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In the past two decades comparative law scholars have rediscovered the importance of the debate on method. For a long time left in the background as a by-product of the old controversy on the epistemic status of the discipline, the ‘struggle for the methods’ has experienced a sudden revival. But does it really make sense to keep on engaging in a wearying confrontation among the various possible paradigms, once one recognizes that, as Patrick Glenn observed, ‘the history of comparative law is not one of adherence to a methodological norm but rather one of deviation and variety’? It makes sense, indeed, because ‘eclecticism’ as a theoretical perspective is itself the sign of the times and cannot strive for universal validity. Looking back at the history of comparative law, one is struck by the circumstance that throughout the formative era, the idea that obtained most credit in European intellectual circles was the opposite one, namely that ‘there is a comparative method’ (rectius: ‘Comparative Method’, as it was once written). This chapter is aimed at bringing back to light some distinctive traits of the original discourse on the ‘comparative method’ and highlighting the importance of the ‘scientific paradigm’ for the acceptance of comparative law as an autonomous subject of legal research.
Many of the historical and contemporary phenomena in which social scientists are interested are difficult to study using traditional methods of comparative analysis. Since most cases are complex systems – marked by interdependence and operating at multiple levels of analysis at once – controlling comparisons to adjudicate causality is fraught with difficulty. This chapter argues that scholars can use historical archival research to help disaggregate the temporal and spatial properties of the phenomena we hope to compare while also tracing connections among those disaggregated elements. Specifically, practices associated with archival inquiry – classifying, contextualizing, layering, and linking – allow us to identify the boundaries around subsystems that can be treated as relatively independent while identifying the hierarchical connections tying those substemic activities together. The chapter concludes by showing how William Tuttle’s masterful history of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 provides a template for comparing complex cases.
Comparison is a key tool in the social sciences. Scholars make comparisons across time and place to better understand our social and political worlds. A central technique that scholars use is often called ‘controlled comparison.’ Controlled comparisons rely on scholars holding possible explanations for the outcome of interest (e.g., revolutions or political participation) constant across different cases. This approach has been central to some of the most influential works of social science. It has helped scholars explain everything from divergent development outcomes to difference in regime type. Yet controlled comparisons are not the only form of comparison that scholars utilize to answer important questions. There is little guidance, however, for how to design or execute these comparisons or why research that does not rely on controlled comparisons can offer important insights. The goal of this edited volume is to begin to develop some of these guidelines. To do so, this volume explores two of the most fundamental questions in the study of politics: (1) why do scholars compare what they compare and (2) how do the methodological assumptions scholars make about why and how they compare shape the knowledge they produce? By answering these questions, the volume creates new resources for future students and researchers to draw upon in their efforts to advance knowledge.
If case study comparison is useful in the social sciences, it should be at least as useful as a way of understanding the political preferences and participation of individuals as it is for larger and more complex social categories such as organizations, parties, militaries, or states. Thus, qualitative comparisons involving the political preferences and activity of American billionaires will serve as a benchmark for the plausibility of various comparative frameworks. The chapter will demonstrate that applying Mill’s method-type comparison to billionaires generates inferential absurdities and also shows that regression-type logics of control are a poor fit for individual-level qualitative analysis. More feasible frameworks for understanding qualitative comparison at the individual level come both earlier and later in the inferential process. Cross-case comparisons are highly valuable for concept formation and theory building prior to any systematic effort at causal inference and also play a meaningful role in inferences about moderation effects after process tracing has been successful within each case. Furthermore, multi-case qualitative analysis that is not structured as explicit comparison can make crucial contributions to multi-method research on individuals.
What are the different ways in which we compare? Or to rephrase the query more precisely: What are the different ways in which we ordinarily use the word “compare”? This chapter distinguishes two ways of comparing, two uses of the word “compare,” to bring into clearer view a way of comparing that, despite being common to political science, often goes unnoticed. What are the two ways to compare? To compare juxtapositionally is to place similar kinds of things side by side to catalog their similarities and differences. To compare perspectivally is to draw an analogy between different kinds of things as a way to establish a vantage point from which to view one thing in terms of the other. Political science scholars who write about comparing usually focus their attention on comparing juxtapositinally – how to describe (and explain) patterns of similarity and difference across like kinds of things, events, processes, meanings, and so on. Yet political scientists routinely compare perspectivally as well. However, perspectival comparison has been the subject of far less methodological reflection in political science than has its juxtapositional cousin. By drawing attention to perspectival comparison, this chapter provides a set of starting points that political scientists may use to think more clearly about something that they would otherwise do unreflectively.
