practitioners of C-S-S believe that social reality (for example, the relationships among attitudes, intentions, and behaviors of consumers) is totally unchanging? Is this not a caricature of C-S-S? As another caricature example, Ozanne and Hudson paint C-S-S researchers as believing that human behavior is "entirely deterministic" (p. 7) rather than "entirely voluntaristic" and propose their own "middle ground position," since "humans seem to indicate some evidence of choosing freely and some evidence of being influenced by internal/external forces" (p. 7). Their discovery of the "middle ground" will hardly seem revelatory to practitioners of C-S-S who have long considered most human behavior to be indeterministic, to be explored through "tendency laws" (Hunt 1983, p. 200) and the like. Is there a better word than caricature to describe Ozanne and Hudson's assertions?

Although I have restricted my examples to those in this volume from Ozanne and Hudson, similar rhetorical devices seem all too commonplace throughout the literature. Most importantly, mischaracterizing through pejorative labeling and using caricatures both demean and damage the cause of those who advocate N-H-1. Such devices are normally adopted only by those whose positions are weak or unsound and, therefore, are surely unnecessary for advocates of N-H-1.

The preceding paragraphs point out the first challenge for advocates of N-H-I is to raise the level of the debate by avoiding pejorative labeling and the caricaturizing of the views of their colleagues in C-SS. The use of these rhetorical devices may serve well when "preaching to the committed." However, such techniques are unlikely to gain "converts .


The objective of all research is to produce knowledge, or (more epistemologically modest) knowledge -claims. Every university discipline has an extant body of knowledge and all scholarly journals associated with academic disciplines evaluate manuscripts according to whether each submitted manuscript contributes to, or extends, the extant body of knowledge as judged by a jury of one's peers. Essentially, the Process of evaluating manuscripts for a scholarly journal involves answering three questions: 1) What is the nature of the purported contribution to knowledge of the manuscript? 2) What is the extent of the purported contribution to knowledge? 3) Is the purported contribution to knowledge genuine?

The first evaluative question categorizes the purported contribution. Does the manuscript fall within the domain of the journal? For example, is the manuscript truly in the area of consumer behavior, or is it marketing management, or is it personnel management, and so forth. The second question, identifying the extent of the purported contribution, is actually a composite of three sub-questions. First, to what extent is the purported contribution new? That is, has the contribution been previously reported in the literature? The second aspect of the extent criterion is, roughly speaking, a quantitative dimension. In the judgment of the reviewers is the contribution "large enough" to warrant publishing in the journal. Alternatively, is the contribution-to-page-length ratio large enough? The third aspect of the extent question has to do with the value of the contribution. Will the manuscript be valuable in encouraging further research? Does the manuscript have value for decision-makers? Does the manuscript have value for government policy? In addition to the nature of the contribution and the extent of the contribution, the manuscript review process evaluates the genuineness of the contribution. How do we know that the knowledge-claims in the manuscript are true, or trustworthy, or verified, or confirmed, or (in philosophy of science terms) have "high epistemic warrant"?

It seems to me that the product, or output, or knowledge-claims, of interpretive inquiry faces serious and significant (but not insuperable) difficulties with all three of the major criteria that scholarly journals impose on manuscripts. Consider the major knowledge-claim extensively discussed in the Holbrook, Bell and Grayson paper (originally developed in Holbrook and Grayson (1986)). As I understand their work, the major knowledge-claim resulting from their interpretive inquiry is that "consumption symbolism contributes to the development of character in a work of art" (p. 36). This knowledge-claim of interpretive inquiry provides an excellent illustration, since it has already been published in the Journal of Consumer Research and, therefore, has survived the peer-review process. (Presumably, the results of many interpretive studies, just like the results of many studies conducted using the methods of C-S-S, would not pass the peer-review process of major journals, such as JCR).

How might reviewers have applied the first criterion to the Holbrook-Grayson contribution? The reviewers would obviously have to ask themselves whether the contribution was more about "consumption symbolism" (and therefore appropriate for JCR) or whether the contribution was more in the area of "art" (and therefore more appropriate for another journal)? My experience has been that most journals receive many manuscripts where, in the judgment of the reviewers, the nature of the contribution is outside the domain of the journal. Second, how would the extent criterion be applied to the Holbrook-Grayson contribution? I suspect that some reviewers might contend that, since works of art mirror society, and since it is "well known" (from the hundreds of life-style and psychographic studies) that many people significantly express their personalities through consumption symbols, that the HolbrookGrayson contribution may not represent a "new" addition to the body of knowledge. Further, I suspect that some reviewers might contend that, even if the contribution is "new," it is not "large enough" for a journal such as JCR. Finally, with respect to extent, what is the value of the contribution? Will it encourage further research? If so, of what kind? Does the contribution have value to any of JCR's publics in addition to researchers? (Although JCR does not purport to be a "managerial" journal, it does purport to be relevant to public policy and other societal issues).

With respect to the third criterion, is the Holbrook-Grayson purported contribution genuine? To what extent is it true that "consumption symbolism contributes to the development of character in a work of art"? (For those who consider the word "true" to be naive, naughty or nefarious, they may substitute surrogates, such as warranted, justified, credible, or trustworthy. Notably Holbrook, Bell and Grayson do not avoid the word "truth", since they claim "the humanities in general and artworks in particular contain truths that escape procedures of the hypothetico-deductive method" (p. 39)). The reviewers will ask whether the Holbrook-Grayson knowledge-claim is in some meaningful sense genuine. After all, Holbrook and Grayson do not simply claim that it is possible to interpret consumption symbolism as contributing to the development of character. Rather, they claim that "consumption symbolism contributes to the development of character." This implies the necessity of demonstrating that the Holbrook-Grayson interpretation satisfies appropriate criteria for good, well-conducted, truly justificatory, interpretive research; and not bad, poorly conducted, nonjustificatory, interpretive research.

It is clear that the Holbrook -Grayson contribution satisfied the reviewers of JCR on all three criteria discussed in the preceding paragraphs. Nevertheless, I am sure the authors of that paper would be the first to admit that much needs to be done to smooth the way for publishing (and thus disseminating) the work of future research efforts. Therefore, interpretive researchers must consciously address the second challenge: clearly demonstrating that the nature of their purported contributions to knowledge reside within the domains of their chosen publishing outlets, showing that the extent of their contributions (i.e. their newness, significance and value) and justify~g that their contributions are genuine. In this regard the paper by Wallendorf and Belk in this volume is exemplary. Contrary to the oftcited claim that there are no universal standards Or values (across different approaches or paradigms or "disciplinary matrixes"), they note that "trustworthiness" is to them considered "to be a scientific universal," although "the particular way that trustworthiness is evaluated will vary considerably depending on the research program and the philosophy within which the research operates" (p. 69). Their paper builds upon the criteria for evaluating humanistic inquiry developed by Hirschman (1986) and clearly demonstrates that there are both good Procedures to adopt in actually conducting naturalistic inquiry and that these procedures can be used as evaluative criteria for assessing the justificatory warrant of the knowledge-claims generated by such research.

