Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 1996


Comparative Methodology: New Directions in Case-Oriented Research

Main disciplined: Sociology, Political Science
Lecturer: Professor Charles C. Ragin
Institution: Northwestern University, USA
Dates: 5 - 9 August, 1996


Objectives
This course explores current issues in comparative methodology, with a special focus on possibilities for increasing the rigor of case-oriented research. Comparative social science is defined by the presumption of singular "cases." Comparativists treat cases as meaningful entities purposefully selected, not as homogeneous observations drawn at random from a large pool of equally plausible selections, as in most variable-oriented research. Case-oriented discourse speaks directly to the events and experiences of cases, abstracting from their histories and their specific characteristics and circumstances to draw out their theoretical significance. But discourse that is too case-oriented has its own problems: Every case may seem too different to be compared with any other, and scholarly authority may derive exclusively from in-depth knowledge of cases, not from explication of their theoretical relevance.

In the extreme, discourse that is too slanted toward cases can atomize comparative social science, with each scholar attached to a seemingly unique case and deriving scholarly authority from a store of knowledge that cannot be easily shared. Thus, some balance between case- oriented discourse and variable-oriented discourse must be achieved. This course offers instruction in research strategies and techniques that help achieve this balance. The logic of comparative analysis will be contrasted with other analytic logics, with a special concern for the differences between comparative analysis and other forms of qualitative and quantitative analysis. Another central concern will be the comparative analytic techniques appropriate for different types of comparative investigations. The logic of comparative research is powerfully influenced by the number of cases included in a study. This course will examine a wide range of comparative designs, from comparatively oriented case studies to research on large numbers of cases.

Course Outline

  1. Social research as a process of representing social life. Readings: Constructing Social Research, Part I; What Is a Case?
  2. Differences among major research strategies: comparative versus qualitative research. Readings: Constructing Social Research, Part II; The Comparative Method, chapters 2, 3
  3. Differences among major research strategies: comparative versus quantitative research. Readings: selections from Comparative Social Research(1966); The Comparative Method, chapter 4; Designing Social Inquiry
  4. The logic of comparative research: basic concepts. Readings: The Comparative Method, chapter 6; Understanding Diversity, Part I.
  5. The logic of comparative research: advanced concepts. Readings: The Comparative Method, chapters 7, 8; Understanding Diversity, Part I.
  6. Evaluating comparative research designs: small-N studies. Readings: selected research articles; Understanding Diversity, Part II.
  7. Evaluating comparative research: moderate and large-N studies. Readings: selected research articles.
  8. Qualitative-comparative analysis of quantitative data. Readings: selected research articles; Understanding Diversity, Part III.
  9. Using comparative methods to assess theory. Readings: The Comparative Method, chapters 8, 9.
  10. The dialogue of theory and evidence in comparative research. Readings: The Comparative Method, chapters 8, 9; Understanding Diversity, Part III.


Books


Articles, chapters and other short pieces


Requirements

There will be a one or two class sessions devoted to the use of a software package called Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), a computer program designed for the analysis of configurations of characteristics across cases. While students should know how to use IBM compatible microcomputers, no special knowledge of any specific software package is expected. QCA will be provided free of charge to students enrolled in the course.