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About this book

Written by a prominent figure in the field, this book provides an accessible introduction to comparative methodology. Drawing on a wide range of approaches throughout, it is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand or research in this major area of political science.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Importance of Comparison

Abstract
Comparative politics is central to the development of political theory. For most sciences, experimentation is the primary way to test theory, but for political science comparison remains the principal method. Political science can be an experimental science only rarely, and then almost always in highly contrived circumstances (but see Gerring and McDermott, 2007; Morton and Williams, 2010). Researchers are sometimes able to have students or other more or less willing subjects participate in games or experiments, but those exercises tend to be focused primarily on individual behavior. They can be far removed from most real questions about governing, or even many questions of individual political behavior. Therefore, comparing what happens when different countries, for their own reasons, modify constitutions, or party systems, or whatever, provides useful information about the probable consequences of different political orders and can be a useful substitute for experiments.
B. Guy Peters

Chapter 2. The Logic of Comparison

Abstract
We have already argued in brief that the logic of comparative analysis is different from the logic of other forms of social science research, especially from the statistical method that tends to dominate social research (see Ragin, 2006a). This difference is evident in terms of the tendency of the unit of analysis for statistical research to be the individual, as opposed to the groups or political units more commonly encountered in comparative research. It is seen, more importantly, in terms of the manner in which the two methods deal with the crucial question of controlling sources of extraneous variance. In the complex social world, there are any number of factors associated with the variance observed in any number of other variables. Finding significant statistical correlations among those factors is rarely a problem for social researchers. What is more of a problem is determining whether those correlations are empirically and theoretically meaningful, that is, can we say confidently that X causes Y, or whether they are merely the product of other, unmeasured, variables affecting the variables actually measured. In other words, the real difficulty for the social sciences is making convincing statements about the causation of political phenomena, given the complexity of interactions among the whole range of social phenomena and the number of external sources of variance.
B. Guy Peters

Chapter 3. The Number of Cases and Which Ones?

Abstract
Comparative politics often appears afflicted with a variety of analytic greed, in which ‘more is better’. This greed is driven in part by the dominance of statistical analysis in contemporary political science, with the consequent need to have relatively large ‘samples’ of countries in order to be able to meet the assumptions and requirements of statistical analyses. In some ways, however, this concentration on the demands of particular statistical techniques reverses the appropriate logic of research design. The statistical techniques, or other methodological tools, that researchers select for use should be employed in the service of the analytic and theoretical questions we are pursuing, not vice versa. Certainly, there are some research questions that can only be addressed with large and almost comprehensive data sets, but there are also some questions that are best addressed with small and focused selections of cases, or even a single case. Indeed, the use of larger ‘samples’ of cases may make some styles of research less useful rather than more.
B. Guy Peters

Chapter 4. Measurement and Bias

Abstract
Perhaps the most fundamental barriers to good comparative research are measurement and the problems of comparability of measures. If comparative analysis is to be at all meaningful then we must be sure that the same terms mean the same things in the different contexts within which the research is conducted. In particular, the comparative analyst must be concerned with the problem of establishing equivalent meaning for concepts within different social and cultural contexts. Words that we use to describe political life in one country, or that have theoretical meaning in one context, may elsewhere have very a different meaning, or indeed be meaningless. Europeans conceptualize the ‘state’ (Dyson, 1980; Painter and Peters, 2010) as a real, yet also metaphysical, entity while for most Americans the term has little meaning beyond a component of the federal system. Similarly, for Europeans outside Germany, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland, the concept of federalism means little, or is simply misunderstood; while for Canadians or Americans (as well as the four European systems mentioned above) there is a rich conceptual and empirical literature on the subject (McKenna, 1993; Fitzmaurice, 1996; Burgess, 2006). Even in the four European cases the idea of federalism may be very different from that encountered in North America, Brazil, Nigeria or India (see Heuglin and Fenna, 2006). Misconceptions around federalism begin to have a practical effect, as well as an academic one, because the European Union may have a federal future, but the nature of that potential is completely misunderstood in some unitary regimes.
B. Guy Peters

Chapter 5. The Role of Theory in Comparative Politics

Abstract
We already have argued at several places for the importance of empirical political theory as a potential savior for the methodological problems facing a good deal of comparative political analysis. If there are too many variables and an insufficient number of cases, then good comparative theory is expected to ride to the rescue and to enable the researcher to identify more parsimonious explanations. In addition, theory is expected to assist researchers in selecting the cases that should be included in their samples of political units for effective comparative analysis. Finally, political theory is expected to provide a basis for better-informed and more effective measurement of the concepts used in analysis. Can existing comparative theories sustain the weight of the responsibility that is being placed upon them?
B. Guy Peters