With respect to demonstrating the value of interpretive inquiry, it seems strange that advocates of N-H-I are characterizing their inquiry in such a manner as to render it fundamentally irrelevant to public policy and other significant social concerns. Ozanne and Hudson claim that "while interpretivists may identify patterns of behavior, they believe that the world is so complex and dynamic that causal relationships cannot be identified" (p. 2). Similarly, Hirschman, claims that "phenomenal aspects cannot be segregated into causes and effects" (1986, p.239).

As an implication of claiming that interpretive inquiry cannot yield causal knowledge, consider the issue of the impact of television advertising on children. This is currently a significant social issue about which there are direct public policy implications. It would seem that interpretive inquiry might have a role to play in identifying how children interpret the messages or "texts" received from the television screen. Further, such interpretive inquiry might yield knowledge, or at least some tentative hypotheses, about how children's interpretations of television advertising are formed (a causal imputation). Such interpretive inquiry might then give guidance to public policy in this important area. But, public policy decisions in this kind of area inherently involve causal imputations. That is, if television advertising has no effect on children's beliefs, attitudes, or values, then any government regulation would be unnecessary or ineffective. If television does have a (deleterious) effect on children, what kind of government regulation would negate or overcome the effect? In fact, most government regulation necessarily implies that a particular law or regulation will bring about, or "cause," some desirable consequence. Therefore, I question why advocates of N-H-I choose to define and circumscribe their inquiry to be irrelevant to public policy. Curiously, there is no reason for them to do so, except perhaps as a reaction (over-reaction?) to the strong emphasis on causal processes in C-S-S and the reliance (overreliance?) on the views of those such as Lincoln and Guba (1985). Finally, it should be noted, substituting Hudson and Ozanne's "mutual, simultaneous shaping" (1988, p. 512) for "cause" does not save N-H-I from irrelevancy. To suggest that a child and a television set are engaged in "mutual simultaneous shaping" strains credulity beyond all reasonable limits. (Consider for starters the implications of the word simultaneous on the child/television set example).


Both the Anderson paper and the Peter and Olson contribution present spirited defenses of the appropriateness of relativism for consumer research. Both position their papers as a reply to Calder and Tybout (1987), who adopt a sophisticated falsificationist perspective for analyzing various kinds of knowledge-claims. Much of the content of the Anderson, Peter and Olson papers contains rather standard arguments against falsificationism as a demarcation criterion to separate science from nonscience. In this section I shall not analyze their attack on falsificationism. Rather, I shall focus on the more fundamental issue of demarcation in general.

Consistent with his previously stated positions (1983, 1986) Anderson claims that "we currently have no universally applicable criterion by which we can demarcate scientific knowledge from any other kind of knowledge" (p. 10). He cites Laudan (1980) as a reference and notes that "unfortunately this is often thought to imply that all knowledge-cl aims are on an equal epistemic footing" (p. 10), referring to Hunt (1984). He claims that "very little follows from the fact that philosophers have been unable to come up with a universal demarcation criterion" (p. 10), and speaks again in favor of what he calls "science2--the definition of science by societal consensus" (p. 10). Is it the case that nothing of great importance follows from the demarcation issue? Stated more succinctly, is it the case that "societal consensus" alone constitutes the reason why there are astronomy departments in universities but not astrology departments, that there are medical science departments but not palmistry departments? I and many others believe that it is not just "societal consensus," but rather that the societal consensus is backed by very good reasons, as can be illustrated by analyzing what may be called the "nature of science argument."

The "nature of science argument" according to a fundamental premise (noted hereafter as "Rl") of the relativist point of view, as stated by Anderson and detailed in Hunt (1984), may be concisely summarized as follows:

R1. There are no fundamental differences separating the sciences and the nonsciences. ("The search for [demarcation] criteria that separate science from nonscience"...has been "signally unsuccessful" (Anderson 1983, p. 18). Since there are no objective criteria separating science from nonscience, "science is whatever society chooses to call science" (Anderson 1983, p. 26)).

R2. The knowledge-claims of the nonsciences have as much epistemological warrant as the sciences. (That is, we have no good reason to believe and act on the knowledge-claims of the sciences in preference to the nonsciences. Statement R2 is logically implied by R1 because, if we had good reasons to believe and act on the knowledge-cl aims of the sciences, such reasons would constitute "fundamental differences" that could be used to separate science from nonscience).

R3. Therefore, statement R2 implies that if a palmist should diagnose a person as not having bone cancer (an example of a nonscience knowledge-claim), such a diagnosis would have equal warrant as the diagnosis of a medical doctor that the person did have bone cancer (an example of a science knowledge-claim).

A reconstruction of the "nature of science argument" according to modem empiricism (as detailed in Hunt (1984) and drawing upon works such as Hempel (1969), Radner and Radner (1982), Rudner (1966) and Siegel (1986)) would be:

E1. There are fundamental differences separating the sciences and nonsciences. (Sciences differ from nonsciences in their method of verifying knowledge-cl aims).

E2. The knowledge-claims of sciences have greater epistemological warrant than the knowledge- cla ims of the nonsciences. (Since the knowledge-cl aims of the sciences are intersubjectively certifiable through open empirical testing, people have good reasons for accepting such claims and acting upon them in preference to the knowledge -claims of nonsciences).

E3. Therefore, E2 implies that if a palmist should diagnose a person as not having bone cancer and a medical doctor should diagnose that same person as having bone cancer, the person has good reasons for believing the diagnosis of the medical doctor and acting accordingly. (Palmistry has not adopted the verification system of open empirical testing and, therefore, is not a science).

Anderson reviewed the narrative versions of the preceding nature of science arguments and lamented that empiricists often cast "proffered alternatives" as "relativistic flights of fancy that lead to epistemological anarchy and the abandonment of rationality and objectivity" (Anderson 1986, p. 156). He did not deny that the empiricist version accurately reflected the views of modem empiricism. Nor did he do a detailed analysis of the relativist version, pointing out logical flaws or empirical inadequacies. Rather, he dismissed the argument as a "straw man." To avoid the impression of possibly mischaracterizing Anderson's reasons for dismissing the argument, he is quoted at length:

The type of relativism attacked by Hunt (1984) has never been advocated by any of the participants in the cur-rent debate. The object of Hunt's critique is a straw man known as judgmental (Knorr-Certina and Mulkay 1983) or "nihilistic" relativism. In this view, all knowledge claims are equally valid and there is no basis on which to make judgments among the various contenders. (Indeed, a careful reading of even the most radical of contemporary relativists will reveal that this does not even approximate their views, e.g., Collins 1975, 1981; Feyerabend 1975, 1978a) (page 156 emphasis added).

Is it true that the above argument (indicating that the relativism advocated by Anderson and others inexorably leads one to be indifferent between the claims of palmistry and medical science) is a "straw man?" Is it truly the case that "a careful reading of even the most radical of contemporary relativists will reveal that this does not even approximate their views?"

Is the Nature of Science Argument a Strawman?

