Edited by Russell W. Belk
Chapter 9: Making Contexts Matter: Selecting Research Contexts for Theoretical Insights
Eric Arnould, Linda Price and Risto Moisio1 One of the most diﬃcult tasks of any social scientist is to negotiate the links between abstract ideas and concrete instances of these ideas (Ellsworth, 1977; Alford, 1998). There is always a tension between our theoretical concepts and their empirical manifestations. As Alford notes, ‘Abstract concepts never perfectly ﬁt the complexity of reality. Evidence never contains its own explanation’ (p. 29). There are numerous examples of researchers who cleverly devise experiments, select ﬁeld settings or interpret contexts in ways that deftly traverse the divide between theory and data, but there are few guidelines for novice researchers attempting to pry understanding and explanation from the contexts they study, or struggling to align theories and contexts. As social scientists who have warily and not always successfully traversed the divide between theory and data, the intent of our chapter is to encourage more systematic attention to the choice of context and to provide some suggestions for selecting contexts that have a high likelihood of impacting consumer and marketing theory. We restrict our attention to the problem of selecting contexts for interpretive research because context is a prominent characteristic of much interpretive consumer research, yet as a discipline we have devoted little discussion to the way to make research contexts matter theoretically. Looking at the carefully crafted thick descriptions used to unfold theoretical insights in the best interpretive research, the novice reader can come to believe that any context studied carefully will render new theory. In...
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