Chapter 6. The Case Study

Abstract
We have already discussed the possibility of conducting comparative research with small samples of countries, including the seeming impossibility of doing meaningful comparison with a sample of only one. These small-N comparisons all depend upon the capacity of the researcher to perform effective case research. The case study remains perhaps the most common method of research in political science in general, and more particularly in comparative politics. Despite its frequent use, case research is often denigrated by more ‘modern’ and ‘scientific’ researchers who rely on statistical analysis and other more quantitative methods to collect their data. Also, it must be said that case studies are often conducted poorly, and without sufficient understanding of the theoretical and methodological issues involved in doing proper case research. Sir Geoffrey Vickers (1965: 173) provides a trenchant critique of case studies (whether done well or poorly) when he argues: ‘Case histories are a laborious approach to understanding. For situations are so varied that even a large number of cases may be a misleading sample, while each is so complex that even a detailed description may be too summary; and none is comprehensible outside the historical sequence in which it grew.’
B. Guy Peters

Chapter 7. Building on Case Analysis

Abstract
The preceding chapter has pointed to the utility, and some of the potential pitfalls, of case studies in comparative analysis. One of the major issues is that each case is only a case, and it is difficult to build any theoretical generalizations from the individual cases. Any one case may be conducted extremely well, and be very valid as a representation of the reality that it investigates. The problem may be that it is also very atypical of the population of similar cases, whether that population is within a single country or across a number of countries. The probability that a case is atypical is higher in comparative research, given that there is almost certainly more variance within the more diverse population of instances that are likely to be encountered, so the need to move beyond single cases is more important in this area of the discipline.
B. Guy Peters

Chapter 8. Events Data and Change Over Time

Abstract
The tendency of many scholars is to think of comparative politics as contemporary politics, with the data that researchers should use being measures of contemporary attitudes, votes, decisions and policies. Indeed, although political scientists sometimes sneer at journalists for their instant analyses of complex events, we ourselves engage in the same behavior now and again, providing immediate theoretical explanations for complex political phenomena. These events range from the most recent election in our own country through the collapse of the former Soviet Union to democratization in Latin America. Political science, in contrast to history, generally thinks of itself as the study of contemporary political life and events, and seeks to be as current as the morning newspaper, although much more analytic.
B. Guy Peters

Chapter 9. Statistical Analysis

Abstract
We have been spending most of our space to this point in the book arguing that case-based analysis and other less quantitative research techniques are important components of comparative political analysis (see Kittel, 2006). This discussion has been arguing implicitly that, despite its importance in the social sciences, statistical analysis is not everything, and that alternative methodologies do need to be considered and utilized when appropriate. It may not be everything, but statistical analysis is certainly something, and we should examine carefully what conventional statistical analysis can and cannot do to enhance comparative political research. The fundamental question, therefore, is whether comparative political analysis has characteristics that make the use of the conventional modes of statistical analysis less applicable than in other areas of research. Also, if there are impediments to using conventional analysis then are there means of amending the techniques to make them more useful for comparison?
B. Guy Peters

Chapter 10. The Future of Comparative Politics

Abstract
Comparative politics should be a central, if not the central, concern of political science. For most research in the discipline there is little or no opportunity for experimentation — citizens are not likely to submit to very much experimentation on matters as crucial as the selection and management of their governments (but see Morton and Williams, 2010). Even were more experimentation possible for political situations, it is not at all clear that the results would be as beneficial for comparative political research as they might be for other parts of the discipline. Comparative scholars generally can be more productive when attempting to understand political behavior within its natural context than when trying to analyze it in the artificial settings characteristic of social experimentation. This assumes that, contrary to Przeworski and Teune’s (1970) ideas about ‘most different systems’ designs, there are structural properties of systems that are important for explanation. Occasionally, governments do conduct what are in essence natural experiments, for example New Zealand, Italy and Japan changing their systems of voting, but those opportunities for testing theory are extremely rare. Given the importance of comparative analysis for the development of empirical political theory, this book has focused on the numerous dangers to valid comparative research, and on the ways in which the analysis can be improved.
B. Guy Peters
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