Since Anderson uses Feyerabend as an example of a contemporary relativist who would not subscribe to the so-called "nihilistic" relativism presented in the preceding argument, we shall examine Feyerabend's views on the subject. Feyerabend is one of the most prominent and widely cited supporters of a relativist view of science (Suppe 1977). Indeed, all of the relativist writers in consumer research draw heavily from his works for intellectual sustenance, reference him liberally, and even refer to him as a relativist "hero" (Olson 1987). In addition to many articles extolling the virtues of relativism, Feyerabend has published several books on the subject, including: Against Method (1975) and Science In A Free Society (1978b). In the 1978 book he extends and further clarifies the positions taken in the 1975 book. (All references to Feyerabend in the following sections refer to his 1978 work). Further, he addresses and answers many criticisms of his work from other philosophers of science. He is quoted here at length (again, to avoid the charge of mischaracterization) concerning his answer to a critique by a philosopher named Tibbets:

[Tibbets] also asks: If he had a child diagnosed with Leukemia would he look to his witchdoctor friends or to the Sloan Kettering Institute?' I can assure him that I would look to my 'witchdoctor friends' to use his somewhat imprecise terminology and so would many other people in California whose experience with scientific medicine has been anything but encouraging. The fact that scientific medicine is the only existing form of medicine in many places does not mean that it is the best and the fact that alternative forms of medicine succeed where scientific medicine has to resort to surgery shows that it has serious lacunae: numerous women, reluctant to have their breasts amputated as their doctors advised them, went to acupuncturists, faithhealers, herbalists and got cured. Parents of small children with allegedly incurable diseases, leukemia among them, did not give up, they consulted 'witchdoctors' and their children got Cured. How do I know? Because I advised some of these men and women and I followed the fate of others (pp. 205-206, emphasis in original).

Recall that Anderson dismissed the "nature of science argument" on the basis that "a careful reading of even the most radical of contemporary relativists will reveal that this does not even approximate their views" (1986, p. 156). The above quote clearly shows that, to the contrary, any careful observer of relativists' Writings knows that the relativist "nature of science argument" very closely reflects the logical implications of their views!

How do relativists (such as Feyerabend) reach such extreme positions that even their followers (such as Anderson) dismiss relativist views as "nihilistic" nonsense? The answer lies precisely in Feyerabend's fundamental beliefs about the existence of many, equally viable, "ways of knowing" that he calls research "traditions". These fundamental beliefs are very similar, if not precisely the same, as those (supposedly) now championed by relativist consumer researchers.

Feyerabend on "Ways of Knowing"

Central to the relativist philosophy of Feyerabend is the construct of a knowledge-creating "tradition." Feyerabend notes that science is but one of many such traditions, each constituting a "way to know." What are these other traditions? Throughout his 1978 book he discusses and defends mysticism (p. 31), magic (p. 74), astrology (p. 74), rain dances (p. 78), religion (p. 78), "mythical world views" (p. 78), tribal medicine (p. 96), parapsychology (p. 103), all non-Western belief traditions (p. 102), and witchcraft (p. 191). Each "way of knowing" is equal, since "traditions are neither good nor bad, they simply are" (p. 27). (This is similar to Science2 in Anderson's terms).

Feyerabend notes that in the 17Lh, 18th, and 19th centuries the scientific tradition was but one of the many competing ideologies and was in fact a "liberating force" because it "restricted the influence of other ideologies and thus gave the individual room for thought" (p. 75). However, he believes science today does not have a liberating effect since it has turned into a "dogmatic religion." He believes "the very same enterprise that once gave man the ideas and the strength to free himself from the fears and prejudices of a tyrarmical religion now turns him into a slave of its interests" (p. 75).

How did the consensus emerge that the knowledge claims of science were preferred by society over the knowledge claims of competing traditions? Is it not because society rationally and reasonably determined that scientific knowledge-claims had more epistemological warrant, were more likely to he true? (Sciencel in Anderson's terms). Emphatically not, asserts Feyerabend:

It reigns supreme because some past successes have led to institutional measures (education; role of experts; role of power groups such as the AMA) that prevent a comeback of the rivals. Briefly, but not incorrectly: Today science prevails not because of its comparative merits, but because the show has been rigged in its favor (p. 102).

Specifically, for Feyerabend how did these other traditions lose out? "These myths, these religions, these procedures have disappeared or deteriorated not because science was better, but because the apostles of science were the more determined conquerors, because they materially suppressed the bearers of alternative cultures" (p. 102, emphasis in original).

How was the material suppression of rival traditions and the triumph of the "apostles of science" accomplished? The suppression of rival traditions was accomplished, he contends, through the actions of scientists, both individually and through their collective associations, aided and abetted by such diverse groups as "liberal intellectuals, white missionaries, adventurers, and anthropologists" (p. 77).

As examples of suppressive tactics, Feyerabend notes that anthropologists "collected and systematized" knowledge about non-Western traditions and developed "interpretations" that "were simply a consequence of "popular antimetaphysical tendencies combined with a firm belief in the excellence first, of Christianity, and then of science" (p. 77). Liberal intellectuals aided the suppression by first "loudly and persistently" proclaiming that they defend freedom of thought, while at the same time not recognizing that this freedom of thought only "is granted to those who have already accepted part of the rationalist (i.e. scientific) ideology" (p. 76). Feyerabend, himself, even contributed to the suppression while teaching at the University of California at Berkeley: "My function was to carry out the educational policies of the State of California, which means I had to teach people what a small group of white intellectuals had decided was knowledge" (p. 118).

Feyerabend concludes that "the prevalence of science is a threat to democracy" (p. 76) and proposes his solution to the problem of science in society. He addresses this issue by first proposing the following rhetorical questions (concerning Sciencel and Science2):

But -- so the impatient believer in rationalism and science is liable to exclaim -- is this procedure not justified? Is there not a tremendous difference between science on the one side, religion, magic, myth on the other? Is this difference not so large and so obvious that it is unnecessary to point it out and silly to deny it? (p. 78)

Feyerabend answers his rhetorical questions concerning the differences between sciencel and science2 thusly: "Rationalists and scientists cannot rationally (scientifically) argue for the unique position of their favorite ideology" (p. 79). Therefore, he proposes, in order to have a free society "is it not rather the case that traditions [mysticism, magic, astrology, rain dances, religion, mythical world views, tribal medicine, parapsychology, all nonWestern belief traditions and witchcraft] that give substance to the lives of people must be given equal rights and equal access to key positions in society no matter what other traditions think about them? (p. 79, emphasis added).

The preceding discussion of Feyerabend's relativist views on research traditions in society clearly shows how he arrives at conclusions so extreme as to be labelled "nihilistic" and "a straw man" by Anderson. One might suppose that FeyeTabend is simply engaging in academic gamesmanship or sophistry and that he did not intend for readers to take his views seriously. Brodbeck notes that relativists believe "science is in effect a game" (1982, p. 3), which is consistent with Anderson's view that "the important question we must ask is how can I convince my colleagues in the scientific community that my theory is correct?" (1982, p. 15). As Krausz and Meiland (1982, p. 6) have pointed out, the sophists in ancient Greece were among the first relativists in western intellectual history. From whom we get the term "sophistry," these philosophers delighted in weaving incredibly convoluted arguments that they knew to be false, but that the less sophisticated would (or could) not know.

Clearly, however, Feyerabend is no sophist! The preceding discussion demonstrates that he recognizes how extreme are his premises concerning the nature of the scientific "tradition" (the knowledgeclaims of the sciences are no better than the knowledge-claims of the nonsciences) and is willing to accept their logical consequences (palmistry and medical science should have "equal rights" and "equal access to key positions"), no matter how extreme those consequences may appear to others. Most importantly, he not only intellectually accepts these extreme consequences, but (unlike a sophist) he also acts upon them (referring now to the first long quote of Feyerabend in this paper where he indicates he has both used and referred others to "witchdoctor friends").

