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Theoretical Generality, Case Particularity: Qualitative Comparative Analysis of Trade Union Growth and Decline1

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This papers makes three points and offers one demonstration. First, the selection of cases in comparative research ideally should capture all of the variation that exists in a theorized population of interest, and not be based merely on data convenience, the presence or absence of the instance under analysis, or assumptions about causal invariance or the representativeness of cases. Second, partly due to flawed case-selection criteria and partly due to overly generous or overly restrictive logic used in determining causality, neither traditional "small-N" qualitative designs nor conventional "large-N" quantitative research designs are optimal for many comparative problems. Third, a relatively new causal comparative methodology based on a data reduction logic rooted in Boolean algebra-Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA)-appears of substantial utility in those research sites with relatively large number of cases, causal heterogeneity, and the expectation of delimited theoretical generalizations. These points are then demonstrated through a QCA analysis of comparative patterns of growth and decline of trade union membership across the 18 largest, politically stable capitalist democracies in the 1970s and 1980s.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37240, U.S.A.; 2: Department of Sociology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, U.S.A.; 3: Department of Sociology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306, U.S.A.


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