The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Excellence

Foreword (InDepth Issue 14)

We have come to define qualitative research by way of its distinction to quantitative research. This way of thinking mirrors other, deeper oppositions. Quantitative research fits with hard science. It turns human behaviour and the world into numbers and statistics. Qualitative research, in contrast, is a soft science. Its robustness relies on theory and expression through concepts and words.

Throughout the 20th Century the soft sciences suffered a serious case of ‘physics envy’. Hard science and numbers became the only way to understand the ‘real’ world. Soft sciences, at best, could describe the experience of the world. However, they could never pretend to understand ‘things in themselves’.

It was not always so. Pre-modern science investigated the quality and not the quantity of the world. Chris Barnham’s papers persuasively argue that this is a far more revealing, sensible and ultimately accurate way to understand brands. Brands are first and foremost collections of qualities. We should, therefore, see the ‘hard’ quantitative understanding of them as derivative and secondary. It is numbers that cannot express the ‘thing in itself’.

Readers may find the philosophical apparatus unfamiliar and even abstruse. They should, however, fix on what is at stake in these arguments. This is not just an inventive way to analyse a common-place notion like ‘Brand Essence’. It is, instead, an argument for re-ordering the world of research. Embracing this sense of qualitative investigation into brands directly addresses the implicit inferiority of ‘soft’ qualitative research and undermines the borrowed statistical respectability of ‘hard’ quantitative research. That is a grand prize.


Geoff Bayley
Alumni Member

This article was first published in InDepth magazine, March 2011
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2011