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We explain the concept of dilemmas and how they underpin the logic of interpretive comparison. Existing work in interpretive theory refers mainly to ‘Big-D’ dilemmas that focus on ideational conflicts between traditions such as the clash between neoliberalism and state ownership. We add the notion of ‘small-d’ dilemmas that focus on the everyday, the routine and the mundane, choices, ‘court’ politics and realpolitik. We suggest that empirical, comparative, interpretive social science research revolves around the process of identifying the dilemmas that actors experience and the ways they respond to them, and puzzling about whether they vary according to the traditions in which they are situated. We suggest rules of thumb for identifying dilemmas.
We outline briefly the difference between naturalism and humanism before providing a summary of our key concepts of decentring, situated agency and plausible conjectures. In effect, we set the theoretical scene for the rest of the book and the underpinnings for comparative analysis based on dilemmas. We challenge the naturalist mantra of ‘different tools, shared standards’ and provide an alternative account of what constitutes valuable and rigorous interpretive research. We set out a new set of criteria by which interpretive comparative work should be assessed and towards which interpretive comparative researchers ought to strive. We focus on accuracy, openness and aesthetics. We show that not anything goes in comparative interpretive research.
The chapter introduces the idea of creative intuition and interpretation before summarising the book's contents. At the heart of this book is the idea of comparative intuition. People in general, and social scientists in particular, are engaged in ‘constant comparison’. Comparison is what enables us to make sense of events as they unfold across time and space. Interpretive research offers a distinctive approach to the comparative intuition because it consciously offers interpretations of interpretations. This chapter has five substantive sections. First, we outline our basic argument for a consciously and explicitly comparative interpretive approach. Second, we provide a brief summary of the interpretive approach. Third, we seek to justify the rigour and sensitivity of a comparative interpretive orientation. Fourth, we foreshadow in greater depth the structure of the book and detail of its component chapters. Finally, we provide guidance for readers on how to use the book, and in particular on how to combine its insights with those stemming from canonical texts in the field.
We explain, and illustrate with examples drawn from our own work, how interpretive researchers analyse comparative data. We argue that a comparative project compounds the uncertainty, confusion and paralysis that can set in when confronted with a 'mountain' of qualitative data. We argue it is not possible to 'somehow capture' this full complexity. We outline and defend the need for a consciously impressionistic orientation to data analysis. Rather than searching for a ‘Eureka!’ moment that confirms or refutes a narrow theory (in naturalist mode) or makes sense of the whole picture (in idiographic mode), a comparative focus on dilemmas enables the use of a kaleidoscope of different analytical lenses and tools to explore complex specificness in context. We outline rules of thumb for helping along the way.
In the Retrospective, we turn our methods back on our own book and ask, ‘what are the dilemmas of using the approach we advocate?’ It is an exercise in professional reflexivity as we reflect on the personal dilemmas that we navigated in writing this book. We ask, ‘what are the dilemmas of using our comparative approach?' Also, we impress upon the reader the merits of our approach by summarising the key terms of both the interpretive approach and our comparative interpretive approach. It is a short cut for those who like to skim books before reading them.
We outline the place of fieldwork in comparative interpretive research. Detailed qualitative fieldwork is central to most interpretive research, but practical guidance on how to navigate the field remains rooted to the idiographic tradition. The presumption is one of sustained immersion in a discrete setting. Interpretive comparison, however, necessarily requires partial immersion across multiple sites in shorter, more interrupted bursts. We call this yo-yoing. Crucially, the researcher must be alert to the surprises and moments of epiphany that can challenge initial assumptions and open new possibilities. We seek here to develop and illustrate key ‘rules of thumb’ that will enable researchers to manage the challenges and maximise the opportunities.
We look at the craft of writing. Although we discuss the challenges of writing that confront all social scientists, we focus on the dilemmas of writing up comparative interpretive research – dilemmas which we confront because we speak to a broader range of audiences. In doing so, we highlight the importance of seeing writing as integral to the research process, not something that starts once the research is done. We identify the rules of thumb for writing both linear and evocative narratives and discuss the dilemmas encountered in both approaches.
