Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2004


 

Comparative Methodology
- The Logic of Case Oriented Research

Dates: 26. - 30. July 2004

Lecturer: Professor Charles C. Ragin,
Department of Sociology, University of Arizona, USA

The participants:
Jonathan Aus, Nicholas Aylott, Roland Becker, Helge Blakkisrud, Mona Bråten, Carol Azungi Dralega, Timo Forsten, Anne Therese Gullberg, Trude Holme, Frank M. Häge, Terje Knutsen, Vuokko Kohtamäki, Daniela Kroos, Stephan Kuster, Towe Larsson, David Lehrer, Liudvika Leisyte, Tove Lindén, Berit Hauger Lindstad, Marte Mangset, Axel Marx, M. Louise Mifsud, Ragnhild L. Muriaas, Kristine Offerdal, Raphaël Parchet, Jan Merok Paulsen, Susanne Pernicka, Tünde Puskás, Muriisa Roberts, Thomas Sattler, Steve Schwarzer, Steve Schwarzer, Sabina Stiller, Josefina Süssner, Andreas Tjernshaugen, Barbara Vis, Dag Wollebæk, Lovise Aalen and Professor Ragin.
 

•  Objectives

This course constitutes an advanced introduction to comparative methodology, especially as it is - or should be - practiced in sociology and political science. In this course I contrast the logic of comparative analysis with other analytic logics, with a special focus on the differences between comparative analysis and other forms of qualitative and quantitative analysis. A central concern is the comparative analytic techniques appropriate for different types of comparative investigations. The logic of comparative research is powerfully influenced by the number of cases, usually countries or some other macrosocial unit, included in a study. This course will explore a wide range of comparative designs, from comparatively oriented case studies to research on large numbers of cases.

Basic Readings *

* It is essential that students obtain and read the basic readings in advance of the course.

•  Ragin, Charles C. (1987) The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies , Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

•  Ragin, Charles C. (2000) Fuzzy-Set Social Science , Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Background

The comparative method is fundamentally a case-oriented, small-N technique. It is typically used when researchers have substantial knowledge of each case included in an investigation and there is, often of necessity, a relatively small number of such cases. The best way to grasp the essential features of the comparative method is to examine it in the light of the contrasts it offers with textbook presentations of social science methodology. In such discussions: (1) the proximate goal of social research is to document general patterns characterizing a large population of observations, (2) cases and populations are typically seen as given; (3) researchers are encouraged to enlarge the number of cases whenever possible; (4) it is often presumed that researchers have well-defined theories and well-formulated hypotheses at their disposal from the very outset of their research; (5) researchers are instructed to study the connections between aspects of cases by assessing relationships between variables across cases; (6) investigators are advised to focus on dependent variables that display a healthy range of variation; (7) the key to understanding causation is to assess the net effects of competing independent variables on the dependent variable; and (8) there is no expectation that each case will be explained or even addressed because social scientific explanations, of necessity, are probabilistic and must allow for substantial randomness and error.

 

To varying degrees, comparative methodology contradicts all eight of these basic tenets of textbook social science methodology (see summary table). To understand these contradictions is to grasp comparative methodology and the logic of comparative research. Accordingly, the examination of these contradictions is the backbone of my course in comparative methodology. I sketch the various contrasts and contradictions between comparative and textbook methodology in the remainder of this overview.

 

Textbook Social Science

 

Comparative Methodology

1. The main goal of social research is to document general patterns characterizing a large population of observations.

Comparative researchers focus on the problem of making sense of a relatively small number of cases, selected because they are substantively or theoretically important in some way.

2. Cases and populations are typically seen as given. The ideal typic case is the survey respondent; the ideal typic population is a national random sample of adults. The key issue is how to derive a representative sample from an abundant supply of given observations.

 The comparative researcher's answers to both "What are my cases?" and "What are these cases of?" may change throughout the course of the research, as the investigator learns more about the phenomenon in question and refines his or her guiding concepts and analytic schemes.

