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In Ada W. Finifter, ed. (1993) Political Science: ‘The State of the Discipline Il. 5 Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association, a ES ES The Comparative Method David Collier Comparison is «Fundamental tool of analysis. Tt sharpens our power of description, and plays « ceatral role ia concept formation by bringing ialo focus suggestive similarities and contrasts among cases. Coniparison is routinely used in testing hypotheses, and it can contribute to the inductive discovery of new hypotheses and to theory-bulding. ‘The forms of comparison employed in the discipline of political science vary widely and include those contained in statistical analysis, experimental research, aad historical stdies, At the sxme time, the label “comparative method” has «standard meaning within the discipline and in the socal ecioaces more broadly: it efers to the methodological issues that arise in the systematic analysis of small number of cases, or ‘small N."! This chaptr examizes altemative perspectives on the comparative method that have emerged over roughly te past two decades. Although the primary foeus is on discussions located in the fields of conparative politics aad intematoaal studies, the application of the comparative method is by no means restricted to those fields. ‘The decision to analyze only «few casos is strongly influenced by the types of political phenomena uncer study and how they are conceptualized. Topics for which it is productive to examine relatively Few cases include revolutions, particular types of national political regimes (eg, post-communist regimes), or particular forme of urtan political systems. This focus on a small number of cases is adopted because thete exis relatively fo instances of the phenomenon under consideration that exhibit the attributes of interes o the analyst. ‘Altematively, some analysis believe that politcal Phenomena in goneral are best understood through the ‘careful examination ofa small number of cases. In the field of comparative and intersationl sudies, the practice of focusing on few cases has achieved greater legitimacy {n event years in conjunction with the rise ofthe echo! of "comparative historial analysis," in which small numbers of countries are studied over long petiods. This close scrutiny of eech couatry limits the number of national cases a scholar can consider ‘Choosing to study few cases routinely poses problem of having more rival explanations to assess than ‘casce to observe, or the quandary of ‘many variables, ‘small N* (Lijphart 1971, 686). Elementary statistics teaches us that as the number of explanatory factors approaches the number of cases, the eapacity to adjudicate amoug the explanations through statistical ‘comparizon repidly diminishes. This problem has stime- lated much discussion of how most productively to saalyze a small N. ‘The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a boom in waiting on comparative method (c.g., Merritt and Rokkan 1966; Kalleberg 1966; Verba 1967; Smelser 1968; Lasswell 1968; Praeworski and Teune 1970; Sartori 1970; Merritt 1970; Etzioni and Dubow 1970; Lijphart 1971; Vallier 1971: Zelditch 1971; Ammer and Grimshaw 1973). ‘This literature established a set of norms and practices for emall-N research, proposed alternative strategies for conducting such analyses, and crested a base ling of understanding that has played an important role in the ongoing practice of small-N studies. This chapter assesses the issues of comparative method that have been debated in the intervening years and considers: their implications for ongoing research. The point of departure ig Arced Lijphart's (1971) article *Comparative Polities and Comparative Method.” Among the studies published in tht period, Lijphart's piece stands out for its imaginative synthesis of basic issues of comparison and of the relation between comparative method and other ‘branches of methodology? It therefore provides a helpful framework for examining, and building upon, new developments in the field. ‘Avcentral theme that emerges in the discussion below is that refinements in methods of small-N analysis hheve evbetantially broadened the range of techniques: available to comparative researchers. The most fruitful approach is eclectic, one in which scholars are willing, and able to draw upon these diverse techniques. 105 ‘The Comparative Method Synopsis of Lijphart LLijpbart defines the comparative method as the analysis of a small number of cases, entailing at least two ‘bservations, yet too few to permit the application of conventional statistical analysis. A central goal of bis article is to assess the comparative method in relation to three other methods~experimental, statistical, and case~ study-aad to evaluate thaco different approaches by two criteria: 1) how well they achieve the goal of testing thoory through adjudicating among rival explanations, and 2) how difficult itis to acquice the data needed to employ each method (see Figure 1). ‘Tho experimental method has the marit of providing strong criteria for eliminating rival explanations through experimental coatrel, but unfortunately itis impossible to generate appropriate experimental data for most topics relevant to political analysis. The statistical method bas the merit of ascassing rival explanations through the weaker but still valuable procedure of statistical control, but itis often not feasible to collect a sufficiently lerge st of relisble data to do this form of anal ‘The cace-ttudy