We look at how to design a comparative interpretive project and tackle the perennial case selection question. The problem here is one of justifying unorthodox comparison: a lot has been written on comparative case selection from a naturalist perspective, but this language is often an uncomfortable fit for interpretive projects. We argue that case selection is not something that is designed into a project from inception. For interpretive research, it changes as we go. We therefore suggest different strategies of case selection for different phases of a comparative interpretive project. We identify rules of thumb to guide design choices as the project or programme evolves.
Is it possible to compare French presidential politics with village leadership in rural India? Most social scientists are united in thinking such unlikely juxtapositions are not feasible. Boswell, Corbett and Rhodes argue that they are possible. This book explains why and how. It is a call to arms for interpretivists to embrace creatively comparative work. As well as explaining, defending and illustrating the comparative interpretive approach, this book is also an engaging, hands-on guide to doing comparative interpretive research, with chapters covering design, fieldwork, analysis and writing. The advice in each revolves around 'rules of thumb', grounded in experience, and illustrated through stories and examples from the authors' research in different contexts around the world. Naturalist and humanist traditions have thus far dominated the field but this book presents a real alternative to these two orthodoxies which expands the horizons of comparative analysis in social science research.
Malnourished HIV-infected patients starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) are at high risk of early mortality, some of which may be attributed to altered electrolyte metabolism. We used data from a randomised controlled trial of electrolyte-enriched lipid-based nutritional supplements to assess the association of baseline and time-varying serum phosphate and K concentrations with mortality within the first 12 weeks after starting ART. Baseline phosphate results were available from 1764 patients and there were 9096 subsequent serum phosphate measurements, a median of 6 per patient. For serum K there were 1701 baseline and 8773 subsequent measures, a median of 6 per patient. Abnormally high or low serum phosphate was more common than high or low serum K. Controlling for other factors found to affect mortality in this cohort, low phosphate which had not changed from the previous time interval was associated with increased mortality; the same was not true for high phosphate or for high or low K. Both increases and decreases in serum electrolytes from the previous time interval were generally associated with increased mortality, particularly in the electrolyte-supplemented group. The results suggest that changes in serum electrolytes, largely irrespective of the starting point and the direction of change, were more strongly associated with mortality than were absolute electrolyte levels. Although K and phosphate are required for tissue deposition during recovery from malnutrition, further studies are needed to determine whether specific supplements exacerbate physiologically adverse shifts in electrolyte levels during nutritional rehabilitation of ill malnourished HIV patients.
Traditional solar power applications largely avoid using the infrared spectrum. Nevertheless, this region makes up about 45% of the solar power spectrum and therefore represents an untapped resource. Temperature control of buildings represents a significant cost for both businesses and private consumers. We are interested in developing thermochromic materials for building coatings to help moderate solar infrared absorption and thereby offset temperature control costs for buildings. Our initial effort in this study has been to characterize materials which might represent starting points for our research. We previously designed and 3D-printed an optical test platform to perform reflectance measurements with an ultraviolet-visible-near infrared spectrometer over a spectral range from 200-1000nm. The test platform temperature can be adjusted in real time using Peltier modules. In this study, a sample of microencapsulated 7-anilino-3-diethylamino-6-methyl fluoran was studied by diffuse reflectance spectroscopy from 15-40 degrees Celsius. Scanning electron microscopy was used to characterize the dye particles. Temperature and spectral data were monitored while the sample temperature was adjusted. The visible diffuse reflectance from the sample increased from around 15% below the transition to more than 40% above the transition. A modification of this fluoran which extends the switching behavior into the infrared may be viable for passive thermo-optical switching in building coatings.
In recent years titanium nitride is being considered as a very promising
plasmonic material for data storage applications as it exhibits a pronounced
plasmonic dipolar resonance and has high thermal stability. However, there is a
lack of research where higher order resonance modes are examined. We address
this here by performing angle dependent spectral transmission measurements
nanodisks arrays made from titanium nitride. The measurements show strong
polarization dependence with s-polarized light causing excitation of the
quadrupole and higher order resonance plasmonic modes. These higher order modes
are required for the state-of-the-art designs of near-field transducers. This,
together with its outstanding thermal properties, makes TiN a favourable
material for data storage applications.