Chapter Three
Research Design and Methods


In this chapter, the researcher will present the methodological framework and research design that were used to answer the two research main guiding research questions that guided the study:
1) What is the actual economic impact of Chinese clothing imports on the U.S. economy? In other words, using raw data, it will be considered how the overall economy fared with clothing imports to the United States and what the long and short-term issues involved are
2) Based on the data collected in response to research question one, what can the researcher reasonably forecast as the trajectory of the relationship between Chinese-U.S. clothing import/exports over the course of the next five years? In short, given both the qualitative and quantitative data, what is the future for these imported textiles and what might this mean for the long-term state of the Chinese economy?

The strategy that the researcher used to determine the most effective methodology and design for the study involved the consideration of a number of factors, both theoretical and philosophical. First, from a theoretical point of view, the researcher was primarily interested in ensuring that the first research question would be answered in such a way that the term “economy” was defined according to specific and measurable variables as in itself, the term “economy” is far too wide-ranging without a succinct definition. Taking this objective into consideration, the researcher returned to the extensive amount of literature to obtain a precise definition of “economy” based on specific indicators that the federal government of the United States uses to study economic stability and then, in turn, applied this to the case of China and more specifically, importing and exporting.

Despite the common use of the term “economy” it is worth noting that scholars and economic analysts posit a variety of definitions to describe the concept of economic stability. Ebel and Yilmaz (2002), for instance, define economic stability and performance as a reflection of the degree of autonomy and independence that a country has with respect to its fiscal affairs. While all countries are interdependent, a fact that is underscored in the import-export relationship, countries that enjoy economic stability are the more powerful partners in the relationship according to Ebel’s and Yilmaz’s (2002) definition. Wagner and Deller (1998) also take a somewhat abstract approach to defining economic stability by saying that it is determined by the degree of diversity that characterizes a country’s business and income-generating activities. Many other scholars, among them Glick and Hutchinson (2000) and Howitt and McAfee (1988), describe economic stability broadly, indicating that stability is achieved when a complex number of dynamic variables are brought into harmony; these variables include, among many others, inflation rates, capital control, and debt management ratios.

Such definitions are useful, but the researcher needed to identify how, on a practical, quantitative level, the United States assesses the country’s economic performance using measurable data. The assessment of the nation’s economic performance and stability over time is achieved by examining a cluster of indicators on a regular basis, and by tracking and comparing how these indicators fluctuate or reflect stability over time (Economics and Statistics Administration, 2007). Although the Economics and Statistics Administration (2007) acknowledges that there is a variety of other factors that influence the economy and which are tracked and monitored by other governmental agencies, the ESA, which is responsible for making pronouncements about the health of the country’s economy, monitors 15 specific types of economic activity, sorted into the following categories: monthly sales for retail and food services; durable goods; construction; gross domestic product; manufacturers’ shipments, inventories, and orders; trade and sales in the manufacturing sector; monthly wholesale trade; new residential construction; new residential sales; personal income; quarterly financial indicators collected by other agencies; quarterly services; retail e-commerce sales; trade in goods and services with international manufacturers and partners; and, U.S. transactions abroad in general. Of these 15 categories of economic activity, the researcher selected those which were most pertinent to the subject of the study as a source of data; the identification of the categories and the rationale for the selection of each are described in greater detail later in this chapter.

In addition to the data collected from these information sources, the researcher considered it important to collect certain data from other government departments and agencies that, while not figuring directly into the ESA’s definition of economic robustness and stability, still have a significant and measurable impact on the economy and which, furthermore, can be instructive in terms of explaining how specific industries both affect and are affected by economic shifts. The researcher first identified these indicators in an earlier chapters, but they are listed here again for the reader’s convenience: (1) import-export ratios between China and the United States; (2) unemployment figures specific to the clothing industry in the United States; and (3) retail clothing purchases in the United States. Each set of data is collected by a distinct governmental department, agency, or authority. The first set of data, that regarding import-export ratios, is collected and published by a variety of groups, among them the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Unemployment statistics are collected and reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Finally, retail clothing purchases are tracked by a variety of independent financial analysis organizations, including Standard and Poor’s.

