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The Comparative Method: Two Decades of Change

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Document pages: 13 pages

Abstract: Comparison is a fundamental tool of analysis. It sharpens our powers of description, and plays a central role in concept-formation by bringing into focus suggestive similarities and contrasts among cases. Routinely used in testing hypotheses, it can also contribute to the inductive discovery of new hypotheses and to theory-building. This chapter examines distinct perspectives from the past two decades on the comparative method – understood as the systematic comparison of a relatively small number of cases – focusing specifically on its relationship to experimental, statistical, and case-study approaches. Three main areas of innovation and analytic alternatives have emerged which strengthen the viability of the comparative method: within-case analysis, quantitative techniques employing a relatively small number of cases, and systematic comparison of a small number of cases with the goal of causal analysis, as Lijphart originally advocated. All three of these approaches will persist; substantial exposure to and training in the basic writings on the philosophy of science and logic of inquiry can provide a framework for more informed choices about these methodological alternatives. In this way, the foundation can be laid for an eclectic practice of small-N analysis that takes advantage of opportunities on both sides of what could otherwise be a major intellectual divide.

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