Why Use Qualitative Methods to Study Culture in Economic Life?

How should economists incorporate culture into their economic analysis? What empirical approaches to identifying, measuring, and analyzing the relationship between culture and economic action are most appropriate for economists? In particular, what can experimental economists learn from the methods of economic anthropologists, sociologists, and historians who study culture? We argue that while both quantitative and qualitative approaches can reveal interesting relationships between culture and economic actions/outcomes, especially in experimental research designs, qualitative methods help economists better understand people’s economic choices and the economic outcomes that emerge from those choices. This is because qualitative studies conceptualize culture as a pattern of meaning, take the relevant cultural data to be people’s thoughts and feelings, treat the market as a cultural phenomenon, and allow for novel explanations.


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