Unfortunately, many relativists are not as consistent as Feyerabend. The issue was never (as Anderson and others have stated it) whether relativists embraced "nihilistic" conclusions (like R3), but whether relativist beliefs (like RI) implied nihilism. Relativist advocates wish to emphatically proclaim Feyerabend's extreme premises concerning the nature of science, yet unlike him, they wish to deny (indeed, pejoratively dismiss) the logical consequences of those premises. For the purposes of present discussion, let us label this position as "weak-form" relativism (consistent with Anderson's "weak-form incommensurability" (1986, p. 164)) and in order for its advocates to avoid the charges of nihilism, sophistry, and/or the pain of logical inconsistency, let us explore how they might defend such a position.

Weak-form Relativism

Anderson, and presumably (but not necessarily) other consumer behavior relativists, do not share the extreme conclusions on the nature of science held by writers such as Feyerabend (such as statement R3). Yet, they wish to embrace Feyerabend-like premises on science (such as statement RI). Is it possible, therefore, to salvage the weak-form relativism championed by them? A satisfactory answer to this question lies not in them simply denying that they agree with the extreme conclusions of the relativist argument on the nature of science (that the diagnoses of palmists should be given equal epistemological status to the diagnoses of medical science). To do so is much like killing the messenger who brings bad news. Rather, since the conclusions of any argument are entailed in its premises, advocates of weak-form relativism must re-examine their premises in order to salvage their position, for extreme premises yield extreme conclusions.

Modifying statement RI to make it less extreme might be a useful starting place for weak-form relativists. Such a modification might be as follows:

Rla. Although in most cases it is impossible to find fundamental differences separating what society chooses to call "science" from "nonscience," there are isolated instances (like medical science versus palmistry) where such differences are obvious.

Weak-form relativists would then have to identify and state the characteristics that so "obviously" differentiate science from nonscience in each such "isolated instance." Further, they would have to show how these differentiating characteristics lack commonality (each obvious instance is totally idiosyncratic) and defend this lack of commonality as a reasonable position. Or they would have to idenfify the common differentiating characteristics across the "isolated instances" and defend how these commonalities differ in some significant fashion from what practicing scientists (and those philosophers of science who live in the supposed "fairy tale" world of modem empiricism) call the scientific method of verification through open empirical testing. Otherwise, weak-form relativists would be forced to deny one of their most cherished precepts: that science does not differ from nonscience through its method of verification of knowledge -claims.

Clearly, the preceding procedure for salvaging weak-form relativism would seem to be an extraordinarily difficult task at best, or devastating to the relativist agenda at worst. Therefore, modifying statement R2 as a possibility to salvage weak-form relativism should be examined.

Statement R2 of the relativist argument indicates that the knowledge-cl aims of the nonsciences have as much epistemological warrant as the know ledge-cl aims of sciences. Anderson has already made a useful start in the direction of modifying R2 when he noted that "society bestows a high epistemological status on science because it believes that science generally functions in the best interests of society as a whole" (Anderson 1983, p. 26). Advocates of weak-form relativism could modify their position on R2 by agreeing with society:

R2a. Society does bestow and ought to bestow a higher epistemological status on the knowledge -claims of the sciences than on knowledge-claims of the nonsciences.

Justifying statement R2a would pose a significant challenge for relativists. Although society may bestow a privileged epistemological position on science capriciously and arbitrarily (as Feyerabend states and Anderson implies in his science2: "science is whatever society chooses to call a science"), weak-form relativists, as professed scholars of science, would have to explain exactly why society ought to bestow a superior position on the knowledge- claims of science. Precisely why is it reasonable to believe that science, in preference to nonscience, functions "in the best interests of society as a whole?" This would seem to necessarily imply that weak-form relativists would have to claim that the procedures that science uses to justify its knowledge-claims are somehow better. That is, its "way of knowing" or "tradition" is superior. But if the verification procedures for scientific knowledgeclaims are better than the procedures used by nonsciences, then, on pain of continuing inconsistency, weak-form relativists would have to again give up their belief that there are no fundamental differences separating the sciences from the nonsciences. And therein lies the rub. In order to .1 save" relativism, the weak-form relativists have to destroy it.

Contrary to the verdict of Anderson (relying on Laudan's views), many philosophers of science continue to believe that there are fundamental differences separating science from the nonscience, which provide good reasons for societal consensus (Grove 1985). For example, a recent article in the Philosophy of Science by Siegel reviewed the debate and notes that "Laudan's rejection of a unique SM [Scientific Method] depends on a failure to distinguish between general principles of appraisal and specific instantiations of such principles" [or "techniques"] (1985, p. 528). He goes on to note that the methodological criteria of science that collectively constitute the scientific method can best be expressed as a "commitment to evidence," as exemplified by "a concern for explanatory adequacy, however that adequacy is conceived; and insistence on testing, however testing is thought to be best done; and a commitment to inductive support, however inductive inference is thought to be best made" (p. 528). Thus, "science's commitment to evidence, by way of SM, is what justifies its claim to respect -- science is to be taken seriously precisely because of its commitment to evidence" (p. 530). However, the preceding conclusions by Siegel about scientific method do not imply that he claims that science is the only domain in which the epistemic worthiness of beliefs, hypotheses, or claims may be putatively established on the basis of evidence. Rather, "SM extends far beyond the realm of science proper. But this is only to say that SM can be utilized widely. It is still properly labeled scientific method" (p. 530).

One of the problems with the entire demarcation issue in science is the word "demarcation," itself. This unfortunate choice of words (by Popper) tends to suggest (connote) that an unequivocal judgment can be made in all cases using a single, simple criterion (like "falsifiability"). Borderline cases, such as parapsychology, are then brought forth by relativists such as Anderson as examples that purportedly demonstrate the science/nonscience distinction to be just a societal convention rather than a societal consensus based on good reasons. ne fallacy of such a ploy is evident as pointed out by Grove (1985). Most, if not all, genuine and useful categorizational schemata have borderline cases. Should biology dispense with the male/female distinction because some entities share characteristics of both sexes? Should consumer research dispense with consumer goods/industrial goods because some goods at some times can be either? Should advocates of N-H-I dispense with the trustworthy research/non trustworthy research distinction just because the truth-content of its knowledge-claims cannot be known with certainty? How about rational/irrational ? Objective/subjective? Or, I suggest, truth/falsity?

Should interpretivist consumer research adopt relativism as Anderson, Peter and Olson propose? The preceding analysis should (at the very least) sound a cautionary note: any philosophy whose underlying premises lead to conclusions so extreme that they are dismissed as "nihilistic" nonsense by the philosophy's own advocates must be considered highly suspect, if not intellectually impoverished. Such a philosophy would seem to poorly serve the needs of researchers of any kind. Nevertheless, Hudson and Ozanne imply that consumer research should strongly consider relativism since it is "based on the premise that every approach to consumer research may have something to offer" (1988, p. 520). Hudson and Ozanne (mistakenly, as Muncy and Fisk (1987), Vallicella (1984), Margolis (1983), and Hacking (1982) point out) equate the premises of relativism with diversity, tolerance and pluralism. But relativism, as Feyerabend has so forcefully argued, implies epistemological anarchy, not a tolerant epistemological pluralism. And just as ethical relativism does not imply the tolerance of ethical diversity (Harrison 1982), and just as political anarchy does not imply a tolerant, pluralistic democracy, epistemological anarchy does not imply a tolerant, pluralistic science.