method bas the merit of providing a framework in which a scholar with modest time and resources can generato what may potentially be useful data on a particular case. Unfortunately, opportunities for systematically testing hypotheses are far sore limited than with the other mathods. Yet Lijphart (pp. 691-93) insists that case studies do make & ‘contribution to tasting hypothaces and building theory, and he offers a suggestive typology of case studies based ‘on the nature of this contribution. He distinguishes among asheoretical case studies; interpretative case studies (that self-consciously use a theory to illuminate a particular case); hypothesis-generating case studies; theory-confirming case studies; theory-infirming case studies (that, although they canaot by themselves disconfirma theory, can raise doubts about it); and deviant case analyses (that seek to elaborste and refine ivory through 2 clove examination of a case that departs from the predictions of an established theory). Lijphart emphasizes that "certain types of case studies can even be considered implicit parte of the comparative method” (9. (691), and to the extent thatthe assessment of hypotheses does occur in seme ease studies, it is often because the case studies are placed in an implicit or explicit comparative framework. Yet even within this framework, he emphasizes that findings from a single case should not be given much weight in the evaluation of hypotheses and theory (p. 691). ‘The comperstive method, as defined by Lijphat, thas an intermediate satus in terms of both bis criteria. It provides a weaker basis than the experimental or statistical method for evaluating hypotheses, due tothe eck of experimental control and the prcblem of many variables, small N. Yet it does offer x stionger bass for evaluating hypotheses than do case studies. Despite the ‘constraint of addressing more Variables than cases, the comparative method allows systematic comparison thet, if appropriately utilized, can contribute to adjudicating among rival explanations. Although the data requirements of the comparative method may be much greater thaa for case studies, Lijphart argues that they are less demanding than for experimental or statistical research. He thorofore ‘views the comparative method as most appropriae in research bused on modest resources, and he suggests that studies using the comparative method might often serve ‘as a first step toward Statiscical analysis. fa all possible one should generally use the statstial (or perhaps even the ex method instzal of te wesker comparative ‘method. But of, given the ineviuble scarey of ine, energy, and Gnascial resources, the intensive comparative analysis fof s few cases may be mere promising then ‘a more supertiia satistical analysis of ‘many cases, In uch sition, the most fruiful approach would be w regard the ‘compartive analysis es the fist sage o research, i whieh hypetbeses are carfully formulated, and the statistical analysis asthe second stage, in which diese hypotheses are tested in a5 large a sample as possible 971, 685) Lijpbart also proposes solutions to both sides of the problem of many variables, small N (1971, 686 1). ‘With regard to the small number of cases, even if rescershers stop short of a statistical study, they can ‘nonetheless try to increase the number of cases used in assessing hypotheses. With regard to the large number of variables, he suggests two approaches. First, analysts can focus on “comparable cases,” that is, on cases that ') are matched oa miny variables that are not central t0 the study, thus in effect “controlling” for these variables; and b) differ in terms of the key variables that are the focus of analysis, therchy allowing a more adequate assessment of their influence. Hence, the selection of ‘cases acts as a partcl substitute for statistical or experimental control. Second, analysts can reduce the number of variables either by combining variables in 2 single scale or through theoretical parsimony, that is, through developing @ theory that focuses on a smaller ‘number of explanatory factors. ‘Thus, Lijpbart provides a compact formulation of the relationship between the comparative method and ‘Figure 1. Situating the Comparstive Method as of 1971: Lijphart’s Scheme Case Study Method Comparative Method Exparimantal Mathod | Mont ] | ert: Parmtsines | Bewannwons | | | ed reseureas. Inherent Protiem: Contributes loss te building theory tnan studios wth mare | cases | Types of case stu | dies 1. Athearetic! | 2.tmerpretve 3. Hypotnesis- generating Theaey-contrming Thearyinteming (8, case states that weaken teory marginaty) Deviant casa studios [Detined as: Syste [patie anes of smal ‘eumber of e080 | CsmalbN" analysis) Mert: “Given inevi fla scarcity of tie, | energy. and financial rasoutees, th itor ‘sve anaiyasof afew ‘casos may De more | promeing han tho ‘supericialstalsical analysis of many ceases" (Uhr. 588) | Innerent ProDtem: Weak capacity 0 sort | cut rival explanations, specifica the proo- fom el "any vari ‘ables, few cases Potential Solutions 4, Reduce number of vansbies Combine var- bi ». Employ more par- simorious theory Merit: Eiminaies rival ‘xplanauons trough experimental conta! Inherent Problem: Experimental eonvolis impossible for many or ‘most topics of retevance ta fold of ‘comparative polities ‘Statistical Metnod Marit: Assasses rival explaraions throvah statistical conto! Inherent Protiem: Diticut i-cllect acs. quale iniormaton in a eufficient numberof eases, que to amitec lime and roeources Collioe 107