To what extent can an ethnographic sensibility enhance comparison? We argue that approaching comparison with an ethnographic sensibility – that is, being sensitive to how informants make sense of their worlds and incorporating meaning into our analyses – can strengthen comparative qualitative research. Adopting an ethnographic sensibility would enhance the quality of scholarly arguments by incorporating the processes through which actors ascribe meanings to their lived experiences and the political processes in which they are enmeshed. Because social science arguments often involve accounts of individual actors’ interests, ideas, or impressions, it is imperative to place such cognitive arguments in a broader cultural context. Adopting an ethnographic sensibility requires attention not only to that context but also to the political and social meanings which make that context intelligible. We elaborate these arguments through the lens of two comparative ethnographic works: a study of political mobilization in Bolivia and Mexico and a study of vigilantism in two South African townships.
Given the relative dominance of positivist epistemologies in political science, the most common mode of comparison is that of variation finding. Although such models can take many forms, the objective is to identify what factors or variables differ across the cases as a means to explain that variation. But other modes of comparative analysis are available. In particular, Charles Tilly’s notion of encompassing comparisons – examining similarities and differences across cases while recognizing that they are inextricably connected or related to some larger whole – may be a better model for explaining long-term political processes, such as state formation, colonialism, capitalism, or even the spread of massive protests across a large number of cases. In this chapter, I develop an encompassing comparison of the Arab uprisings. The approach does not see the uprisings as individual cases whose diverse outcomes yearn for explanation but rather as instances of mass resistance to larger, transnational processes, notably including securitization and neoliberalism. This is not to suggest that these processes caused the uprisings. But the idea is to explore the ways in which the different governments were connected to these larger processes and networks and the extent to which those supranational factors help explain the outcomes of the individual cases.
To rethink comparison, it is useful to begin with a more basic question: What are these things we compare when we do comparative research? Researchers are typically taught to think of a field site as a case (noun) that they will go out and study (verb). Cases are defined by virtue of the fact that they fall within a conceptually defined class: they exist “out there,” in a sense, before we even arrive. Valuable as it may be, this “realist” approach has often felt foreign to ethnographers and other practitioners of interpretive research. In the immersive work characteristic of interpretive research, we often enter research sites for practical and political reasons – or because of considerations related to language, cultural familiarity, funding, or something else. Even if we choose a site for primarily analytic purposes, we typically pursue research in ways that prioritize discovery and embrace changes in research interests, goals, and questions. For these and other reasons, we often wind up with an emerging study (noun) that we need to case (verb). As we develop accounts of experience-near concepts, relations, processes and practices, we repeatedly encounter the challenge of how to place them in dialogue with the experience-distant conceptual frameworks of our field. Examining what we have studied, we ask “what is this a case of?”
In an interview with Lisa Wedeen, one of the contemporary comparative political scientists whose work most consistently speaks to both political science and interdisciplinary audiences, the editors ask Wedeen to reflect on the role that comparison has played in her work. Wedeen is the author of three groundbreaking monographs on seemingly single cases – two on Syria and one on Yemen. Yet, in the course of the interview, it becomes apparent how profoundly comparative Wedeen’s work is. She discusses her comparison of “exemplary events” in her field sites as a method through which to draw broad lessons about politics from apparent ephemera. She discusses the comparisons she makes between ethnographic insights and political theory to tack back and forth between empirical and theoretical material with the goal of developing new ways to think about politics. And she discusses the ways in which these comparative practices make her work not just an empirical practice but also a political practice – one that makes the work of a comparative political scientist not just a career but a vocation.
