Mixed-method to deal with complexity in economic research

Please cite the paper as:
Thi Ngoc Bich NGO, (2017), Mixed-method to deal with complexity in economic research, World Economics Association (WEA) Conferences, No. 2 2017, Economic Philosophy, Complexities in Economics


Despite the fact that mathematical deductivist models in line with positivism are mostly considered as the conventional way to do economic research, those have been criticised for failing to deal with social complexities. The complexities in economics may come from two sources, the objects of economic research, and the approaches toward these objects. The main objects of economic research, social phenomena, are complex as it involves social interactions between individuals and institutions under the specific influencing environment. Therefore, for complex social realities, they requires economic research to obtain social ontology. This definitely goes beyond mathematical deductivists models and positivism, which often ignore this matter. Acknowledging the limitations of the conventional approaches from philosophical perspectives, there are two main ways to bring economics closer to social realities. Some propose alternative models with the aid of advanced econometrics and computational tools (Arthur, 2013). However, the underlying principle of this approach is still to isolate phenomena from its surrounding and potential causal mechanism. For this reason, alternative models hardly escape from criticisms as of their counterparts, i.e. mathematical deductivist models. In other words, economic models do not solve the root of methodological problems in economics. Based on the work of Lawson (2009) and his commentators like Downward and Mearman (2007), this paper argues for the use of mixed-method in economics research. It turns out that mixed-method is evidently used in a number of economic research like poverty and innovation. Additionally, mixed-method appears to respond to the inquiries made by some economists like Hebert Simon to make proper observations in economics. And, mixed-method has some supportive philosophical foundations, e.g. from critical realism alike.

NB This paper does not specify any industries/companies/institutions.

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4 comment

  • Valerian Popkov says:

    What is real observations? Scientific progress occurs with the introduction of a new or previously ignored parameter. If we are to be able to rely on the ideas of economic constructivism, it’s quite clear that the “observer accounting measure” is the best candidate for this parameter. Аny reality consists in a structure, constructed directly by the mental activity of a person, who supposes that in so doing he or she is discovering and studying that reality. Thus the cognitive function is adaptive, conducing to establish a world of experience, rather than discover an ontological reality. As such, that knowledge is “true” which maintains the viability of the system and ensures its continuing survival. This conceptual substitution of the notion of “true” with that of “viability” completely alters the orientation of the cognising subject. There is no longer any sense in arguing about what is true or false, right or wrong; the only thing that may be discussed is whether or not the constructed knowledge and any activities based thereupon may support the viability of the system. When considering the measure of attention paid to the observer, the main aspect is reflexivity, which can be understood in two types: 1) the self-reference of a person (I think that I think…); the attention paid to the observer, in this case as to a biological object, is analogous to the replacement of the concept of representative knowledge by that of an internally consistent constructivism; 2) as mutual self-reference involving other people (I think that she thinks…); the attention paid to the observer as a social agent, or to the difference between the construction of knowledge as an individual activity and its construction as a social activity, as well as the need to coordinate them.

    • Thi Ngo (Alice Ngo) says:

      Dear Mr. Popkov,
      Thank you very much for your thoughful comment. I acknowledge that the critical question when proposing an inquiry for ‘proper observations’ in economics would be ‘what are proper observations?’. I am still working on clarifying the challenges and opportunities of using mixed-method methodology (MMM) in economic research. I, myself, believe that MMM doesn’t suit every purpose or every research aims and objectives. Instead, the selection of research methods should be based on the research problems, by asking what are the best available reseach tools to address that research problem, which could be either a theoretical or empirical issue. Therefore, it really depends on the merit of the case.
      Regarding your comment, mentioning economic constructivism, and scientific progress, I think we talk from two different perspectives. My essay agues for a direction, which possibly brings economic research closer to social reality, rather than toward the scientific side. Bearing in mind that between positivism/empiricism and constructivism, we have a range of other philosophical paradigms/schools/positions. In this paper, I cited critical realism, which should be treated distinctively from constructivism. In my understanding, critical realism on the ond hand acknowledges the external being of social reality regardless of human minds, and at the same time, it emphasizes the significance of interpretation process and social construction.
      And I agree with you that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when we talk about philosophy. For me, philosophy is all about the logic of thinking. It’s OK for those considering the scientific path in economic research, we couldn’t deny the contribution of modelling and mathematics to economics. However, for those who want to investigate our surrounding social reality, to explore the economic and social phenomena in real world, I strongly recommend them to think differently, outside the traditional toolboxs of economics.

  • Klaus Jaffe says:

    I strongly support the proposition of this paper for the use of mixed-method in economics research. I would go further: I propose consilient interdisciplinary approaches to study economies as complex systems. See: The Wealth of Nations: Complexity Science for an Interdisciplinary Approach in Economics in https://www.amazon.com/dp/1503252728

  • Thi Ngo (Alice Ngo) says:

    Dear Mr. Jaffe,
    I really appreciate your supporting comment on mixed-method methodology in economic research. I also agree with your statement that we really need interdisciplinary approaches to explore the economic complexities. I’ve had a look on your book’s description on Amazon, it looks intriguing to me.