So, the third challenge for N-H-I inquiry is to advocate a tolerant pluralism, without relativism. The reasons for this challenge will become even clearer after we discuss incommensurability.


Ozanne and Hudson evaluate the procedures for producing knowledge -claims in interpretivism and CS-S, concluding that "the knowledge outputs of these two approaches are incommensurable" (in abstract). The notion that paradigms are incommensurable was first introduced by Kuhn in his influential 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and was strongly argued by Feyerabend in his early work. It is most curious that Ozanne and Hudson would claim that interpretivism and C-S-S are incommensurable, since now even Feyerabend concedes that "incommensurability as understood by me is a rare event," and that "incommensurability is a difficulty for philosophers, not for scientists" (1987b, p. 81).

Of the many new concepts that Kuhn introduced to the analysis of science in his 1962 work, incommensurability has been one of the most controversial and extensively discussed. Kuhn's original argument provided that in "normal" science (e.g. the paradigm of Ptolomy) all the members of a scientific community implicitly accept a common paradigm, which contains 1) a content (concepts, laws, theories, etc.), and "exemplars" (standard examples of problems that the content of the paradigm solves), 2) a methodology (the procedures by which further knowledge within the paradigm is to be generated) and, 3) an epistemology (a set of criteria by which the knowledge generated within the paradigm is to be evaluated). Kuhn claimed that a new rival paradigm (e.g. Copernicus) emerges in "revolutionary" science only when the existing paradigm is faced with "anomalies." This rival or competing paradigm is considered incommensurable with the previous dominant paradigm.

Kuhn's claim of incommensurability rests upon Gestalt psychology and the work of Hanson (1958) and Wittgenstein (1953). Arguing by analogy, Kuhn compares the views of the advocates of the rival paradigms as being similar to the familiar "duck/rabbit" illustration in Gestalt psychology textbooks. (In this classic example of Gestalt, subjects are shown an ambiguous drawing in which some people "see" a duck, others "see" a rabbit, and some people can "switch" back and forth, "seeing" either). Kuhn proposes that there are no paradigmneutral criteria for adjudicating the conflict between the dominant paradigm and its rival. Rather, when the "revolutionary" paradigm is successful, the former adherents to the dominant paradigm undergo a "Gestalt switch" (from "duck" to "rabbit"), or a "conversion" process.

Exactly what does incommensurability mean? After Kuhn's 1962 work, various writers began pinning him down as to precisely how he proposed incommensurability should be interpreted. Space limitations prevent a detailed description of all the interpretations and their resultant analyses. Rather, we here shall only mention some of the most prominent interpretations and point the reader toward the literature that evaluates them.

One of the earliest interpretations was the meaning/variance view that scientific terms change meaning from paradigm to paradigm. This view was critiqued by Shapere (1964 and 1966), Scheffler (1967, chapter 3) and Kordig (1971, chapters 2 and 3). A second analysis, the radical translation interpretation, suggests that in some meaningful way the actual terms involved in one paradigm cannot be translated into the language of its rivals. This interpretation was suggested by Kuhn, himself, in his postscript to the 1970 edition of Structure (pp. 200204). The radical translation view has been analyzed by Kitcher (1978), Moberg (1979) and Levin (1979) (the radical translation view is also critiqued in my own 1983, pp. 368-372). A third interpretation of incommensurability has been the incomparability view that rival paradigms simply cannot be meaningfully compared. This interpretation was critiqued by Scheffler, Shapere and Kordig in the references previously cited and also by Laudan (1976) and Putnam (1981).

Although, as previously mentioned, the details of the analyses cited in the preceding paragraph cannot be extensively developed here, some flavor of the arguments can certainly be presented. For example, consider the incomparability interpretation. Most assuredly, incommensurability cannot imply incomparability, for to recognize that the "revolutionary" paradigm is incommensurable with the rival "dominant" paradigm (as Siegel (1980, p. 366) has noted) is at the very least to imply that the paradigms can be compared. How would one even know that the paradigms are rival if they could not be compared in some meaningful way? Similarly, the radical translation thesis is fundamentally flawed. As Putnam points out, to contend that the language of one paradigm cannot be translated into the terms of another paradigm "and then to go on and describe [both paradigms] at length [in the same language] is totally incoherent" (p. 114). Finally, the meaning-variance thesis (that some concepts or terms that are used in the revolutionary paradigm have a meaning that is different from how the concepts or terms are used in the dominant paradigm) may present difficulties, in communicating, but surely does not imply incommensurability in any meaningful sense. Again, how can the two paradigms be genuinely rival paradigms if they are "talking" about different phenomena? Roughly speaking, it's like "Aha! Here we have been arguing and all the time you were discussing apples and I was discussing oranges!"

The many detailed analyses of the concept of incommensurability over the last several decades have led most philosophers of science to agree with the summary evaluation most recently put forward by Hintikka: "The frequent arguments that strive to use the absolute or relative incommensurability of scientific theories as a reason for thinking that they are inaccessible to purely scientific (rational) comparisons are simply fallacious" (1988, p. 38). Ironically, advocates of the meaning -variance interpretation of incommensurability have demonstrated the cogency of the logical positivist view about the purpose of the philosophy of science. The logical positivists held that philosophers could and should clarify the language of science and, therefore, increase the ability of various scientists to talk with each other when working in different (in today's vernacular) "paradigms."

Much more interesting for our purposes here than the fact that incommensurability has been discredited in the philosophy of science, is the reaction of Kuhn himself to critiques of incommensurability. Kuhn has been very sensitive to the complex issues raised by these critiques and has attempted to modify his position accordingly. In his 1970 revision of Structure he claimed that his critics had completely misinterpreted his views on incommensurability when they claimed that "the proponents of incommensurable theories cannot communicate with each other at all; as a result, in a debate over theory-choice there can be no recourse to good reasons; instead theory must be chosen for reasons that are ultimately personal and subjective; some sort of mystical apperception is responsible for the decision actually reached" (pp. 198-199, emphasis in original). That is, Kuhn now wishes to deny the previous rhetoric about "conversions" and "Gestaltshifts." Rather, he now emphasizes the reliance on "good reasons." Moreover, the reader should note that Kuhn does not just say "reasons," but "good" reasons, which would seem to necessarily imply that there are some paradigm -neutral standards that can be used to assess the adequacy of rival paradigms. However, Kuhn has not simply stopped with advocating good reasons. In his 1976 work he has again attempted to further clarify his concept of incommensurability and now seems to be construing incommensurability as analogous to the concept of a mathematical algorithm:

Most readers of my text have supposed that when I spoke of theories as incommensurable, I meant that they could not be compared. But "incommensurability" is a term borrowed from mathematics, and it there has no such implication. The hypotenuse of an isosceles right triangle is incommensurable with its side, but the two can be compared to any required degree of precision. What is lacking is not comparability but a unit of length in terms of which both can be measured directly and exactly (pp. 190-1).

