A Review of Mixed Methods, Pragmatism and Abduction Techniques


  • Anthony Mitchell


mixed methods, pragmatism, paradigm wars, abduction, empirical phenomenon, case studies


The purpose of this paper is to propose that mixed methods research is complementary to traditional qualitative or quantitative research, also that pragmatism is an attractive philosophical partner for mixed methods. A key feature of mixed methods research is its methodological pluralism that can lead to superior research. The research question is whether ‘pragmatism’ as a philosophical choice to combine positivism and interpretivism can lead to an appreciation of 'what works' in practice? (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2010). The paper posits that pragmatism supports the use of different research methods and that a continuous cycle of inductive, deductive and when appropriate, abductive reasoning, produces useful knowledge and serves as a rationale for rigorous research. Firstly, the so called “paradigm wars” of quantitative or qualitative analysis are briefly reviewed; and the tenets of pragmatism are explained. A comparison is made of the different approaches and the value of applying abduction techniques to ‘surprising facts or puzzles’. Secondly, the literature regarding the ubiquity of abduction techniques is explored. Third, two recent empirical case studies in the airline and engineering sectors are summarised. Abductive thinking was key to explaining empirical phenomenon relating to competition, and in particular how leading UK and German multinationals developed rather different approaches to outsourcing. Finally, in conclusion, mixed methods were found to combine numerical and cognitive reasoning that led to a ‘best answer’ to data that otherwise could not be adequately explained. Furthermore, the application of different approaches can lead to research and subsequent management decisions that reflect both the interplay of social and scientific aspects of the world today.



1 Oct 2018