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Monday 5–Friday 9 March 2018
15 hours over five days
This course teaches you how to conceive and conduct the most appropriate comparative research design, broadly defined as any research enterprise that comprises at least two ‘cases’ or observations. It answers fundamental questions including:
We will examine the practicalities of different types of comparative research, following these hands-on steps:
I will provide short introductory module on QCA (as part of a comparative research design), as an approach and a set of techniques.
The course alternates between lectures and interactive sessions, giving ample time for questions, open discussions, and solution-finding for your individual projects.
Benoît Rihoux is a full professor of political science whose research interests include political parties, new social movements, organisational studies, political change, and policy processes.
He is manager of the COMPASSS international research group on comparative methods, in the development and refinement of which he plays a leading role, bringing together scholars from Europe, North America and Japan in particular.
Benoît is a convenor of international methods initiatives more generally, and has published Innovative Comparative Methods for Policy Analysis: Beyond the Quantitative-Qualitative Divide (Springer/Kluwer, ed. with Heike Grimm 2006) and Configurational Comparative Methods: Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and Related Techniques (Sage, ed. with Charles Ragin 2009).
He has published extensively on systematic comparative methods (QCA in particular) and their applications in diverse fields – especially policy- and management-related – with interdisciplinary teams.
The purpose of this course is provide training on all aspects that enable a researcher to conceive and conduct the most appropriate comparative research design – the latter broadly defined as any research enterprise that comprises at least two ‘cases’ or observations.
On the one hand, the course will cover fundamental questions ‘upstream’ of practical and hands-on choices: what is comparison? Why compare; what is the added value of comparison? What are the logical underpinnings and mental operations behind comparison? What should be the ‘mind set’ of a good comparative researcher? What should be his/her goals? What is the link between a research puzzle and the choice for a comparative research design? What would be the alternative(s)? Does one conceive and does one perform comparison in the same way when the ‘cases’ are situated at the micro (i.e. individuals), meso (e.g. organizations) or macro (e.g. political or policy systems) levels? Etc.
On the other hand, the practicalities of different types of comparative research designs will be examined in detail, by following all the hands-on steps: (1) prior arbitrations and ‘casing’, i.e. the definition of the cases; (2) case selection, through more basic or more advanced strategies; (3) collecting and managing comparative data; (4) comparative data analysis. As explained below in detail, steps (1) and (2) will be examined in greater detail.
In concrete terms, the course will be organized in 5 sessions, each one of them allowing time for open discussions and interaction.
On Day 1, after an introduction on all the practical and organizational aspects of the course, the main topic will be to frame comparative research in the broader context of a comparative approach. This necessitates to consider some epistemological issues underpinning comparison as such. Starting from the discussion of comparison as a basic mental operation, we will progress to comparison in the social sciences then to political science more specifically. One core focus will be laid on the different goals of comparison, with practical examples. The session will be concluded by the discussion of a first series of participants’ projects, with a focus on the goals pursued (why go for a comparative research design?).
On Day 2, we will locate comparative research designs vis-à-vis other research designs, i.e. within the whole range of possible designs. We will also present all the practical steps of a ‘good’ comparative research design, with a focus on the major arbitrations to be made. We will also have a first look at “step 1” operations that lie upstream of the case selection step. Indeed quite a few core arbitrations must be made upstream, such as the formulation of the research question(s) and hypotheses, the correct use of concepts for the purpose of comparison, the number of cases one will be able to manage, and the choice between cross-country or within-country case selection. The session will be concluded by the discussion of a second series of participants’ projects, with a focus on upstream arbitrations.