In addition to the theoretical construct that informed the design and methodology of the research study, the researcher also wished to address some philosophical considerations when selecting a useful and meaningful framework for conducting the study. Specifically, as she articulated in an earlier chapter, one of the researcher’s objectives was to create a methodological framework that could be both specific enough capture critical data and flexible and dynamic enough to avoid becoming outdated quickly. With respect to the apparel industry, conditions change quickly, meaning that the conclusions of a study conducted this year will be useful on as historical information next year; they will not be likely to reflect current conditions and trends. For this reason, the researcher wanted to create a research design that would be useful should a future researcher wish to conduct his or her own study, which will add to the body of information and knowledge on the subject and provide comparative data.

What is, perhaps, even more significant, however, is the fact that the researcher envisions the methodological framework as a template that other researchers can use to study not only the clothing market, but also other dynamic markets that have a significant impact on the nation’s economy. By using this template and adapting it to reflect the characteristics and trends of other markets, researchers interested in particular industry sectors can begin to build a useful body of information and knowledge on those markets, providing a more comprehensive picture of the country’s economic and how it functions quantitatively, not just in the abstract. As Thompson (2004) observed, the value of any research study is not only—or even primarily—located in the data collected, the interpretations made, and the recommendations that are made, but in the ability of the study to be replicated. Replication has the benefit of exposing methodological strengths and weaknesses of the research design, providing a comparative and longitudinal archive of data, and, over time, establishing a persuasive and authoritative set of conclusions regarding the subject or phenomenon that is being studied (Sherman & Webb, 2001). At present, note Onwuegbuzie and Leech (2005), there is a shortage of research that strives to replicate existing models, as many researchers want to be recognized for developing a new framework or approach. The researcher anticipates, then, that the present study fulfills both the theoretical and the philosophical objectives outlined above.

Research Design

The research design that was proposed for the study was a mixed methodology model. A mixed methodology design incorporates both quantitative and qualitative components in a research study, leveraging the benefits and strengths of each, while simultaneously mitigating their respective weaknesses (Onwuegbuzie, 2002; Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998). According to Onwuegbuzie (2002), there are at least six different types of mixed methodology designs. The specific design selected by the researcher for the purposes of this study was what Onwuegbuzie (2002) cites Creswell as terming a design with “multilevel use of approaches,” meaning that the researcher selectively applies a qualitative or a quantitative design during distinct phases of the research with specific goals; the objective is to employ the multilevel model for the purpose of generating “different levels of data aggregation” (p. 518). Ultimately, the goal of the researcher is to collect a set of data that are diverse yet complementary, with both the quantitative and the qualitative data sets enriching and informing the other. In this way, advocates of mixed methodology research designs believe that a more complete data set is generated and that the phenomena that are identified quantitatively are explained by means of the qualitative data (Todd, Nerlich, McKeown, & Clarke, 2004).

Specifically, in order to answer research question one, which is intended to determine the specific, measurable impact that the importation of clothing manufactured in China is having on the United States’ economy, the researcher determined that it was necessary to apply quantitative methods in order to generate useful and relevant data. As the researcher mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, the particular approach that was taken in order to fulfill this objective was to collect data generated by government agencies and private economic analysis companies. Once these data were collected, they were organized in a way that facilitated comparative analyses by applying descriptive statistical procedures. These procedures will be described fully in the section “Data Analysis Plan,” which appears towards the conclusion of this chapter.

In order to further understand the possible meanings, significance, and implications of the quantitative data, the researcher also introduced a qualitative component to the study. The researcher considered it important to gain insight into the quantitative data by collecting information about impressions, perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs of stakeholders in the U.S. apparel industry. For this reason, the researcher elected to conduct a focus group in order to collect narrative input that could be considered alongside the quantitative data. According to Dayman and Holloway (2002), the purpose of a focus group as a qualitative methodology is to “explore participants’ points of view, thoughts and feelings towards a certain topic or issue,” in this case, the impact of Chinese apparel imports on the U.S. economy (p. 201). Later in this chapter, the researcher will explain how the focus group was convened, of whom it was comprised, how it was conducted, and how the data that were collected were analyzed and interpreted in light of the quantitative data and the research questions that guided the research study.