A great deal of research is carried out to answer a specific problem in a specific context: How many homes have bathrooms? What is the state of repair of the housing? How can that housing be improved? Such research is neither interested in, nor really needs, comparison. Its utility is defined by the answers it produces. It is locally consumed and is useful for its applied contribution.
When too much research of this kind is conducted, however, it could be argued that much of value is missed In particular, it leads to submission to the blinkers which concentrating on one society is bound to bring. The result is parochialism; something which pervades too much research in most countries. As Walton and Masotti (1976:2) charge, The great majority of urban research has been incredibly parochial and this seems to apply as much to the work of US scholars as to other national traditions.’
The argument of the first part of this chapter is that more comparative research is needed mainly because it helps to reduce the danger of parochialism. Of course, such an argument is only valid if such comparative work is based on sound methods. For this reason the rest of the chapter is concerned with investigating some of the problems that can arise in conducting cross-national and comparative urban research.
Before trying to demonstrate the value of comparative research, it is necessary to establish what is meant by this term. In this chapter, it refers to work which directly compares two or more cases while employing a very similar methodological approach in each. These cases may be countries, cultures or cities; in this chapter the adjectives cross-national, cross-cultural or comparative are used as synonyms.