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Political Research Exchange

WD204 - Advanced Topics in Set-Theoretic Methods and QCA

Instructor Details

Instructor Photo

Carsten Q. Schneider

Central European University

Instructor Bio

Carsten Q. Schneider is Professor of Political Science at Central European University Budapest.

His research focuses on regime transitions, autocratic regimes, the qualities of democracies, and the link between social and political inequalities. He also works in the field of comparative methodology, especially on set-theoretic methods.

Carsten has published articles in several peer-reviewed journals, and three books, among them Set-Theoretic Methods for the Social Sciences (Cambridge University Press, 2012) co-authored with Claudius Wagemann.

During the academic year 2017/18 he is a visiting researcher at Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.


Course Dates and Times

Monday 5 to Friday 9 March 2018
15 hours over 5 days

Prerequisite Knowledge

.Participants are expected to have a firm command of basic formal logic, Boolean algebra, and set-theory. Participants also need to be familiar with the basic protocol of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), including the following topics: the difference between sets and variables; the notion of set calibration; the meaning of set relations (sufficiency, necessity, INUS, SUIN); the construction and logical minimization of a truth table; the calculation and interpretation of the parameters of fit (consistency and coverage); the treatment of logical remainders as done by the Standard Analysis. In short, participants should check whether they are in command of all the issues addressed in Schneider/Wagemann (2012): “Set-Theoretic Methods for the Social Sciences”, chapters 1-7. Participants are further expected to be familiar with the basics of the R software environment as we will use the R packages relevant for performing set-theoretic analyses during the course. Students who have attended the two-week course on Set-Theoretic Methods and QCA at the ECPR Summer School should be well prepared for this advanced course.

Short Outline

This course addresses advanced issues that arise if and when scholars embrace notions of sets and their relations. While it is a course about set-theoretic methods writ large, most of the time, we will discuss issues that are specific to Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA). Although much effort has been put into developing standards of good practice, still many important issues remain unresolved, and even sometimes unaddressed. This has given rise to a recent wave of literature sceptical of set-methods, in general, and QCA, in particular. In this course we not only discuss the issues raised by theses critiques, but go beyond them and explore the hitherto under-used potentials of set-theoretic methods. Depending on needs and interests of participants, we choose among the following topics: set-theoretic multi-method research; robustness and uncertainty; set-theoretic theory evaluation; enhanced Standard Analysis; data structures and set-theoretic methods, including temporal ordering, multi-level structures, and two-step QCA; model ambiguity; and/or multi-value QCA.


Tasks for ECTS Credits

  • Participants attending the course: 2 credits (pass/fail grade) The workload for the calculation of ECTS credits is based on the assumption that students attend classes and carry out the necessary reading and/or other work prior to, and after, classes.
  • Participants attending the course and completing one task (see below): 3 credits (to be graded)
  • Participants attending the course, and completing two tasks (see below): 4 credits (to be graded)

The task(s) to be assessed by the instructor and required to acquire credits are the following:

  1. Daily assignments
    • graded daily, without feedback, as 0 - Did not submit, 1 - Insufficient, 2 - Sufficient, 3 - Excellent.
    • These assignments will consist of performing your own data analysis in R, using the functions and concepts learned in class.
  2. Take-home paper
    • Participants will receive a published QCA study plus its data and are asked to, first, replicate and, second, expand the analysis.
    • Deadline for submitting the roughly 15 page long paper plus clean R code is three weeks after the end of the course.


Long Course Outline

Participants who are in good command of all the issues addressed above under “prerequisite knowledge” can expect from this course a deepened understanding of potentials and pitfalls of set-theoretic methods. This should enable them to be both more critical and assertive if and when they choose or reject set-theoretic methods as the most appropriate research method for their research project. Successfully completing the course will also enable participants to produce QCA studies of a quality and level of sophistication beyond the current mainstream and thus yield substantive results that are more compelling both for themselves and their (critical) audience. Since much of the course explores the boundaries of the still relatively young family of set-theoretic methods, it will be unavoidable that some of our debates will have to remain inconclusive. Participants should therefore be prepared to not always be provided ready-made and fool-prove answers and procedures for all the issues that they will face when trying to implement a high-quality QCA. Rather, this course invites students to think critically about set-theoretic methods, and, by extension, also about other data analysis techniques that they will have to choose when doing empirical comparative research.

During day 1, we refresh our knowledge and go through the standard protocol of a QCA, using the relevant R packages. In addition, we cover a set of relatively unrelated, yet interesting and important issues. Depending on the interest of participants, we focus on one or two of the following topics in more detail: Enhanced Standard Analysis; skewed sets and their analytic consequences; multi-value QCA. On day 2, we introduce set-theoretic multi-method research as an attempt at specifying just how QCA should be combined with within-case process tracing. We define the meaning of typical and deviant cases after a QCA, spell out the different rationales for studying each of them, and provide formulas for selecting the best available cases for (comparative) within-case analysis after a QCA. On day 3, we engage with the notion of robustness in set-theoretic methods and try to systematize the debate by specifying the analytic decisions to be made against which QCA results should be expected to be robust. Along these lines, we aim at formulating criteria for meaningful robustness tests and, based on these criteria, evaluate existing, simulation-based robustness test. In addition, we discuss the principles and computer-assisted practice of set-theoretic theory evaluation. On days 4 and 5, we address issues that arise from various forms of structures in the data. On day 4, we mainly focus on different temporal structures in the data and discuss various strategies, such as, calibration temporal QCA (tQCA), and cluster diagnostics. On day 5, we focus on causal chains detexted via Coincidence Analysis (cna), multi-level structures and also discuss an updated version of the two-step QCA approach.

Participants of the course should not expect to be provided a general introduction to the basics of set-theoretic methods and QCA. We will also not introduce the very basics of the R software environment.

Day-to-Day Schedule

Day-to-Day Reading List

Software Requirements

- R, R packages QCA, QCAGUI, SetMethods, and all their dependencies

- RStudio

Hardware Requirements

Participants are expected to bring their own laptop


Goertz, Gary, and James Mahoney. 2012. A Tale of Two Cultures: Contrasting Qualitative and Quantitative Paradigms. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press

Ragin, Charles C. 2008. Redesigning Social Inquiry: Fuzzy Sets and Beyond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Schneider, Carsten Q., and Claudius Wagemann. 2012. Set-Theoretic Methods for the Social Sciences: A Guide to Qualitative Comparative Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

The following other ECPR Methods School courses could be useful in combination with this one in a ‘training track .
Recommended Courses Before

Summer School

  • Set-Theoretic Methods: Qualitative Comparative Analysis and Related Approaches
  • Introduction to R

Winter School

  • Comparative Research Designs
Recommended Courses After

Summer School

  • Case Study Research – Method and Practice
  • Machine Learning

Winter School

  • Advanced Multi-Method Research

Additional Information


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 in due time.

Note from the Academic Convenors

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, contact the instructor before registering.

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