Why has Kuhn been so anxious to modify and thereby retreat from his earlier, highly provocative, "Gestalt-shift" position? It is precisely because Kuhn has recognized that his earlier position implied relativism and irrationality:

My critics respond to my views ... with charges of irrationality, relativism, and the defense of mob rule. These are all labels which I categorically reject (1970a, p. 234).

But, why should one of the most eminent historians of science of this century wish to ,.categorically reject" the charge of relativism? Is not relativism roughly analogous to diversity and pluralism, as Ozanne, Hudson, Peter and Olson suggest? Isn't it obviously the case that "the way in which social and consumer behavior research is actually practiced is best construed from a critical relativist perspective" (Anderson 1986, p. 167)? No. As Barnes and Bloor (themselves strong advocates of relativism) point out: "In the academic world, relativism is everywhere abominated" (1982, p. 21). Generally speaking, most philosophers of science go to great lengths to avoid having their views associated with "abominated" relativism because they recognize the extreme conclusions that stem from relativistic doctrine. Capsulized in very succinct form, the argument that motivated Kuhn to retreat from incommensurability goes as follows:

1. It is difficult, if not impossible, to accept incommensurability (in any nontrivial, interesting, or meaningful sense) without accepting relativism.

2. It is difficult, if not impossible, to accept relativism (in any nontrivial, interesting, or meaningful sense) without accepting irrationalism.

3. It is difficult, if not impossible, to accept irrationalism (in any nontrivial, interesting, or meaningful sense) without denying that it is possible to have knowledge about the world.

4. It is difficult, if not impossible, to deny that we can have knowledge (in any nontrivial, interesting, or meaningful sense) about the world without denying that there has been scientific progress.

5. It is difficult, if not impossible, to deny that there has been scientific progress (in any nontrivial, interesting, or meaningful sense) without denying that we know more about the world now than we did before the rise of modem science in the 17th century.

Stove (1982) reviews the works of those he calls the "modem irrationalists," including Kuhn and Feyerabend, and states his own version of the conclusion of the preceding argument:

Much more is known now than was known 50 years ago, and much more was known then than in 1580. So there has been a great accumulation or growth of knowledge in the last four hundred years. This is an extremely well-known fact, which I will refer to as (A). ... So a writer whose position inclined him to deny (A), or even made him reluctant to admit it, would almost inevitably seem, to the philosophers who read him, to be maintaining something extremely implausible. ...Ever-yone would admit that if there has ever been a growth of knowledge, it has been in the last four hundred years, so anyone reluctant to admit (A) must, if he is consistent, be reluctant to admit that there has ever been a growth of knowledge at all. But if a philosopher of science takes a position which obliges him, on pain of inconsistency, to be reluctant to admit this, then his position can he rightly described as irrationalism ... (pp. 3 and 4).

The extreme nature of the conclusion of the preceding argument shows why Kuhn has been so anxious to demonstrate that one can accept incommensurability without accepting relativism and irrationalism. (Kuhn's philosophy, to his chagrin, is now used as a standard example of irrationalism in such reference works as the Dictionary of the History of Science (1981, p. 360)). Further, it explains why those, like Anderson (1986 and 1988), who willingly accept relativism take such great pains to attempt to show that "their version" of relativism is neither selfrefuting, nor irrationalistic. It also shows clearly the consistency of Feyerabend when he denies that the knowledge generated from science differs in any meaningful or genuine way from magic, astrology, rain dances, religion, mythical world views and witchcraft (as previously discussed in this paper). Indeed, as Siegel has noted, except for logically consistent relativists such as Feyerabend, by the time that others get through qualifying and modifying concepts such as incommensurability and relativism, often labels such as "critical pluralism" more appropriately characterize what is left (1988, p. 132).

Is Interpretivism Incommensurable?

We are now in a position to better assess the claim by Ozanne and Hudson that "the knowledge outputs of these two approaches [N-H-1 and C-S-S] are incommensurable" (in abstract). The evidence for their conclusion comes from their examination of Bower's [C-S-S] approach to studying emotion defined as "a physiological, internal state"... stored in memory in an associative network," and comparing it with Denzin's "interpretivist approach," where "emotions are defined as self-feelings; they are feelings of and for one's self (p. 4)". Thus, the claim of incommensurability is based on the assertion (which for the present purposes we shall assume to be true) that "it was clear that what was perceived to be the phenomenon of emotion changed when investigated" (p. 6) by the two researchers. Ozanne and Hudson then buttress their incommensurability claim by citing Shapiro (1973), who attempted to integrate "the data of a more interpretive methodology and the data of a more positivist methodology," and concluded that her problems "were the result of her measuring different things" (p. 6).

It is clear that Ozanne and Hudson are using the meaning-variance interpretation of incommensurability, as previously discussed. That is, although Bower and Denzin were using the same term (emotion), they were not referring to, or measuring, the same phenomenon. This is another "apples vs. oranges" example. Is this a nontrivial, interesting, or meaningful kind of incommensurability? Obviously, the (presumed) fact the Bower and Denzin mean very different things when using the same term poses significant problems for them in communicating with each other. But, in what meaningful way does this imply that "the knowledge outputs of these two approaches are incommensurable"?

As previously noted, the concept of incommensurability comes from such classic examples of Kuhn as the rival knowledge-claims of Ptolemy and Copernicus. One paradigm claimed that the Sun revolved around the Earth and its rival claimed that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Clearly, these are two rival, or competing, claims. The problems between Ptolemy and Copernicus were not, simply, a result of them using common terms (e.g. "Earth," "Sun" and "revolve") in different ways. In Ozanne and Hudson's example, however, the two researchers are using the same concept (i.e., "emotion") to mean very different things! Therefore, the know] edge-cl aims of Bower and Denzin, although different, cannot be considered to be "rival," or "competing" and are not incommensurable in any meaningful epistemic sense. (This is not to say that the research programs could not, or do not compete for resources or the interest of other researchers. But, although there have been numerous interpretations of the concept of incommensurability, to my knowledge no one has ever seriously advanced a "resources" interpretation).

It may be possible that contemporary social science and naturalistic, humanistic and interpretive inquiry are incommensurable in some nontrivial, interesting and meaningful way. However, the work of Ozanne and Hudson provides no justification for the claim. Contrary to Ozanne and Hudson, the paper by Holbrook, Bell and Grayson in this very volume tacitly acknowledges commensurability when they develop an experimental test of the Holbrook-Grayson hypothesis using C-S-S methods. Although Holbrook, Bell and Grayson claim that the humanities contain "truths that escape procedures of the hypothetico-deductive method," (p. 40) such a claim does not imply incommensurability, (nor, it should be observed, do they claim it does).

The preceding analysis implies a fourth challenge: practitioners and advocates of N-H-1, instead of retreating into purposely encapsulated, purportedly incommensurate, semantical cocoons, should make strong and continuing efforts to clarify the meanings of their major concepts, especially when such concepts are shared with C-S-S and are used differently. Only through such a careful process can it be shown where the knowledge outputs are genuinely competitive, or rival, with those of C-S-S. There is no reason to assume in advance that in the event of genuinely rival know ledge-claims between C-S-S and N-H-I such claims will be incommensurable. Most certainly, incommensurability would seem to he a curious and counter-productive goal for practitioners and advocates of N-I-H to pursue.


