Qualitative methods and the pursuit
of economic understanding
Published online: 31 July 2010
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Abstract In this paper, I describe the qualitative methods deployed in a series of
investigations examining post-disaster recovery following Hurricane Katrina. I argue
that qualitative methods, particularly ethnographic field interviews, are essential
tools in contexts that the interpretive frameworks (mental models) of the research
subjects play a dominant role in shaping broader patterns of social coordination.
Given the importance, Austrian economists attribute to non-deterministic learning as
the source of endogenous change and discovery in contexts of genuine uncertainty; I
argue that this underutilized set of tools ought to be considered particularly valuable.
Keywords Austrian economics
JEL codes B41
For some time, my scholarly attention has been focused on the phenomenon of
social learning, that is, the question of what gives society the capacity to coordinate
Rev Austrian Econ (2010) 23:321–331
This essay was prepared for the presidential address to the membership of the Society for the Development
of Austrian Economics in San Antonio, Texas, November 22, 2009 and is an abbreviated version of the
methodology chapter of my book The Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery: Social Learning in a
Post-Disaster Environment, used here with permission from Routledge, Taylor Francis Group.
I wish to thank Christopher Coyne, Virgil Storr, Deirdre McCloskey, Peter Boettke, Steven Horwitz, and
Peter Leeson for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper and the Mercatus Center for their
generous financial support in pursuing the field work that informs the arguments presented here. The
usual caveat applies.
E. Chamlee-Wright (*)
Department of Economics, Beloit College, 700 College St., Beloit, WI 52511, USA
The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Arlington, VI, USA