The Comparative Method: Moving beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies

The Comparative Method: Moving beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies

The Comparative Method: Moving beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies

The Comparative Method: Moving beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies

Synopsis

Charles C. Ragin's The Comparative Method proposes a synthetic strategy, based on an application of Boolean algebra, that combines the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative sociology. Elegantly accessible and germane to the work of all the social sciences, and now updated with a new introduction, this book will continue to garner interest, debate, and praise.

Excerpt

More than a quarter of a century has passed since The Comparative Method was first published. The occasion of its republication provides the opportunity to reflect on the work and its impact. The Comparative Method formalizes the logic of case-oriented comparative research and elaborates an analytic approach centered on its principles. This new analytic approach, called Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), comprises a set of strategies and techniques that both bridge and transcend the qualitative-quantitative divide in social research.

The development of The Comparative Method and QCA followed from several methodological issues that I confronted in the 1970s and 1980s. I was trained as a quantitative social scientist but became increasingly frustrated with the limitations of this approach. Early in my graduate studies I read Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966). This book proved to be highly influential in the development of my approach because it offers an excellent in-depth comparative analysis of a limited number of cases, focused on the combinations of antecedent conditions linked to specific, large-scale historical transformations. A key feature of this work is that its argumentation resists the language of independent variables and their net effects. Here was a highly influential work of substantial social scientific merit that could not be squared with the dominant quantitative discourse.

The methodological challenge I faced was to formalize an approach that would enable researchers to systematically integrate within-case and crosscase analysis, as Moore had accomplished. An important concern was remaining true to the nature of qualitative argumentation, with its key focus on the question of how things happen. Addressing the “how question” should be the starting point of any technique that seeks to use comparative case analysis. In The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Moore answers the “how question” by focusing on the different combinations of antecedent conditions linked to divergent political outcomes.

A second factor that influenced my effort to combine qualitative and quan-

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