The purpose of this paper has been to present a constructive, yet critical commentary on the emerging areas of naturalistic, humanistic, and interpretive inquiry. I remain as firmly convinced as ever that N-HI inquiry has significant potential for advancing knowledge in both the marketing and consumer research areas. Even though the challenges facing NH-I inquiry are significant, they are not insuperable. Certainly, the N-H-I agenda is not furthered when the views of their colleagues who conduct C-S-S are presented in caricature form. It is difficult to keep discussions of the differences between C-S-S and N-H-I on a cognitive level when caricatures such as "single immutable reality" and "entirely deterministic" are employed. Just as obviously, practitioners and advocates of C-S-S should likewise avoid such caricatures. One useful step in this direction is for both sides, especially when each is being critical of the other, to use direct quotations in their critiques, rather than simple, paraphrased references. For example, why reference Lincoln and Guba (strong critics of C-S-S) when one purports to portray or characterize the beliefs of C-S-S? Why not quote, or cite, a practitioner or advocate of C-S-S?

A second challenge for N-H-I is to clearly demonstrate the value of its knowledge-claims and the truth-content (or validity or trustworthiness, or warrant or credibility) of same. This can only be done, as I've indicated, by developing appropriate criteria for evaluating the knowledge-claims of N-H-1. Further, although "knowledge for knowledge's sake" is indeed a characteristic of science, no commentator on science to my knowledge claims that irrelevancy of knowledge-claims is, or ought to be, a goal of science. By defining the nature of N-H-I inquiry to preclude the possibility of identifying causes and effects before such inquiry even begins, advocates of N-H-1 (unnecessarily) make such inquiry irrelevant to major problems in society.

A third challenge facing N-H-I inquiry is to be pluralistic, without being relativistic. Although, as it has been shown, one can be both relativistic and pluralistic at the same time, relativism neither implies pluralism, nor does pluralism imply relativism. If advocates of N-H-I embrace relativism because they (mistakenly) believe that it implies (or is implied by) pluralism, they will either spend much valuable time (as do most relativists) defending that their, highly modified version of relativism does not imply irrationalism or they will have to accept (as does Feyerabend) "nihilistic" nonsense.

A final challenge for N-H-I is to defend the proposition that the knowledge outputs of its inquiry are different in some meaningful sense from the knowledge outputs of C-S-S without advocating that such knowledge outputs are incommensurable with CS-S. Simply put, the fact that knowledge-claims are different, whether by nature of subject-matter or means of production or verification, does not imply that they are incommensurate. Incommensurability is a very strong concept and its value and meaning are debased when it is used as a synonym for "different." Again, if advocates of N-H-I truly wish to characterize their method of inquiry as producing incommensurate knowledge outputs, much time will be wasted in defending the position that their incommensurable knowledge outputs do not imply relativism and irrationalism. It would be most curious and unfortunate if advocates of N-H-I were to adopt incommensurability at the same time that the originator of the concept (Kuhn) is retreating from it and when one of the concept's most radical defenders (Feyerabend) is conceding that incommensurability is a "rare event" and "is a difficulty for philosophers, not for scientists" (1987b, p. 81).

Thirty years from now, how will scholars evaluate the history of naturalistic, humanistic and interpretative inquiry in marketing and consumer research? Will it be viewed as a significant addition to other methods in the quest for scientific progress? Or, will it be viewed as a "blip" in the scientific enterprise, much like the motivation research flap in the 1950's? The nature of the historical verdict on naturalistic, humanistic and interpretivist inquiry will be determined in large measure by how its practitioners and advocates respond to challenges such as those detailed in this paper. Until such time, interpretive inquiry is much more like a promissory note than a certified check.


Anderson, Paul F. (1982), comments in "Current Issues in the Philosophy of Science: Implications for Marketing Theory -- A Panel Discussion," ed., J. Paul Peter, in Marketing Theory: Philosophy of Science Perspectives, eds., Ronald F. Bush and Shelby D. Hunt, Chicago, IL: American Marketing Association, 11-16.

Anderson, Paul F. (1983), "Marketing, Scientific Progress, and Scientific Methodology," Journal of Marketing, 47 (Fall), 18-31.

Anderson, Paul F. (1986), "On Method of Consumer Research: A Critical Relativist Perspective," Journal of Consumer Research, 13 (September), 155-173.

Anderson, Paul F. (1988), "Relative to What - That is the Question: A Reply to Siegel," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 15, No. 1 (June), 133-137.

Anderson, Paul F. (1989), "On Relativism and Interpretativism - With a Prolegomenon to the "Why" Question," in Interpretive Consumer Research, ed., Elizabeth Hirschman, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, Ltd, forthcoming.

Barnes, Barry and David Bloor (1982), "Relativism, Rationalism, and the Sociology of Knowledge," in Rationality and Relativism, eds., Martin Hollis and Steven Lukes, Cambridge, MA: 'Me MIT Press, 21-47.

Brodbeck, May (1982), "Recent Developments in the Philosophy of Science," in Marketing Theory: Philosophy of Science Perspectives, eds., Ronald F. Bush and Shelby D. Hunt, Chicago, IL: American Marketing Association, 1-6.

Calder, Bobby J. and Alice M. Tybout (1987), "What Consumer Research Is Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (June), 136-140.

Collins, H.M. (1975), "The Seven Sees: A Study in the Sociology of a Phenomenon, or the Replication of Experiments in Physics," Sociology, 9, 205-224.

Collins, H.M. (1981), "Son of the Seven Sees: The Social Destruction of a Physical Phenomena," Social Studies of Science, 11, 33-62.

Dictionary of the History of Science, (1981), eds., Bynum, W.F., E.J. Browne, and Roy Porter, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Feyerabend, Paul (1975), Against Method, Thetford, U.K.: Lowe and Brydone.

Feyerabend, Paul (1978a), From Incompetent Professionalism to Professionalized Incompetence - The Rise of a Breed of Intellectuals," Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 8 (March), 37-53.

Feyerabend, Paul (1978b), Science in a Free Society, London, U.K.: Verso.

Feyerabend, Paul (1987a), Farewell to Reason, London, U.K.: Verso.

Feyerabend, Paul (1987b), "Putnam on Incommensurability," British Journal of the Philosophy of Science, 38, 75-92.

Grove, J.W. (1985), "Rationality at Risk: Science against Pseudoscience," Minerva, 1111 (Summer), 216-40.

Hacking, Ian (1982), "Language, Truth, and Reason," in Rationality and Relativism, eds., Martin Hollis and Stephen Lukes, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 48-66.

Hanson, N.R. (1958), "The Logic of Discovery," Journal of Philosophy, 55, 1073-1089.

Harrison, Geoffrey (1982), "Relativism and Tolerance," in Relativism: Cognitive and Moral, eds. Michael Krausz and Jack W. Meiland, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Hempel, Carl G. (1969), "Logical Positivism and the Social Sciences," in The Legacy of Logical Positivism, eds., Peter Achinstein and Stephen F. Borker, Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins Press, 163194.

