Tackling Complexity in Business & Society Research: The Methodological and Thematic Potential of Factorial Surveys
Business & Society (doi: 10.1177/0007650316645337)
46 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 25, 2016
Factorial surveys (FSs) integrate elements of survey research and classical experiments. Using a large number of respondents in a controlled setting, FSs approximate complex and realistic judgment situations through so-called vignettes — that is, carefully designed descriptions of hypothetical people, social situations, or scenarios. Despite being rooted, and predominantly applied, in sociology, FSs are particularly promising for business and society (B&S) scholars. Given the multiplicity, inherent complexity, and sometimes fuzziness of B&S research objects, conventional research methods inevitably reach their limits. This article, therefore, systematically presents methodological and thematic opportunities for FS studies in B&S research. It is argued that FSs are well suited to dealing with the complex interplay of societal-, organizational-, and individual-level factors in B&S research and to studying the principles underlying human perceptions, attitudes, values, social norms, and (anticipated) behavior. The application of the FS method is illustrated based on a showcase example in the realm of socially responsible investments (SRIs). As the literature on the conceptualization of FSs is limited, methodological challenges are addressed to guide B&S researchers past the common methodological pitfalls.
Keywords: Factorial surveys, vignette study, experiment, research methods, multilevel research, socially responsible investments
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