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Why “soft science” is the key to regaining leadership in marketing knowledge

Alan Tapp (Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)
Tim Hughes (Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 4 April 2008




The purpose of this paper is to highlight what the authors regard as serious problems with the continuing dominance of a “hard science” view of what constitutes “top quality” research, and to present evidence that a “softer” approach will yield work that more closely aligns with the everyday reality of marketing.


The authors use a contrast between the marketing discipline and chemistry to illustrate their concerns about the use of “hard science” in academic marketing. This was supplemented with analyses of academic marketing work already published to illustrate particular points.


The authors propose that academic marketers need to take a “horses for courses” approach and ground their research in the reality of the discipline. Different areas within the discipline of marketing are debated, and it is concluded that some areas may still respond well to scientific approaches, while others may benefit from a relaxation into interpretive approaches. The paper argues the need to concentrate more on reflecting a reality that is recognised by the wider marketing community, rather than getting wound up in methodological strait‐jackets. To illustrate these points, the lack of recent progress in research on market segmentation is considered, and a “typical hard science paper” is critiqued. The authors summarise the reasons why it is wrong to apply a “hard science” approach on a carte blanche basis and argue for a more pluralist critical realist approach.

Practical implications

The contention is that the over‐heavy trappings of science in much academic work have the effect of removing that work from practical norms. Therefore the practical implications of this paper are potentially significant.


The paper promotes the soft science stance as the most appropriate epistemology for mainstream academic marketing research.



Tapp, A. and Hughes, T. (2008), "Why “soft science” is the key to regaining leadership in marketing knowledge", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 42 No. 3/4, pp. 265-278.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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