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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Comparative Area Studies: What It Is, What It Can Do

Comparative Politics
Qualitative Comparative Analysis
Comparative Perspective
Patrick Köllner
German Institute of Global And Area Studies
Ariel Ahram
Virginia Tech
Patrick Köllner
German Institute of Global And Area Studies

Comparative Area Studies (CAS) constitutes an effort which seeks to balance attention to regional and local contextual attributes with use of the comparative method in search of portable causal links and mechanisms. CAS thus seeks to create more space for intra-, inter- and, in particular, cross-regional small N-comparison encompassing cases from drawn from different world regions while retaining the the commitment to context-sensitivity evident in area-bound small-N comparison. Cross-regional comparisons are not absent from the social sciences, yet they are still small part of the repertoire of qualitative research compared to single-case studies or intra-regional small-N comparisons.

CAS engages scholarly discourse in relevant area studies communities while employing concepts intelligible to social science disciplines. In practice, CAS suggests a distinctive style of small-N analysis, cross-regional contextualized comparison. As the contributions to the recent volume "Comparative Area Studies: Methodological Rationales and Cross-Regional Applications" (Oxford University Press 2018) show, this approach does not subsume or replace area studies scholarship but creates new opportunities for generating "middle range" theoretical arguments of interest to the social sciences.

In this introductory paper to the panel - and the section as as whole -, we make the case for CAS and discuss what it brings to to the table. We do so by discussing the rationales and merits of the CAS approach, by outlining the context in which the approach emerged, focusing on the various debates about area studies which have led to (divergent) funding trends in the US and various parts of Europe, by explaining the advent of CAS and the forms that this approach has taken, by discussing methodological and broader analytical implications of the approach, and by highlighting some of the perspectives of the CAS approach.
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