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Method and Theory In Comparative Urban Studies

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There is a sharp methodological division in comparative urban research between quantitative and qualitative research. This paper explores the relationship between these contrasting research strategies, theoretical assumptions, and empirical results. It begins by defining what is meant by urbanization and reviewing the contending theories of cities and macrostructural change. A section on methods in comparative urban research sketches out the different research generas and provides examples of each. I argue that there has been a paradigm shift in comparative urban research (mirroring wider theoretical currents in macrosociology) toward a framework rooted in international political economy. Qualitative case studies of problems of particular Third World cities and urban systems were instrumental in debunking the developmentalist assumptions of the old "modernization theory"/ecological approach. If qualitative work helps to develop new theoretical insights, the strength of quantitative studies is that they force scholars to explicitly specify fuzzy concepts in a rigorous "operationalizable" manner. Despite its higher prestige in social science in the United States, some statistical analysis is limited by a tendency to simply "test" competing hypotheses, instead of building more fully elaborated nuanced models. Nevertheless, comparative urban research needs to recognize the strengths of both methodological strategies-both are valuable tools to understand cities and urban systems. Real advances in the comparative study of cities will only come if researchers using disparate methods recognize this and work to integrate their findings in an effort to build a synthetic theory of comparative urbanization.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92717, U.S.A.


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