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About this book

This authoritative book examines the what, why and how of international comparative research. It offers a comprehensive topic-based overview of the theory and practice of comparative research and addresses the possible concerns of those both funding the research and using the findings.

Drawing on illustrations from the extensive international literature as well as real-life comparative studies, the chapters guide readers through the many stages in the research process, from research design and data collection to the analysis and interpretation of findings.

In a book that crosses national, societal, cultural and disciplinary boundaries, the author:
• Pinpoints practical problems and directs readers to tried and tested solutions, including multiple method strategies.
• Draws on examples of policy transfer to examine how comparative research can inform policy making
• Provides guidance on the management of international research teams and projects.

This resource is the ultimate reference tool for students, researchers and practitioners undertaking comparative research projects in international settings across the social sciences and humanities.

Table of Contents

1. Defining and Mapping International Comparative Research

Abstract
Not all international research is comparative, and not all comparative research is international or cross-national. The social science and humanities literature has engaged in a long-running debate about terminology and substance. If agreement is relatively widespread regarding the meaning of ‘comparative research’, the same cannot be said of ‘international’, ‘cross-national’ or the other terms used to describe research that crosses national, cultural or societal boundaries.
Linda Hantrais

2. Disciplinary Approaches to Comparative Research in International Settings

Abstract
While some research methods books are intended for social and human scientists from a wide range of disciplines, others target readers specializing in a single methodological approach. A similar distinction is found in comparative research methods books between texts designed for social and human scientists in general and works that are discipline specific, which is perhaps most evident in the case of law and politics. As argued in the first chapter of the present volume, social and human scientists are far from agreeing that a distinct comparative method and/or methodology exist, setting comparative approaches apart from other research methods and methodologies. Nonetheless, it is clear that individual social science and humanities disciplines have developed their own distinct theoretical traditions and schools of thought, which are reflected in the research design and data collection strategies they adopt in comparative research. These differences are often expressed in terms of a dichotomy between universalist and culturalist, or particularistic, approaches. At the one extreme are the large-scale quantitative studies, as exploited in the 1960s and 1970s by social scientists, especially in political science, almost to the exclusion of other methods, for example to compare electoral systems or voting patterns, with the aim of identifying universalistic trends from which to make generalizations.
Linda Hantrais

3. Project Design in International Comparative Research

Abstract
Social science and humanities researchers usually embark on international comparative projects with a view to gaining a deeper understanding of observable phenomena, advancing knowledge, developing new insights, and generating and testing theory. To achieve these challenging objectives, they undertake systematic comparisons across two or more countries, cultures or societies. Despite the long history of comparative studies, reviewed in the two previous chapters, the conduct of comparative projects continues to require a heavy investment in intellectual, technical and physical resources if the innumerable obstacles to successful international cooperation are to be overcome. The likely outcome of any comparative study is largely determined at a very early stage in the research process. Many closely interrelated factors contribute to the research process and outcomes: the selection of the objects of inquiry; the formulation of research questions; the choice of comparators and levels of analysis; the research cultures and disciplinary mix of team members; the theoretical and methodological approaches adopted; and the analysis and interpretation of findings. All these factors, therefore, need to be taken fully into account in project design.
Linda Hantrais

4. Defining and Analysing Concepts and Contexts

Abstract
The definition and understanding of concepts and the relationship between concepts and contexts are of critical concern in comparative research that crosses national, societal, cultural and linguistic boundaries. International comparisons may be rendered ineffectual by the lack of a common understanding of central concepts and the societal contexts within which phenomena are located. The assertion made in the 1970s by Donald P. Warwick and Samuel Osherson (1973: 14) that variability of concepts presented formidable problems of measurement and interpretation still holds true many decades later, and ‘the danger of culturally-bound misinterpretations or misunderstandings’ continues to be a largely unresolved issue for researchers from whatever discipline who are engaging in comparative studies (Grootings, 1986: 275).
Linda Hantrais

5. Combining Methods in International Comparative Research

Abstract
The difficulties that arise in reaching consensus between different disciplines and research cultures over epistemological positions in comparative research, the choice of comparators and the variables selected present serious challenges for international teams embarking on comparative studies across national, societal and cultural boundaries. Despite scepticism about the extent to which ‘a neat correspondence’ can be established between ‘epistemological positions… and associated techniques…of social research’ (Bryman, 1984: 75), traditionally certain epistemologies have come to be closely associated with specific methodological approaches. Although the dividing line between different research strategies has become increasingly porous and blurred, the links between epistemology, methodology and methods continue to be analysed in terms of the broad distinctions that are often drawn between quantitative and qualitative approaches.
Linda Hantrais

6. Research and Policy in International Settings

Abstract
Many personal and scientific reasons are evoked in this volume to explain why researchers embark on the daunting and complex task of conducting comparisons across nations, societies and cultures. Comparativists are seeking to develop their own awareness and understanding by comparing the familiar with the unknown, advance knowledge by testing theory against practice, search for scientific explanations for observed phenomena, and learn from the exchange of information and experience. Increasingly, funding agencies require social and human science researchers to demonstrate the relevance of their findings for society and, by implication, for policy. Comparisons across time and space are called upon to produce evidence of the effectiveness of policies implemented in different spatiotemporal environments in response to similar socioeconomic trends, and to provide examples of good practice.
Linda Hantrais

7. Managing International Comparative Research

Abstract
Managing multinational teams engaged in comparative social sciences and humanities projects that cross national, societal or cultural boundaries is infinitely more complex than organizing single- or two-country studies carried out by lone researchers or small national teams. Whether it concerns the conceptualization of the research topic, the formulation of research questions, the selection of units of comparison, team members and methods, or the interpretation and dissemination of findings, the coordination of international teams is rarely a straightforward process. Just as reports on projects and articles in internationally refereed journals tend to gloss over many of the practical problems encountered, and the findings of projects that fail to meet their objectives may never be publicized, it is all too easy to disregard the challenging and divisive issues that arise when researchers from different cultures, languages and disciplines work together to explore a question of mutual interest from a comparative perspective.
Linda Hantrais
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