 

3. Researchers are encouraged to enlarge their number of cases whenever possible; more is always better.

Comparative research is often defined by its focus on phenomena that are of interest because they are rare - that is, precisely because the N of cases is small. Typically, these phenomena are large-scale, historically delimited, and culturally significant. Empirical depth is more important than breadth.

4. It is often presumed that researchers have well-defined theories and well-formulated hypotheses at their disposal from the very outset of their research; theory testing is the centerpiece of social research.

 

Existing theory is rarely well-formulated enough to provide explicit hypotheses in comparative research. The primary theoretical objective of comparative research is not theory testing, but concept formation, elaboration, and refinement, and theory development.

5. Investigators are advised to direct their attention to dependent variables that display a healthy range of variation. Outcomes that do not vary across cases cannot be studied.

Comparative researchers often intentionally select cases that do not differ from each other with respect to the outcome under investigation (i.e., they are all positive cases). The constitution and analysis of the positive cases is often a necessary preliminary for the constitution and analysis of negative cases.

6. Researchers are instructed to assess the relative importance of competing independent variables in order to understand causation and test theory.

Researchers are instructed to assess the relative importance of competing independent variables in order to understand causation and test theory.

7. Researchers study relationships between variables. They control for the effects of other variables when looking at the link between any two.

Comparative researchers examine configurations of characteristics, seeing how different aspects fit together in each case.

8. Researchers give priority to cross-case patterns; the idiosyncracies of individual cases are "averaged out" in cross-case analysis.

Comparative researchers try to make sense of each case through within-case analysis and use cross-case analysis to strengthen and deepen within-case analysis.

 

•  Lecture Outline and Corresponding Readings

The readings marked with � are included in the booklet the participants receive prior to the course.

Lecture 1

1. The process of social research

2. The nature of analytic frames

Reading:

•  Ragin, Charles C. (1994) Constructing Social Research: The Unity and Diversity of Method (Part I: Elements of Social Research), London: Pine Forge Press, pp. 2-76.

Lecture 2

3. Conventional understandings of comparative research

4. The distinctiveness of comparative research

Readings:

•  King, Gary, Keohane, Robert O. and Verba, Sidney (1994) Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research , Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 115-149 and 208-230.

•  Lieberson, Stanley (1992) "Small N`s and big conclusions: an examination of the reasoning in comparative studies based on a small number of cases" in Ragin & Becker (eds.), What is a Case? Exploring the foundations of social inquiry , Cambridge University Press, Chapter 4, pp. 105-118.

•  Ragin, Charles, C. (1997) "Turning the Tables: How Case-Oriented Research Challenges Variable-Oriented Research", Comparative Social Research , Vol. 16, pp. 27-42.

•  �Ragin, Charles C. (2003) "Making Comparative Analysis Count", www.compasss.org/WP.htm.

•  Ragin, Charles C. (1987) The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies , Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 1-33.

Lecture 3

5. Cases as configurations: set theory and Boolean algebra

6. Causal complexity, necessity and sufficiency

Readings:

•  Ragin, Charles C. (1987) The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies , Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 34-52.

•  Ragin, Charles C. (2000) Fuzzy-Set Social Science , Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, pp. 64-119.

Lecture 4

7. Specifying theories: property spaces and truth tables

8. Comparing configurations using truth table methods

Readings:

•  �Barton, A. H. (1955) "The Concept of Property-Space in Social Research" in Lazarsfeld, P. F. and Rosenberg, M. (eds.), Language of Social Research , Glencoe, IL: Free Press, pp. 40-53.

•  Ragin, Charles C. (1987) The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies , Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 85-102.

•  Ragin, Charles C. (2000) Fuzzy-Set Social Science , Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, pp. 120-145.

Lecture 5

9. Matching cases: the problem of contradictory outcomes

10. The limited diversity of "observational" data

Readings:

•  Ragin, Charles C. (1987) The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies , Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 103-124.