On Day 3, we will pursue the examination of the “step 1” operations, and deepen the question of “what is a case” within a comparative research design – with an emphasis on some core arbitrations such as depth v/s breadth and cross-country v/s within-country v/s within-system casing and case selection. Then we’ll go through a systematically survey all the main options for the core “step 2” operation: case selection. We will first envisage rather basic or simple strategies of case selection, from very small N to very large N, and following different criteria; the pros and cons of each strategy will also be discussed. The session will be concluded by the discussion of a second series of participants’ projects, with a focus on “casing” and case selection
On Day 4, following the survey of the “step 2” operation, we will turn to more advanced or refined strategies, in particular taking into consideration issues of time/sequence and of multilevel phenomena. The pros and cons of each strategy will also be discussed. Then we’ll move on to hands-on ‘tricks of the trade’ on how to collect and manage data in a comparative research (“step 3”) – including ways to trouble-shoot and to make adjustments in terms of case selection as the research develops. This will be pursued by a fourth interactive section (around the participants’ projects), with a focus on case selection and data collection/management. Further, we’ll examine different ways to engage in comparative data analysis, from more case-oriented (or ‘qualitative’) to statistical or formal tools, through some other tools (such as QCA) geared towards intermediate-N research designs. The pros and cons of each one of these tools will be discussed in short, as well as the potential and difficulties of triangulating, sequencing or ‘mixing’ different data analysis techniques.
Finally, on Day 5, we will focus on one particular strategy to conduct multiple cross-case comparison, QCA (Qualitative Comparative Analysis), which will first be briefly presented as an approach with specific goals and assumptions. We’ll also survey the different potential uses and types of data that can be processed through QCA. Then we’ll turn to more applied aspects of QCA, i.e. how to use QCA as a set of techniques, following a basic QCA protocol, with real-life data, from A to almost Z, using the most straightforward technique, csQCA (crisp-set QCA). Then, in the second part of the morning session, we’ll wrap up the course by “revisiting” some of the core points – with a focus on the strengths of comparative research designs, but even more on main perils or caveats of comparison. The goal is that each participant will become more aware about the ways to “mis-compare” – and hopefully avoid this in his/her own research. This will be followed by an open interactive session, discussing points still to be clarified, points of debate or disagreements, remaining questions and answers about participants’ projects, etc.
In the afternoon of day 5 (NB: optional, additional session, for those specifically interested in QCA), animated mainly by the teaching assistants (qualified in QCA), we’ll go further into concrete empirical QCA applications, including software use (both for csQCA and fsQCA [fuzzy-set QCA] analyses) on prepared datasets. The analyses will be replicated by the participants on their laptops, including trouble-shooting. Based on this, we’ll also briefly present and discuss various refinements in the analysis, as well as strengths and limitations/bottlenecks of QCA.
Insofar as possible, each participant is encouraged to bring his/her own research questions & hypotheses, his/her first thoughts and difficulties (if any) in terms of case definition and case selection, and (if applicable) any data he/she has already compiled. The course is designed to help each individual participant make his/her most appropriate choices in terms of comparative research design. Each participant will be able to reflect and to work on his/her own project as we follow the sequence of more fundamental and then more applied steps. Insofar as possible, we’ll use some input from the participants’ own projects in each one of the 5 sessions (in the interactive parts).
Connections with other courses (see also section 13 below):
Tasks for ECTS Credits
Little specific prior knowledge is expected.
Prior training in qualitative and/or quantitative methods is an asset, but not a requirement.
You should be willing to reflect openly about your research design.
Each course includes pre-course assignments, including readings and pre-recorded videos, as well as daily live lectures totalling at least three hours. The instructor will conduct live Q&A sessions and offer designated office hours for one-to-one consultations.
Please check your course format before registering.
Live classes will be held daily for three hours on a video meeting platform, allowing you to interact with both the instructor and other participants in real-time. To avoid online fatigue, the course employs a pedagogy that includes small-group work, short and focused tasks, as well as troubleshooting exercises that utilise a variety of online applications to facilitate collaboration and engagement with the course content.
In-person courses will consist of daily three-hour classroom sessions, featuring a range of interactive in-class activities including short lectures, peer feedback, group exercises, and presentations.
This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc.). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.
By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.
|1||1. Overall introduction (30’)||
Presentation of course, teaching team, course structure, practical organisation, assignments, logistics etc.
|1||2. Fundamentals : the comparative approach (I) (105’)||
- comparison as a mental operation
- comparison as the basis of experimental science
- comparison in the social sciences: ‘indirect experimentation’?
- Mill’s principles in a nutshell: the Method of Agreement, the Method of Difference and the Method of Concomitant Variation
- Types of comparatives studies and their goals in political science: from singles cases to statistics & from description to patterns
|1||Interactive session (1) (45’)||
- discussing individual participants’ projects: “why go for comparison?”
|2||Interactive session (2) (45’)||
- discussing individual participants’ projects: upstream arbitrations
|2||3. Fundamentals : the comparative approach (II) (60’)||
- comparison as a ‘synthetic strategy’ between case-oriented and variable-oriented research, between Causal Process Observation (CPO) and Data Set Observation (DSO)?
- comparison, taxonomy and typology-building
- 3 contrasted goals: co-variational analysis v/s causal-process tracing v/s congruence analysis
- wrapping up: “why compare?”
|2||4. Hands-on comparative research design, introduction (60’)||
- locating comparative research design(s) vis-à-vis other research designs (typology of research designs)
- all practical steps of a ‘good’ comparative research design: the full sequence in a bird’s eye view
|3||5. Hands-on comparative research design, step 1 (upstream) (60’)||
- linking research questions to theories to hypotheses to potential ‘cases’; assessing validity and plausibility; how to make concepts ‘travel’ across different contexts
- ‘what is a case?’ Choosing the appropriate level(s) of analysis (micro, meso, macro), defining the adequate units of analysis or ‘cases’
- arbitration: the depth v/s breadth trade-off – small-N, intermediate-N and larger-N designs
- arbitration: cross-country v/s within-country or within-system case selection
- dealing with the time dimension and processes
|3||6. Hands-on comparative research design, step 2 (case selection – basic strategies) (60’)||
- the single case study as a comparative research design? About counterfactuals
- binary comparison (most similar cases)
- binary comparison (most different or contrasted cases)
- “most similar systems” designs
- “most different systems” designs
- global (large-N) designs
|3||Interactive session (3) (60')||
- discussing individual participants’ projects: “casing” and case selection
|4||8. Hands-on comparative research design, step 3 (data collection & management strategies and fine-tuning of case selection) (45’)||
- the challenge of collecting ‘comparable’ data across cases in cross-national research? How to gain ‘intimacy’ with the cases?
- how to compile and manage your data? Lessons from the experience (archival, directories, text files, generic data management software, specialized data management software)
- troubleshooting : what if the initial design appears too ambitious?
- a critical discussion of some “good examples” in political science literature (from steps 1 to 3)
|4||Interactive session (4) (45’)||
- discussing individual participants’ projects: case selection (following) and data collection/management
|4||9. Hands-on comparative research design, step 4 (methodologies for comparative data analysis) (45’)||
- case-oriented tools
- comparative methods strictly defined: from ‘soft’ cross-case comparison to systematic cross-case analysis to variants of QCA (Qualitative Comparative Analysis) and Set-theoretic methods
- statistical tools
- comparing the strengths and weaknesses of each tool
- triangulating, sequencing or mixing data analysis techniques to improve comparison?
|5||MORNING (compulsory) 10. QCA basics within CRD: QCA as an approach and a typical csQCA application from A to almost Z (120’ [90‘ + 30‘] after break)||
- QCA as an approach: specific goals of QCA (within-case and cross-case);
- foundations and assumptions;
- conception of causality;
- multiple conjunctural causation)
- applied QCA (1):
- types of data; data preparation;
- types of potential uses
- applied QCA (2): presentation of a of a basic csQCA analysis, step by step (using the TOSMANA & fs/QCA software), from A to almost Z
|5||11. Conclusion : adding leverage through comparison – and reflecting on how one performs comparison (30’)||
- wrapping up: all the steps of a (successful) comparative research design, with trade-offs and decision points (check-list)
- linking cases, theory and comparison
- strengths of comparative research designs, revisited
- limitations and caveats of comparative research designs, revisited
- the perils of comparison (I): back to concepts and how (not) to overstretch them. Sartori’s lessons – and beyond
- the perils of comparison (II): Galton’s problem, globalization, diffusion and other nasty issues
- the perils of comparison (III): ‘selection bias’ and why you should not be afraid of it
- what should be the qualities of a ‘good’ comparativist researcher?
|5||Interactive session (5) (30')||
- feedback on other projects; open discussion, points still unclear, points of debate, further practical questions & answers about projects, transversal issues etc.
|5||AFTERNOON (optional) 12. QCA as a set of techniques : QCA applications, followed (ca. 120’)||
QCA as a set of techniques : QCA applications, followed
[data and software workshop, with use of software by participants on their laptops, + troubleshooting]
- the 3 main techniques (csQCA, mvQCA, fsQCA), their pro’s and con’s
- the different software options, pro’s and con’s
- the QCA protocol in a bird’s eye view – the main stages, replication of csQCA and fsQCA on prepared datasets
- overview of potential refinements
- discussion: strengths and limitations/bottlenecks of QCA
|4||7. Hands-on comparative research design, step 2’ (case selection – more advanced strategies) (45’)||
- more flexible designs – leaving case selection ‘semi-open’
- sequencing “most similar” and “most different” systems designs (Levi-Faur)
- multilevel designs (Denk)
- “nested” designs (Lieberman)
- using MSDO/MDSO as a support tool
Lijphart, A. (1975) 'The comparable-cases strategy in comparative research', Comparative Political Studies 8(2): 158-177. Lijphart, A. (1971) 'Comparative politics and the comparative method', American Political Science Review 65(3): 682-693. English-language version of: Aarebrot, F.H. and Bakka, P.H. (2003) 'Die vergleichende Methode in der Politikwissenschaft', in: Berg-Schlosser, D. and Müller-Rommel, F., (Eds.) Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft: Ein einführendes Studienhandbuch, pp. 57-76. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag. Ragin, C.C. (2004) 'Turning the tables: how case-oriented research challenges variable-oriented research', in: Brady, H.E. and Collier, D., (Eds.) Rethinking social inquiry: diverse tools, shared standards, pp. 123-138. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Chapter 2 (pp. 21-40) of: Pennings, P., Keman, H. and Kleinnijenhuis, J. (1999) Doing research in political science. an introduction to comparative methods and statistics. London: Sage Publications. Blatter, J. and Blume, T. (2008) 'In Search of Co-variance, Causal Mechanisms or Congruence? Towards a Plural Understanding of Case Studies', Swiss Political Science Review 14(2): 315-356. Excerpts from : Blatter, J. and Haverland, M. (2012) Designing Case Studies. Explanatory Approaches in Small-N Research. Houndmills : Palgrave (ECPR Research Methods Series). + Excerpts from : Peters, B.G. (2013) Strategies for comparative research in political science: theory and methods, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Chapter 3 (pp. 41-71) of: Pennings, P., Keman, H. and Kleinnijenhuis, J. (1999) Doing research in political science. an introduction to comparative methods and statistics. London: Sage Publications. Berg-Schlosser, D. and De Meur, G. (2009) 'Comparative research design : case and variable selection', in: Rihoux, B. and Ragin, C.C., (Eds.) Configurational comparative methods. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and related techniques, pp. 19-32. Thousand Oaks and London: Sage. Goertz, G. and Mahoney, J. (2006) 'Negative case selection. The possibility principle', in: Goertz, G., (Ed.) Social science concepts: a user’s guide, pp. 177-210. Princeton: Princeton University Press. + Excerpts (pp. 58-79) from : Peters, B.G. (2013) Strategies for comparative research in political science: theory and methods, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Levi-Faur, D. (2006) 'A question of Size? A Heuristics for Stepwise Comparative Research Design', in: Rihoux, B. and Grimm, H., (Eds.) Innovative Comparative Methods for Policy Analysis, pp. 43-66. New York: Springer. Denk, T. (2010) 'Comparative multilevel analysis: proposal for a methodology', International Journal of Social Research Methodology 13(1): 29-39. Lieberman, E.S. (2005) 'Nested Analysis as a Mixed-Method Strategy for Comparative Research', American Political Science Review 99(3): 435-452. + Excerpts from : Peters, B.G. (2013) Strategies for comparative research in political science: theory and methods, Basingstoke: Palgrave. [+ one book-length comparative study, displaying ‘good practices’, proposed by each course participant as a “reference study” to feed the group discussion]
Rihoux, B. and Lobe, B. (2009) 'The case for qualitative comparative analysis (QCA): adding leverage for thick cross-case comparison', in: Byrne, D. and Ragin, C., (Eds.) The Sage handbook of case-based methods, pp. 222-243 . London: Sage. Berg-Schlosser, Dirk, Gisèle De Meur, Benoît Rihoux, and Charles C. Ragin. "Qualitative Comparative Analysis (Qca) as an Approach." In Configurational Comparative Methods. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (Qca) and Related Techniques, edited by Benoît Rihoux and Charles C. Ragin, 1-18. Thousand Oaks and London: Sage, 2009. Marx, Axel, Benoît Rihoux, and Charles Ragin. "The Origins, Development and Application of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (Qca): The First 25 Years." European Political Science Review (2013).
Rihoux, Benoît, and Gisèle De Meur. "Crisp-Set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (Csqca)." In Configurational Comparative Methods. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (Qca) and Related Techniques, edited by Benoît Rihoux and Charles C. Ragin, 33-68. Thousand Oaks and London: Sage, 2009. Rihoux, Benoît, Priscilla Álamos, Damien Bol, Axel Marx, and Ilona Rezsöhazy. "From Niche to Mainstream Method? A Comprehensive Mapping of Qca Applications in Journal Articles from 1984 to 2011." Political Research Quarterly (2013). + Excerpts from: Blatter, J. and Haverland, M. (2012) Designing Case Studies. Explanatory Approaches in Small-N Research. Houndmills : Palgrave (ECPR Research Methods Series). + Excerpts from: Schneider, Carsten, and Claudius Wagemann. Set-Theoretic Methods for the Social Sciences: A Guide to Qualitative Comparative Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Sartori, G. (1991) 'Comparing and miscomparing', Journal of Theoretical Politics 3(3): 243-257. Ebbinghaus, B. (2005) 'When less is more: selection problems in large-N and small-N cross-national comparisons', International Sociology 20(2): + Excerpts from : Goertz, G. (2006) So
|0||Among those readings, 2 recent books are particularly recommended for purchase: - for participants looking for an overall introduction to QCA, including the basic applied protocols: Rihoux & Ragin (eds, 2009); - for participants looking for an up-to-date discussion on strategies for comparative cross-case designs: Blatter & Haverland (2012).|
On days 1-4, no particular software will be used intensively throughout the course, apart from the usual suites (such as MS Office). The strengths and limitations of different software to compile, store and manage numerical and non-numerical data about a ‘certain’ number of cases (from small-N to larger-N situations) will be discussed – primarily Excel, Access, SPSS and NVivo, but these software will not be used hands-on in the lab. On day 5, participants willing to replicate QCA analyses ‘live’ should bring a laptop and install two freeware programs: TOSMANA and fs/QCA, accessible through: http://www.compasss.org/software.htm.
Each participant willing to replicate QCA analyses on day 5 should come with a laptop (see previous point).
Further readings (recommended – not compulsory. NB: a full, more extensive list of other related readings will be made available during the course)
Bartolini, S. (1993) 'On time and comparative research', Journal of Theoretical Politics 5(2): 131-167.
Becker, H.S. (1998) Tricks of the trade: how to think about your research while you're doing it. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Brady, H. and Collier, D. (2010) Rethinking social inquiry. Diverse tools, shared standards. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Byrne, D. and Ragin, C. (2009) The Sage handbook of case-based methods. London: Sage.
Della Porta, D. and Keating, M. (2008) Approaches and methodologies in the social sciences. A pluralist perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
George, A.L. and Bennett, A. (2005) Case studies and theory development in the social sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gerring, J. (2007) Case study research: principles and practices, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mahoney, J. and Rueschemeyer, D. (2003) Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Przeworski, A. and Teune, H. (1970) The logic of comparative social inquiry. New York: Wiley-Interscience.
Ragin, C.C. and Becker, H.S. (1992) What is a case? Exploring the foundations of social inquiry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Teune, H. (1990) 'Comparing countries : lessons learned', in: Oyen, E., (Ed.) Comparative methodology: theory and practice in international social research, pp. 38-62. London: Sage.
Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences: A Pluralistic Framework
Tools for the analysis of complex social system: an introduction
Automated web data collection with R
Introduction to Qualitative Data Analysis with Atlas.ti
Introduction to NVivo for Qualitative Data Analysis
Introduction to MAXQDA, a Qualitative and Mixed Methods Data Analysis Software
Process tracing (introductory or advanced)
Process tracing (introductory or advanced)
Advanced Multi-Method Research
Process tracing (introductory or advanced)
Methodologies of Case Studies
QCA and Fuzzy Sets
Mixed Methods Designs
Process tracing (introductory or advanced)