The following paper is a review of the article “Historical Method in Consumer Research: Developing Causal Explanations of Change.” The authors of the article are Ruth Ann Smith, who, at the time of the publication, was an associate professor of marketing at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and David Lux, an associate professor of history at Bryant College. The paper was published in 1993 in the Journal of Consumer Research. The main purpose of the article is to identify the benefits of the historical method as a viable approach to consumer research. Specifically, the authors address the underutilization of the historical method in consumer behavior literature, identify its main benefits, and provide a two-stage conceptual model intended to ensure its applicability in the domain.
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The article presents several major points in separate categories. The first covers the current use of the historical method in the domain of consumer research. According to the authors, the method is used primarily for chronicle purposes. In other words, it summarizes the observations without attempting to explain the events. Analyses of continuity and changes are both rarer and less systematic. Finally, the methodological approach contains no explicit formulation of principles, which limits its use on a wider scale.
The second main point is the central assumption of historical analysis, which can be broadly described as a focus on individual peculiarities and circumstances identified in specific scenarios. Simply put, historians view the method as pertinent to social sciences, which discourages them from making generalizations and limits the formulation of rules and laws of consumer behavior to highly contextualized scenarios. The authors substantiate these claims with a case of historical proliferation of light products in the beverages market throughout the twentieth century, which demonstrates the potential of the historical method for the identification of trends in consumer perception.
The third main point is a presentation of the detailed conceptual and methodological framework intended to systematize the application of the method in question. The first stage of the framework includes approaches to research question formulation and research procedure selection, pointing to the main constraints and errors prevalent in the field. The second step, historical analysis, covers the investigation of historical facts, synthesis and explanation of historical causes, and interpretation of the obtained data.
It is important to identify two central arguments of the authors. The first one is the gradual recognition of social science-based paradigms observed in the domain of consumer behavior research. In the light of this trend, historical analysis emerges as an especially attractive approach in terms of depth and breadth it offers at the academic level. Admittedly, the epistemological nature of the approach creates certain barriers to its adoption in the field. However, a unified framework is expected to effectively address these concerns.
The second argument that should be emphasized is the high cost-effectiveness of the proposed approach. In many cases, historical analysis can be performed using available data and, as a result, does not require a substantial allocation of resources. At the same time, the financial yield of the obtained information is significant, providing encompassing data applicable to several fields.
As can be seen, the gains from reading the article are primarily exploratory, since it makes a persuasive case of using an under-utilized and highly resource-efficient method. Therefore, a logical question to have is whether the suggested approach has produced quantifiable results since the publication date. Once the evidence of the method’s validity is obtained, its adoption on a wider scale becomes a priority. It is reasonable to conclude that the authors provide a solid theoretical framework that may be used to enhance our current understanding of factors underlying consumer behavior.
Smith, R. A., & Lux, D. S. (1993). Historical Method in Consumer Research: Developing Causal Explanations of Change. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(4), 595. Web.