The education of political and social scientific desire for area studies to be more like the disciplines or call it a day gives rise to doubts that in either event area studies have anything left to offer genuinely comparative inquiry. Their exotic charms, broadened horizons, and humorous vignettes notwithstanding, what can area studies really do for today’s determined comparativist? Are they irredeemably undisciplined or might they have discernible logics of comparison after all? What could justify the rubric of area studies as comparative method – and with what implications for rethinking how and why we compare? This chapter tackles these questions in three parts. In the first, it takes Asian studies as a sufficiently representative and capacious subcategory of area studies and critically reviews debates about the comparative qualities of political and social studies there. The second draws on the first to identify and challenge ontological and epistemological presuppositions of arguments discounting the inherently comparative qualities of area studies. The third makes a case for area studies not just as inherently comparative but also as a comparative method, one whose logics are unbound, deterritorializing, and found in translation. The chapter concludes not by calling for area studies to be reconciled with the disciplines but by comparing and celebrating their points of difference.
During the Cold War, comparisons between the state-socialist bloc and democracies sparked scholarly controversy. With scholars pursuing innovative comparisons between China and other political systems, it behooves us to revisit some of the questions that such comparisons pose. Specifically, when is it reasonable to pursue them, what is their purpose, and what do they entail? Giovanni Sartori usefully cautioned against comparing unlike entities, yet his advice was overly confining. Sometimes gaps or disjunctures between political phenomena in dissimilar political systems provide opportunities for innovation, even if they complicate Mill-style comparison. In particular, such projects can provide intellectual payoffs through the way in which they frame a topic of study, specify its universe of cases, and scrutinize the gains and risks of including phenomena from disparate contexts in a common category. Further, they provide opportunities for conceptual development by elaborating on and exploring these shared phenomena. Such cross-regime comparisons are not always feasible or useful. When successful, however, they can provide rich and thought-provoking new theoretical and conceptual departures. I illustrate this with examples from research projects comparing China with the democratic systems of India, Taiwan, France, and the United States.
This chapter examines the trajectory of a research project on militant organizations’ adaptation that began as a “classic” case comparison and was “re-cased” into an explicitly network-based comparison of intra-organizational networks. In doing so, it outlines a method of comparison focused primarily on roles, relations, and emergence rather than on organizational form or behavior. The chapter starts by discussing the project’s initial research design, which proposed a study of militant organizations across three Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon that largely adhered to Millian logic. The project dedicated extensive research time to establishing a pre-invasion “control” by seeking to demonstrate pre-shock organizational uniformity across the communities under study. However, the evidence gathered often complicated or contradicted logics of control, independence, causality, and identification that undergird dominant approaches to comparison. Rather, it repeatedly indicated that complex, relational, often contingent interactions among geographic environment, communities’ interpretations of violence, and organizational structures influenced outcomes of interest. The chapter leverages this experience to establish core tenets of a broader approach to studying organizational change in comparative perspective.
What does it mean to advance women’s status and well-being? And how should we think about the role of the state in bringing about that advancement? Our work analyzes the approach and role of the state in promoting women’s empowerment, drawing on large-N country-level data and in-depth case studies of state action in the United States, Norway, and Japan. Our three country cases vary greatly in terms of the state’s approach to women’s rights; we picked them because we believe them to be extreme examples of how state action is driven by different visions of what women’s empowerment is about. Conducting fieldwork in these different contexts allows us to study some of the variation in people’s views of both state action and empowerment. It sharpens our awareness of important assumptions that underlie studies of empowerment. It also helps us determine the right questions to ask. To the extent that we study causal relationships, we do so based on large-N data within cases, not across them. And rather than assume that the same causal patterns apply across cases, we draw on our fieldwork to better understand why the same policies produce vastly different effects in different contexts. This chapter is a reflection on some of the goals of comparative studies that are unrelated to drawing causal inferences, and how to think about research design and case selection to achieve these goals.
In spite of their long history of contact, exchange, and dialogue, Chinese and Latin American cultures constitute a challenge for comparative, transregional, and world-literary thought. By drawing on examples of literary and cultural contact between these two cultures that emerge through a closer look at the 1965 novel Farabeuf by Mexican writer Salvador Elizondo, this chapter will diagnose some of the challenges of comparative, relational, and world-literary methods. It models a transregional critique as a multi-scalar, poly-comparative approach to thinking about shared literary and cultural worlds: as histories marked by Orientalist fantasies, networks of literary circulation, translation, and influence, as well as by the challenges of literary worlding in the face of global power dynamics.
