Comparative Research Design

Prof. Dirk Berg-Schlosser, University of Marburg

This course provides an introduction and overview of systematic comparative analyses in social sciences and shows how to implement this method for constructive explanation and theory building.

It begins with comparisons of very few cases and specific “most similar” and “most different” research designs. A major part of the course is devoted to the often occurring situation of dealing with a small number of highly complex cases, e.g., when comparing Latin American political systems or particular policy areas.

New approaches and softwares have been developed in recent years (“Qualitative Comparative Analysis”, QCA, and related methods), which are able to reduce complexity and to arrive at “configurational” solutions based on set theory and Boolean algebra, which are more meaningful in this context than the usual broad-based statistical methods.
In a last section more common statistical comparative methods at the macro-level of states or societies are presented and the respective strengths and weaknesses discussed.
Participants are strongly encouraged to present their own research problems and data, if available.

Some basic quantitative or qualitative methodological training is probably useful to get more out of the course, but participants with little methodological training should find no major obstacles to follow.

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