Hintikka, Jaakko (1988), "Two Dogmas of Methodology," Philosophy of Science, 55, 25-38.

Hirschman, Elizabeth C. (1986), "Humanistic Inquiry in Marketing Research: Philosophy, Method, and Criteria," Journal of Marketing Research, 23 (August), 237-249.

Holbrook, Morris B. and Mark W. Grayson (1986),, "The Semiology of Cinematic Consumption: Symbolic Consumer Behavior in Out of Africa," Journal of Consumer Research, 13 (December), 374-381.

Holbrook, Morris B., Stephen Bell, and Mark W. Grayson, (1989), "Me Role of the Humanities in Consumer Research: Close Encounters and Coastal Disturbances," in Interpretive Consumer Research, ed., Elizabeth Hirschman, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, Ltd., forthcoming.

Holton, G. (1970), "Mach, Einstein and the Search for Reality," in Ernst Mach, Physicist and Philosopher, eds., R.S. Cohen and R.J. Seeger, Dordrecht: Reidel Publishing. -

Hudson, Laurel Anderson and Julie L. Ozanne (1988), "Alternative Ways of Seeking Knowledge in Consumer Research," Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (March), 508-521.

Hunt, Shelby D. (1983), Marketing Theory: The Philosophy of Marketing Science, Homewood, IL: Irwin.

Hunt, Shelby D. (1984), "Should Marketing Adopt Relativism?" in Scientific Method in Marketing, eds., Paul F. Anderson and Michael J. Ryan, Chicago: American Marketing Association, 30-34.

Kitcher, P. (1978), "Theories, Theorists, and Theoretical Changes," Philosophical Review, 87, 519-47.

Knorr-Cetina, Karen D. and Michael Mulkey (1983), "Introduction: Emerging Principles in Social Studies of Science," in Science Observed, London: Sage Publications.

Kordig, C.R. (1970), "Feyerabend and Radical Meaning Variance," Nous, 9, 399-404.

Krausz, Michael and Jack W. Meiland (1982), Relativism: Cognitive and Moral, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1970), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Enlarged ed., Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1970a), "Reflections On My Critics," in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, eds., Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, Cambridge, UX.: Cambridge University Press, 231-278.

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1976), "Theory-Change as Structure-Change: Comments on the Sneed Formalism," Erkenninis, 10, 179-99.

Laudan, Larry (1968), "Theories of Scientific Method From Plato to Mach: A Bibliographical Review," in History of Science, Vol. 7, eds., A.C. Crombie and M.A. Hoskin, Cambridge, MA: W. Heffer and Sons Ltd, 1-63.

Laudan, Larry (1976), "Two Dogmas of Methodology," Philosophy of Science, 55, 25-38.

Laudan, Larry (1977), Progress and Its Problems, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, Ltd.

Laudan, Larry (1979), "Historical Methodologies: An Overview and Manifesto," in Current Research in Philosophy of Science, eds., Peter D. Asquith and Henry E. Kyburg, Jr., East Lansing, MI: Philosophy of Science Association, 55-83.

Laudan, Larry (1980), "Views of Progress: Separating the Pilgrims From the Rakes," Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 10, 273-286.

Levin, M. E. (1979), "On Theory Change and meaning Change" Philosophy of Science, 46, 407-24.

Lincoln, Yvonna S. and Egon G. Guba (1985), Naturalistic Inquiry, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Margolis, Joseph (1983), "The Nature and Strategies of Relativism," Mind, Vol.42, 548-567.

Moberg, D.W. (1979), "Are There Rival, Incommensurable Theories?" Philosophy of Science, 46, 244-62.

Muncy, James A. and Raymond P. Fisk (1987), "Cognitive Relativism and the Practice of Marketing Science," Journal of Marketing, 51 (January), 20-33.

Olson, Jerry C. (1987), "The Construction of Scientific Meaning," presented at the 1987 Winter Marketing Educators' Conference, Chicago, IL: American Marketing Association.

Ozanne, Julie L. and Laurel Anderson Hudson (1989), "Exploring Diversity in Consumer Research," in Interpretive Consumer Research, ed., Elizabeth Hirschman, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, Ltd., forthcoming.

Peter, J. Paul and Jerry C. Olson (1989), "The Relativist/Constructionist Perspective on Scientific Knowledge and Consumer Research," in Interpretive Consumer Research, ed., Elizabeth Hirschman, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, Ltd., forthcoming.

Phillips, O.C. (1987), Philosophy, Science and Social Inquiry, Oxford, U.K.: Pergamon Press.

Putnam, Hilary (1981), Reason, Truth and History, Cambridge, U.K.: University of Cambridge Press.

Radner, Daisie and Michael Radner (1982), Science and Unreason, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co.

Rudner, Richard S. (1966), Philosophy of Social Science, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Scheffler, I. (1967), Science and Subjectivity, Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs Merrill.

Shapere, D. (1964), 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," Philosophical Review, 73, 383-394.

Shapere, D. (1966), "Meaning and Scientific Change," in Mind and Cosmos: Explorations in the Philosophy of Science, ed., R. Colodny, Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 4185.

Shapiro, Edna (1973), "Educational Evaluation: Rethinking the Criteria of Competence," School Review, (November), 523-549.

Siegel, Harvey (1980), "Objectivity, Rationality, Incommensurability, and More," British Journal of the Philosophy of Science, 31, 359-384.

Siegel, Harvey (1985), "What is the Question Concerning the Rationality of Science?" Philosophy of Science, Vol. 52, No. 4 (December), 517-537.

Siegel, Harvey (1986), "Relativism, Truth, and Incoherence," Synthese, 68 (August), 225-259.

Siegel, Harvey (1988), "Relativism for Consumer Research? (Comment on Anderson)," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 15, No. 1 (June), 129132.

Stern, Barbara B. (1989), "Literary Explications: A methodology for Consumer Research," in Interpretive Consumer Research, ed., Elizabeth Hirschman, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, Ltd., forthcoming.

Stove, David (1982), Popper and After, Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press, Inc.

Suppe, Frederick (1977), The Structure of Scientific Theories, 2nd ed., Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Vallicella, William F. (1984), "Relativism, Truth, and the Symmetry Thesis," The Monist, Vol. 67, No. 3 (July), 452-467.

Wallendorf, Melanie and Russell W. Belk (1989), "Assessing Trustworthiness in Naturalistic Consumer Research," in Interpretive Consumer Research, ed., Elizabeth Hirschman, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, Ltd., forthcoming.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953), Philosophical Investigations, Oxford, U.K.: Basil Blackwell.



Shelby D. Hunt, Texas Tech University


SV - Interpretive Consumer Research | 1989

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


M8. Nostalgia Increases Healthy Attitudes and Behaviors

Jannine Lasaleta, Yeshiva University
Carolina O. C. Werle, Grenoble Ecole de Management
Amanda Pruski Yamim, Grenoble Ecole de Management

Read More


O2. The Streaking Star Effect: Why People Want Individual Winning Streaks to Continue More than Group Streaks

Jesse Walker, Cornell University, USA
Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University, USA

Read More


Non-normative influence of self-decided prices on product-related inferences

Sudipta Mukherjee, Virginia Tech, USA
Mario Pandelaere, Virginia Tech, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.