The Comparative Method

The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies

Charles C. Ragin
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 218
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnx57
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  • Book Info
    The Comparative Method
    Book Description:

    Professor Ragin proposes a synthetic new strategy, based on an application of Boolean algebra, that will combine the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative sociology. Elegantly accessible and germane to the work of all the social sciences, this book will garner interest, debate, and praise from many quarters.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90924-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Overview
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. 1 The Distinctiveness of Comparative Social Science
    (pp. 1-18)

    “Thinking without comparison is unthinkable. And, in the absence of comparison, so is all scientific thought and scientific research” (Swanson 1971:145). Most social scientists today would agree with this observation, although some might be tempted to substitute the phrasevariables and relationshipsfor the wordcomparison.Virtually all empirical social research involves comparison of some sort. Researchers compare cases to each other; they use statistical methods to construct (and adjust) quantitative comparisons; they compare cases to theoretically derived pure cases; and they compare cases’ values on relevant variables to average values in order to assess convariation. Comparison provides a basis...

  6. 2 Heterogeneity and Causal Complexity
    (pp. 19-33)

    “Social phenomena are complex.” As social scientists we often make this claim. Sometimes we offer it as justification for the slow rate of social scientific progress. According to our collective folklore there are many, many variables—too many to specify—affecting the phenomena that interest us. Consequently, our explanations are often inadequate. This folklore implies that social phenomena are inordinately complicated and that it is surprising that anyone knows anything about social life.

    Yet this depiction of social life does not fit well with experience. We sense that there is a great deal of order to social phenomena—that there...

  7. 3 Case-Oriented Comparative Methods
    (pp. 34-52)

    Often, comparativists seek to formulate historical (or, in Nagel’s 1961 terminology, “genetic”) explanations of specific historical outcomes or historically defined categories of empirical phenomena. Instances of such phenomena are intrinsically interesting to comparativists as cases, in part because they embody certain values (Weber 1949, 1975, 1977) but also because they are infinite and enumerable. It is their particularity—the fact that they are instances of significant events or phenomena—that attracts the attention of the investigator. Sometimes, there is only one or two or a small handful of such instances.

    Various case-oriented research strategies have emerged to accommodate this interest...

  8. 4 The Variable-Oriented Approach
    (pp. 53-68)

    Case oriented methods, at least as I have described them, are classic comparative methods. They are oriented toward comprehensive examination of historically defined cases and phenomena. And they emerge clearly from one of the central goals of comparative social science—to explain and interpret the diverse experiences of societies, nations, cultures, and other significant macrosocial units. The case-oriented strategy is very much an evidenceoriented strategy. Thus, flexibility in approach to evidence is a key feature of case-oriented methods. By contrast, the variable-oriented approach is theory-centered. It is less concerned with understanding specific outcomes or categories of outcomes and more concerned...

  9. 5 Combined Versus Synthetic Comparative Strategies
    (pp. 69-84)

    Chapters 3 and 4 present two general strategies of comparative research and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. The two strategies are surprisingly complementary. The case-oriented strategy is best suited for identifying invariant patterns common to relatively small sets of cases; the variableoriented strategy is best suited for assessing probabilistic relationships between features of social structures, conceived as variables, over the widest possible population of observations. The main weakness of the case-oriented strategy is its tendency toward particularizing (often while pretending to great generality—for example, a theory of ethnic political mobilization based on one case); the main weakness of the...

  10. 6 A Boolean Approach to Qualitative Comparison: Basic Concepts
    (pp. 85-102)

    An explicit algebraic basis for qualitative comparison exists in Boolean algebra. Also known as the algebra of logic and as the algebra of sets, Boolean algebra was developed in the mid-nineteenth century by George Boole. It is not necessary to understand Boolean algebra in its entirety in order to comprehend its uses in comparative social science. The Boolean principles used in qualitative comparative analysis are quite simple. They are easy to grasp because they are consistent with simple logical principles common to many types of social scientific investigation. To a slightly lesser extent they are also consistent with everyday experience....

  11. 7 Extensions of Boolean Methods of Qualitative Comparison
    (pp. 103-124)

    The hypothetical examples used in Chapter 6 to introduce Boolean techniques of qualitative comparison were unrealistically straightforward. Their simplicity eased the task of presenting basic Boolean principles but left many important issues unaddressed. This chapter also uses hypothetical data, but the examples are more complex. These hypothetical data come much closer to the empirical examples used in Chapter 8 to illustrate various applications of Boolean methods. Thus, this chapter bridges Chapters 6 and 8.

    Several key issues were skirted in Chapter 6. The most important of these is one of the issues that motivated the development of Boolean techniques in...

  12. 8 Applications of Boolean Methods of Qualitative Comparison
    (pp. 125-163)

    Boolean methods of qualitative comparison have a variety of research applications. The major emphasis of this book, of course, is their use in comparative social science. The principles of qualitative and holistic comparison these techniques embody, however, are relevant to a variety of research questions. Three representative applications are presented in this chapter. The examples, of necessity, are brief. The intent is simply to convey the general flavor of Boolean-based qualitative analysis in a range of research areas. All the examples involve use of relatively straightforward categorical data. As noted previously, the principles of qualitative, holistic comparison are much easier...

  13. 9 The Dialogue of Ideas and Evidence in Social Research
    (pp. 164-172)

    The folklore of mainstream social science is that investigators engage in research so that they can test theories. On the basis of theoretical ideas, hypotheses are formulated; data relevant to the hypotheses are gathered; and the hypotheses are subjected to a test. The hypotheses are rejected or not rejected on the basis of an examination of the evidence. According to this folklore, there is an intentional gulf between concept and hypothesis formation, on the one hand, and data analysis on the other, at least at a formal level. This model of social science dictates that hypotheses be formulated in isolation...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-180)
  15. Index
    (pp. 181-186)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 187-187)