Catullus 68 is largely composed of similes, and the chapter discusses how the similes in the poem appear to try to describe the poet’s emotions and experience by creating analogies; in the end, Catullus’ efforts to capture his experience in words are revealed as futile, since each of his attempts to illustrate something just ends up taking him further away from the thing itself.
Zainichi Koreans are the descendants of colonial subjects who migrated to Japan from 1910 to 1945, when Korea was part of the Japanese empire. In 1952, the Japanese state stripped them of their nationality status and left them stateless. Like racial minority groups in other societies, Korean descendants still face systemic discrimination in contemporary Japan. Although they were colonized by a non-European power and are not physically distinct from the dominant Japanese population, their situation is often compared to that of African Americans. Yet, for scholars who think that race is necessarily based on “phenotype,” anti-Korean oppression cannot qualify as an instance of racism in Japan and the comparison with Black Americans is misguided. This article explores the intellectual and political issues at stake in debates over the use of racial comparisons—what I call the “racial politics of comparison.” Examining the views of scholars and Zainichi Korean activists, I show how the latter have drawn inspiration from the Black liberation struggle and built alliances with African Americans in order to resist oppression. I argue that their unique situation forces us to revise the role attributed to phenotype in current definitions of race and racism.
Most historians and social scientists treat cities as mere settings. In fact, urban places shape our experience. There, daily life has a faster, artificial rhythm and, for good and ill, people and agencies affect each other through externalities (uncompensated effects) whose impact is inherently geographical. In economic terms, urban concentration enables efficiency and promotes innovation while raising the costs of land, housing, and labour. Socially, it can alienate or provide anonymity, while fostering new forms of community. It creates congestion and pollution, posing challenges for governance. Some effects extend beyond urban borders, creating cultural change. The character of cities varies by country and world region, but it has generic qualities, a claim best tested by comparing places that are most different. These qualities intertwine, creating built environments that endure. To fully comprehend such path dependency, we need to develop a synthetic vision that is historically and geographically informed.
Global social indicators, as a form of governance and soft regulation, exert pressure for change and compliance through the way they compare and rank the relative performance of states or other units. Is it reasonable then to expect the comparisons they make in the process of carrying out such strategic exercises to be accurate and fair? In particular, how far can they, or should they, be required to be faithful to the requirement to ‘compare like with like’. Using as an example the role of indicators in documenting and responding to the current coronavirus epidemic, I investigate the way their hybrid combination of both comparison and commensuration may help to account for the difficulty they have had so far in establishing stable rankings of best practice.
This essay argues that the association of secularism and modernity has obscured the transnational importance of religion in the new modernist studies. It reviews recent studies of religion in selected modernist writers, but argues for more interdisciplinary methodologies, including religious studies, postcolonial studies, and comparative studies. After mapping key debates about religion, it pairs comparative readings of religion and anti-colonialism in Tagore’s Gora and Forster’s A Passage to India, and in Huda Shaarawi’s Harem Years: Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist and H.D.’s The Flowering of the Rod, centered on unveiling. Whether spiritually or politically oriented, all envision forms of religious cosmopolitanism.
Climate change makes fossil fuels unburnable, yet global coal production has almost doubled over the last 20 years. This book explores how the world can stop mining coal - the most prolific source of greenhouse gas emissions. It documents efforts at halting coal production, focusing specifically on how campaigners are trying to stop coal mining in India, Germany, and Australia. Through in-depth comparative ethnography, it shows how local people are fighting to save their homes, livelihoods, and environments, creating new constituencies and alliances for the transition from fossil fuels. The book relates these struggles to conflicts between global climate policy and the national coal-industrial complex. With coal's meaning transformed from an important asset to a threat, and the coal industry declining, it charts reasons for continuing coal dependence, and how this can be overcome. It will provide a source of inspiration for energy transition for researchers in environment, sustainability, and politics, as well as policymakers.