Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2007


The Methodology of Qualitative Comparison: Common or Diverging Principles in Macro- and Micro-Studies?

Lecturers: Professor Lise Kjølsrød & Professor Lars Mjøset
Department of Sociology and Human Geography,
University of Oslo, Norway

Main disciplines: Sociology, Research Methods

Dates: 23 - 27 July 2007
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants


Objectives
Qualitative methods are employed both in micro- and macro-studies. Within each of these research domains, methodological controversies have raged. Since reference is now and then made to the same methodological literature, it is mostly assumed that the methodological challenges are the same in both fields. This course sets out to investigate whether this is really the case. In the course of making this investigation, we aim to give an overview of the main currents of contemporary qualitative methodology.

The course starts with two introductory lectures. One presents the recent debates on comparative historical sociology (Skocpol’s position under fire from both rational choice theory and Chicago-school interactionism), emphasizing the notion of substantive grounded theory. The other gives a similiar perspective on recent methodological exchanges on ethnography (e.g. the criticism voiced by Hammersley), emphasizing the notion of formal grounded theory. We are here particularly concerned with scholars who base their methodological reflections on empirical research they have actually conducted themselves.

The next three days, we discuss concrete examples of qualitative research, one macro-topic and one micro-topic each day. First, we look at the classical comparative tradition in sociology and political science (Toqueville, Weber, Rokkan) as well as the contemporary research frontier on “varieties of capitalism”. This is paralleled by a presentation of the classical micro-sociological and social-psychological tradition (Simmel, Goffman). Second, we deal with the work of Randall Collins, who has hot only published substantive studies, discussed the status of predictions and suggested simulation methods in the field of macrohistory and geopolitics, but also has contributed to the study of “interaction ritual chains” in the micro-interactionist tradition. Third, we scrutinize the work of Michael Mann on 20th century cases of ethnic cleansing, focusing particularly on the use of typologies, the study of different pathways to similar outcomes and on the value of such comparative studies to the analysis of single cases. This dark example from macro-studies is paralleled by a rather much lighter micro-topic: the study of specialized play.

On the last day we hope to have prepared ourselves and our students for a penetrating discussion of the extents to which qualitative methodology converges at the micro- and macro-levels, and the extents to which we must be prepared to specify different methodologies for these two levels. In particular, we are eager to discuss whether substantive grounded theory (the skill of contextualization, typology-making and combination of mechanisms into specified dynamic processes in social time and space) is particularly important in macro-studies, while formal grounded theory (the skill of finding explanatory modules — that may well be called mechanisms — in many different areas of social life) is particularly important in micro-studies.

 

ESSENTIAL READINGS
- You should obtain an read the following 3 books in advance of the course:

 

OUTLINE OF LECTURES

Monday morning: What can social science do to give imagination a better chance?

The routine heuristics of normal science. The general heuristics of description and narration. The fractal heuristics within our traditions, or how to profit from old debates between positivism and interpretivism; behaviourism and culturalism; realism and constructivism; choice and constraint, etc.? (Abbott 2004: Chs. III-VI; Glaser & Strauss Chs. 1-V.)


Monday afternoon: New methodological thinking at the macro-level

This lecture presents three methodological approaches in social science (Mjøset 2007b), and shows how two of them – generalizing the methodological experiences of the natural sciences and the humanities respectively - have dominated the debates on macro-oriented historical and comparative social science. Recently, however, the Chicago-school tradition (Abbott 2004, Ragin 2006, Glaser & Strauss 1967) has been revived also within macro-oriented studies (Mjøset 2006b), and this opens up for a discussion of whether the methodology of macro-studies are converging towards methodologies that have been developed within the micro-oriented parts of social science for a long time. We also deal with methodological challenges implied by the recent comparative interest in “varieties of capitalism” (Mjøset/Clausen 2007).

 

Tuesday morning: Why does social reality tend to escape the charms of our methodologies?

Attitudes, emotions and addictions emerge from situations, more than the other way around. The work of Georg Simmel (1911) is quite clear on this point, yet his insight had to be rediscovered by Chicago scholars (Becker 1953, Davies 1997). According to Goffman (1967), it is not men and their situations but situations and their men. To bracket the most relevant segments of human interactions remains a challenge to modern social science.


Tuesday afternoon: The classical comparative tradition in sociology and political science

With a view to the three methodologies, we look back at the classical comparative tradition in social science. Boudon (1979) discusses how the study of single cases (using examples drawn from Marx, Toqueville and game theoretic accounts of the geopolitical dynamics that triggered World War 1) can be accounted for within a standard methodological framework. We then discuss Weber’s comparative contextualization of Western civilization (Collins 1986) as well as the political sociology of Rokkan (Mjøset 2000), detailing the extent to which a Chicago-school (or pragmatist) methodological framework makes a difference. We also deal briefly with social-philosophical accounts (“theory of modernization”) drawing on Weber, to see how this tradition tends to displace comparative-typological perspectives, relying instead on secular philosophies of history.


Wednesday morning: Interaction ritual chains 1

An interaction ritual is a mechanism of mutually focused emotion and attention, producing a momentarily shared reality, which thereby generates solidarity and symbols of group membership. Randall Collins (1993, 2004) aims for a clearly formulated causal mechanism of situational ingredients, producing variations in solidarity, emotions and beliefs. Social actors move from one situation to the next. Not all situations are equally demanding. Yet, each stirs emotions and calls for actions, sometimes carefully calculated actions. Some situations are emotionally charged events full of symbolic references to what a particular activity is all about (Kjølsrød 2003, Ainslie 1992). To what extent is this notion of emotional energy in situations a principle applicable to both micro- and macro-studies?


Wednesday afternoon: Interaction ritual chains 1 continues...

With his theory of interaction ritual chains, Collins have combined the traditions of interactionist theory, network theory and Weberian macro-studies, thus advocating an approach that should be equally applicable at the macro- as on the micro-level. This lecture considers Collins’ macro-oriented work, especially his claim to have predicted the end of the collapse of the Soviet Union (Collins 1999, Ch. 2), presented as a macro-oriented theory of the geopolitical basis of revolutions, also formulated as a simulation model (Collins 1999, Appendix A). We also deal briefly with his major opus, in which he applies the interaction ritual chain theory to provide “a social theory of intellectual change” (Collins 1998, Ch. 1), proving an ambitious analysis of the role of philosophers and intellectual creativity in the major “weberian” world civilizations. Our main objective, as in the other lectures, is to spell out the specific methodology involved in these substantive studies.


Thursday morning: Interaction ritual chains 2 (Continuing on the topics from Wednesday morning.)


Thursday afternoon: Recent British approaches to comparative social science

Having covered macro-oriented work in the classical tradition, and in contemporary U.S. sociology, we now turn to the English tradition. While Perry Anderson has been a postwar pioneer, we have chosen to focus on the work of Michael Mann, and particularly his recent comparative study of 20th century ethnic cleansing (Mann 1999/2005; Mjøset 2006a). Strikingly, this English school – working under the joint influence of Marxist and Weberian traditions – are not outspoken as to the methodological principles that guide their research, and we will try to find out what kind of approach – standard or pragmatist? – that is implied in this specific analysis.


Friday morning and afternoon: Summary overview, conclusions and further challenges

On the last day we hope to have prepared ourselves and our students for a penetrating discussion of the extents to which qualitative methodology converges at the micro- and macro-levels, and the extents to which we must be prepared to specify different methodologies for these two levels. In particular, we are eager to discuss whether substantive grounded theory (the skill of contextualization, typology-making and combination of mechanisms into specified dynamic processes in social time and space) is particularly important in macro-studies, while formal grounded theory (the skill of finding explanatory modules — that may well be called mechanisms — in many different areas of social life) is particularly important in micro-studies. (A more detailed plan for these two lectures will be developed during the course.)
 


Additonal reading list: (the majority of this material will be printed and sent to the participants in advance for preparations)

The Lecturers

Lise Kjølsrød is professor of Sociology at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo. She is also editor of Journal of Sociology (Sosiologisk tidsskrift). Her main areas of research are leisure studies, the sociology of professions, particularly within the health sector, and the Nordic welfare states. She has also published works on regional development, female employment, and child protection. Her most recent journal publications address various aspects of what she terms ‘Specialised Play’. The book manuscript she is working on in this relation contests both the notion of a massive ‘loss of community’ in modernity and the idea that men and women are currently ‘deprived of their art’. Previous books include a study of the Norwegian and Swedish midwifery occupations after 1945 (Jordmor der mor bor?, Universitetsforlaget 1993), a collection of essays on children (Velferdssamfunnets barn, AdNotam/Gyldendal 1994), and a broad anthology about contemporary Norwegian society (Det norske samfunn, Gyldendal 2003). Kjølsrød is chairing the Executive Committees of a research institute (NOVA), a university centre (InterMedia), and the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Lars Mjøset is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Oslo Summer School for Comparative Social Science Studies at the Social Science Faculty, University of Oslo, Norway. His main areas of reserach are political eocnomy, comparative historical sociology, and more specifically studies of small open Western European economies, European integration and the modern welfare state. He has also published works on the comparative history of military conscription, on the history of Norwegian social science and on the philosophy of the social sciences. He currently teaches the required course in the philosophy of the social sciences for all the PhD-candidates at the Social Science Faculty, University of Oslo. His most recent journal publications deal with the specificities of comparative macrohistorical research, as compared with other methodological and theoretical approaches in the social sciences. His book sare The Irish Economy in a Comparative Institutional Perspective (NESC, Dublin 1992); Controversies in Norwegian Sociology (1991, in Norwegian); and Norden The Day After (1986, in Norwegian). He has also edited several special issues of the journal Comparative Social Research, in 1997 (Vol. 16) on methodological issues, in 2002 (Vol. 20) on military conscription, and in 2007 (Vol. 24) on varieties of capitalism. He is currently working on a book manuscript comparing three methodologies and six notions of theory in the social sciences.

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