•  Ragin, Charles C. (1995) "Using Qualitative Comparative Analysis to Study Configurations" in Kelle (ed.) Computer-aided Qualitative Data Analysis , London: Sage Publications, pp. 177-189.

•  Hicks, Misra and Ng, Nah (1995) "The Programmatic Emergence of the Social Security State", American Sociological Review , Vol. 60, June, pp. 329-349.

Lecture 6

11. Different ways of assessing consistency

12. Assessing relative importance of causal conjunctures (i.e., "coverage")

Readings:

•  �Ragin, Charles C. (2003) "Recent Advances in Fuzzy-Set Methods and their Application to Policy Questions", www.compasss.org/WP.htm.

Lecture 7

13. Bridging statistical methods and qualitative analysis

14. Theory, directional expectations, and counterfactual analysis

Readings:

•  Ragin, Charles C. (2000) Fuzzy-Set Social Science , Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press , pp. 203-260.

•  �Goertz, Gary and Levy, Jack (2002) "Causal Explanation, Necessary Conditions, and Case Studies: The Causes of World War I" (Manuscript)

Lecture 8

15. Concepts and fuzzy sets in social research

16. Analyzing social data as fuzzy-sets

Readings:

•  Ragin, Charles C. (2000) Fuzzy-Set Social Science , Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press , pp. 149-202, 261-308.

•  �Mahoney, James (2003) "Long-Run Development and the Legacy of Colonialism in Spanish America", American Journal of Sociology , Vol. 109, No. 2, pp. 50-106.

•  �Kvist, Jon (2003) "Conceptualization, Configuration, and Categorization: Diversity, Ideal types and Fuzzy Sets in Welfare State Research", www.compasss.org/WP.htm.

Lecture 9

17. Evaluating theories

18. Reducing the dimensionality of property spaces

Readings:

•  Ragin, Charles C. (1987) The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies , Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 125-163.

•  Ragin, Charles C. (2000) Fuzzy-Set Social Science , Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press , pp. 309-333.

•  � Sartori, Giovanni (1970) "Concept Misformation in Comparative Politics", American Political Science Review , Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 1033-1053.

•  Nichols, Elizabeth (1986) "Skocpol on Revolution: Comparative Analysis vs. Historical Conjuncture", in Comparative Social Research , Vol. 9, pp. 163-186.

•  Skocpol, Theda (1986) "Analyzing Causal Configurations in History: A Rejoinder to Nichols" in Comparative Social Research , Vol. 9, pp. 187-194.

Lecture 10

19. Using fs/QCA with crisp sets

20. Using fs/QCA with fuzzy sets

Reading:

•  �Ragin, Charles C. and Giesel, Helen (2004) User's Guide to Fuzzy Set/Qualitative Comparative Analysis, Version 1.1 ., www.fsqca.com.

•  The Lecturer

Charles C. Ragin holds a joint appointment as Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Arizona. In 2000/1 he was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and before that he was Professor of Sociology and Political Science at Northwestern University. His main interests are methodology, political sociology, and comparative-historical research, with a special focus on such topics as the welfare state, ethnic political mobilization, and international political economy. His newest book Fuzzy-Set Social Science was published by University of Chicago Press in 2000. Previous books include The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies (University of California Press), which won the Stein Rokkan Prize of the International Social Science Council, Issues and Alternatives in Comparative Social Research (E.J. Brill), What is a Case? Exploring the Foundations of Social Research (Cambridge University Press, with Howard S. Becker), and Constructing Social Research: The Unity and Diversity of Method (Pine Forge Press). He is also the author of more than 75 articles in research journals and edited books and, with Kriss Drass, he has developed two software packages for set-theoretic analysis of social data, Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and Fuzzy-Set/Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fs/QCA). In 2001 he was awarded the Donald Campbell Award for Methodological Innovation by the Policy Studies Organization and in 2002 he was awarded Honorable Mention for the Barrington Moore, Jr. Prize of the American Sociological Association. In 2003/4 he will be a Research Fellow at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy.