ECPR Winter School
University of Bamberg, Bamberg
22 February - 1 March 2019




WB102 - Comparative Research Designs

Instructor Details

Instructor Photo

Benoît Rihoux

Institution:
Université catholique de Louvain

Instructor Bio

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.


Course Dates and Times

Monday 25 February – Friday 1 March 2019, 14:00 – 17:30 (finishing slightly earlier on Friday)
15 hours over five days

Prerequisite Knowledge

Little specific knowledge is expected. Prior training in qualitative and/or quantitative methods is of course an asset, but by no means a requirement.

You should simply be willing to reflect openly about your research design – there is no ‘best’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Short Outline

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 units of analysis. It answers fundamental questions including:

  • What is comparison?
  • Why compare; what is the value of comparison?
  • What should be the mindset of a good comparative researcher?
  • What is the link between a research puzzle and the choice for a comparative research design – and what would the alternative(s) be?
  • At which level(s) should ‘cases’ be envisaged?

We will examine the practicalities of different types of comparative research, following these hands-on steps:

  1. prior arbitrations and ‘casing’, i.e. the definition of cases;
  2. case selection, through basic or advanced strategies;
  3. collecting and managing comparative data;
  4. comparative data analysis (qualitative, QCA and quantitative options).

The course alternates between lectures and interactive sessions, giving ample time for questions, open discussions, and solution-finding for your individual projects.

By the end of this course, you will know how 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 units of analysis.

Tasks for ECTS Credits

2 credits (pass/fail grade):

  • Complete the short pre-course survey
  • Read the daily texts (see reading list) in advance of each class
  • Attend at least 90% of course hours
  • Deliver the four daily assignments that will be given from Monday to Thursday (to be delivered at the latest the next day at 12:00, from Tuesday to Friday)

4 credits As above, plus write up a thorough take-home research paper that will be evaluated by the teaching team. The format, focus, evaluation criteria, submission deadline etc. of the paper will be explained on days 1 and 5 of the course. There is some flexibility in terms of focus (more details will be discussed on day 5 of the course), with – among other possibilities – a paper laying out out all the main elements of one’s CRD, or a paper focusing more in-depth on one specific step of one‘s CRD.

Long Course Outline

This course will teach you to how 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, it 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 mindset 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. organisations) or macro (e.g. political or policy systems) levels? Etc.

On the other hand, we will examine in detail the practicalities of different types of comparative research designs, 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 (qualitative, QCA and quantitative options). As explained below in detail, steps (1) and (2) will be examined in greater detail.

The course is organised in five sessions, each allowing time for open discussions and interaction.

Day 1

After introducing the practical and organisational aspects of the course, we will frame comparative research in the broader context of a comparative approach. This means considering some epistemological issues underpinning comparison. Starting from the discussion of comparison as a basic mental operation, we will progress to comparison in the social sciences, then to political science specifically. One core focus will be on the different goals of comparison, with practical examples. To conclude, we will discuss a first series of participants’ projects, focusing on the goals pursued (why go for a comparative research design?).

Day 2

We locate comparative research designs within the whole range of possible designs. We present the practical steps of a good comparative research design, focusing on the major arbitrations. We also have a first look at Step 1 operations that lie upstream of case selection, 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. We conclude by discussing a second series of participants’ projects, with a focus on upstream arbitrations.

Day 3

We continue examining Step 1 operations, and deepen the question of 'what is a case?' within a comparative research design – with an emphasis on core arbitrations such as depth vs breadth and cross-country vs within-country vs within-system casing and case selection. Then we’ll systematically survey all the main options for the core Step 2 operation: case selection. We 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. We conclude by discussing a second series of participants’ projects, with a focus on casing and case selection

Day 4

We turn to more refined strategies, in particular considering time/sequence and multilevel phenomena, and discussing the pros and cons of each. Then we look at hands-on tricks of the trade for collecting and managing data in a comparative research (Step 3) – including ways to troubleshoot and to make case selection adjustments as your research develops. A fourth interactive section around participants’ projects will focus on case selection and data collection/management.

Day 5

We examine different ways to engage in comparative data analysis, envisaging three main families of options:

  1. case-oriented (or ‘qualitative’) analyses
  2. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) for systematic cross-case comparison
  3. statistical/’quantitative’ analyses.

We will examine the pros and cons of each, as well as the potential difficulties of sequencing different data analysis techniques in a mixed- or multi-method design. In particular, we'll discuss the potential of sequencing QCA with single case studies, in small- or intermediate-N designs. In the second part of the morning session, we revisit some core points – with a focus on the strengths of comparative research designs, but even more on main perils or caveats of comparison. You will become more aware of ways to 'mis-compare' – and avoid it in your own research.

Finally, in an open interactive session, we'll discuss points still to be clarified, points of debate or disagreements, remaining questions and answers about participants’ projects, etc.

You are encouraged to bring your own research questions and hypotheses, first thoughts and difficulties (if any) in case definition and case selection, and (if applicable) any data you have already compiled. The course is designed to help you make the most appropriate choices in comparative research design. You will be able to reflect and to work on your own project as we follow the sequence of fundamental and then applied steps. Whenever possible, we’ll use input from participants’ own projects during the interactive parts of each one of the five sessions.

Connections with other courses (see also section 13 below):

  • This course can be taken as a standalone course, but it has been designed as an introductory course, particularly for Summer School courses – in particular Methodologies of Case Studies, QCA and Fuzzy Sets and Mixed Methods Designs (exact course titles may change).
  • This is not a specialist QCA course. Some main features of QCA (as an approach & set of techniques) will be presented at introductory level, but if you want hands-on QCA training, follow Eva Thomann's week-long Introduction to QCA course, or the two-week QCA course at the Summer School.
  • The course may also be of interest for scholars engaged in ‘thick’ observational work (e.g. ethnography, participant observation, interviews, …) or in in-depth single case studies (using e.g. process tracing), as well as those interested in formalised or statistical approaches (large-N statistical techniques, experiments, …), especially if their populations and/or samples are not so obvious to circumscribe.
Day-to-Day Schedule

Day 
Topic 
Details 
11. Overall introduction (30’)

1. Overall introduction

Presentation of course, teaching team, course structure, practical organization, assignments, logistics etc.

12. Fundamentals : the comparative approach (I) (105’)

2. Fundamentals : the comparative approach (I)

- 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

1Interactive session (1) (45’)

Interactive session (1): discussing individual participants’ projects: “why go for comparison?”

22. Fundamentals : the comparative approach (II) (60’)

2. Fundamentals : the comparative approach (II)

- 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?”

23. Hands-on comparative research design, introduction (60’)

3. Hands-on research comparative design, introduction

- 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

2Interactive session (2) (45’)

Interactive session (2): discussing individual participants’ projects: upstream arbitrations

34. Hands-on comparative research design, step 1 (upstream) (60’)

4. Hands-on comparative research design, step 1 - upstream

- 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

35. Hands-on comparative research design, step 2 (case selection – basic strategies) (60’)

5. Hands-on comparative research design, step 2 - Case selection – basic strategies

- 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

3Interactive session (3) (60’)

Interactive session (3) : discussing individual participants’ projects: “casing” and case selection

46. Hands-on comparative research design, step 2’ (case selection – more advanced strategies) (45’)

6. Hands-on comparative research design, step 2’ – Case selection – more advanced strategies

- more flexible designs – leaving case selection ‘semi-open’

- sequencing “most similar” and “most different” systems designs (Levi-Faur etc.)

- multilevel designs (Denk etc.)

- “nested” designs (Lieberman etc.)

- using MSDO/MDSO as a support tool

47. Hands-on comparative research design, step 3 (data collection & management strategies and fine-tuning of case selection) (60’)

7. Hands-on comparative research design, step 3 - data collection & management strategies and fine-tuning of case selection

- 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)

4Interactive session (4) (75’)

Interactive session (4): discussing individual participants’ projects: case selection (following) and data collection/management; wrapping up: good practices & tricks of the trade

58. Hands-on comparative research design, step 4 (methodologies for comparative data analysis) (60’)

8. Hands-on comparative research design, step 4 - Methodologies for comparative data analysis

- 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? Some core mixed- and multi-method options.

5Interactive session (5) (45’)

Interactive session (5): concrete comparative data analysis strategies in participants’ projects; pro’s and con’s of different options, caveats, ‘tricks of the trade’

59. Conclusion : adding leverage through comparison – and reflecting on how one performs comparison (45’)

9. Conclusion : adding leverage through comparison – and reflecting on how one performs comparison

- 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?

5Interactive session (6) (30’)

Interactive session (6): feedback on other projects; open discussion, points still unclear, points of debate, further practical questions & answers about projects, transversal issues, etc.

 

 

Day-to-Day Reading List

Day 
Readings 
0

Among those readings, 2 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 a discussion on strategies for comparative cross-case designs: Blatter & Haverland (2012).

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

Rohlfing, Ingo. (2011). Analyzing multilevel data with QCA: a straightforward procedure. International Journal of Social Research Methodology. doi: 10.1080/13645579.2011.613673

Schneider, Carsten Q., & Rohlfing, Ingo. (2013). Combining QCA and Process-Tracing in Set-Theoretic Multimethod Research. Sociological Methods & Research, 42(4), 559-597.

+ Excerpts from Rohlfing, Ingo. (2012). Case Studies and Causal Inference: An Integrative Framework Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

4

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.

+ Excerpts from: Landman, Todd (Ed.). (2003). Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics. An Introduction (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

[+, as further potential reading after the course, one book-length comparative study, displaying ‘good practices’, proposed by each course participant as a reference study to feed the group discussion]

[in addition, a selection of specialized textbooks and resources on data collection in connection with participants’ projects, will be discussed during the session]

5

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.

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)  Social science concepts: a user's guide.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press

+ Excerpts from: Goertz, Gary. (2017). Multimethod research, causal mechanisms, and case studies: an integrated approach. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

+ Excerpts from : Pennings, Paul, Keman, Hans, & Kleinnijenhuis, Jan (Eds.). (1999). Doing research in political science. an introduction to comparative methods and statistics. London: Sage Publications.

+ Excerpts from : Yin, Robert K (Ed.). (2003). Case study research. Design and methods (3rd ed.). London & Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Software Requirements

No particular software will be used intensively throughout the course, apart from the usual suites (such as MS Office).

We will discuss 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) – primarily Excel, Access, SPSS & NVivo, but these software packages will not be used hands-on in the lab.

Hardware Requirements

Please bring your own laptop. No specific technical requirements.

Literature

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.

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

Winter School

Foundations of set-theoretic and case-oriented thinking and methodology

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

Advanced Multi-Method Research

Introduction to MAXQDA, a Qualitative and Mixed Methods Data Analysis Software

Process tracing (introductory or advanced)

 

Summer School

Process tracing (introductory or advanced)

Recommended Courses After

Winter School

Methodologies of Case Studies

QCA and Fuzzy Sets

Mixed Methods Designs

Process tracing (introductory or advanced)

 

Summer School

 

QCA and Fuzzy Sets

Advanced Multi-Method Research

Process tracing (introductory or advanced)

 

Additional Information

Disclaimer

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.


Share this page
 

"History is past politics, and politics is past history" - E.A. Freeman


Back to top