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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.
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.
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.
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