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3. Comparing Societies: Qualitative Methods

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Chapter Summary

Scholars have developed a variety of methods for comparing societies. They have also clarified the distinctiveness of qualitative comparisons and explicated sophisticated methods for meeting the specific goals of such comparisons. This chapter provides an introduction to these methods. It discusses their overarching research agendas and underlying assumptions (both ontological and epistemological). The first part of the chapter discusses the earliest attempts to articulate formal qualitative strategies. These came in the 1970s, with the likes of Neil Smelser and Arend Lijphart, and continued through subsequent decades. The methods drew from J.S. Mill, implicitly or explicitly, and were aimed at mimicking large-N statistical studies. Their main problem was solving the so-called small-N problem. The second part of the chapter discusses criticisms of these Millsian approaches and alternatives. Qualitative comparisons should not mimic large-N statistical studies; they have their own distinct views of causality, theory, and research goals.

Keywords: Arend Lijphart; large-N statistical studies; Millsian approaches; qualitative cross-societal comparisons; small-N problem; social sciences



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