Ethnography and Experiment in Social Psychological Theory Building: Tactics for Integrating Qualitative Field Data with Quantitative Lab Data

Gary Alan Fine, Kimberly D. Elsbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations

Abstract

While both sociologists and organizational theorists have incorporated qualitative data into theory building, contemporary social psychologists have resisted this trend. This resistance may be the product of long-standing perceptions of the discipline of social psychology that equate it with controlled experimentation. Yet, this was not always the case. Many respected social psychologists, including Muzafer Sherif, Edgar Schein, and Leon Festinger, relied on qualitative data from real-world contexts to ground theory building. Following their example, we discuss the possibilities of reviving social psychological approaches to theory building that integrate qualitative field data with quantitative data collected in laboratory experiments. We first justify why qualitative data are important to social psychological theory building by examining some of the strengths and weaknesses that have been demonstrated in other research domains. We then use several "classic" social psychological studies to illustrate specific tactics for integrating qualitative data with traditional experimental data in social psychological research. These examples demonstrate the flexibility and synergies of combining qualitative and quantitative data. They also suggest that social psychological theory building may benefit from a "return to our roots" and an embrace of qualitative data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-76
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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