Chapter 7: Qualitative and ethnographic methods in economics
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This chapter examines the relevance of qualitative and ethnographic methods for the discipline of economics, especially in heterodox economic inquiry. Using examples such as Adam Smith and Ronald Coase, we argue that qualitative and ethnographic techniques have always informed the development of economic theory, but remain invisible in its presentation. In view of common objections to such work within economics, we discuss how these methods contribute to a greater understanding of real-world economic and social phenomena, power relations, and social hierarchy. We then discuss specific ethnographic techniques _ interviews, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, participant observation, non-participant observation, and document analysis – and their uses in economics, drawing on studies in both the mainstream and heterodox traditions. The chapter presents a typology of these studies, sorting them into five broad categories of research queries that are amenable to a qualitative approach. We conclude with a discussion of the ways in which ethnographic work may be encouraged within heterodoxy.

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