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Internationally Comparative Research Designs in the Social Sciences: Fundamental Issues, Case Selection Logics, and Research Limitations

International vergleichende Forschungsdesigns in den Sozialwissenschaften: Grundlagen, Fallauswahlstrategien und Grenzen

Abstract

This paper synthesizes methodological knowledge derived from comparative survey research and comparative politics and aims to enable researches to make prudent research decisions. Starting from the data structure that can occur in international comparisons at different levels, it suggests basic definitions for cases and contexts, i. e. the main ingredients of international comparison. The paper then goes on to discuss the full variety of case selection strategies in order to highlight their relative advantages and disadvantages. Finally, it presents the limitations of internationally comparative social science research. Overall, the paper suggests that comparative research designs must be crafted cautiously, with careful regard to a variety of issues, and emphasizes the idea that there can be no one-fits-all solution.

Zusammenfassung

Dieser Beitrag bietet eine Synopse zentraler methodischer Aspekte der vergleichenden Politikwissenschaft und Umfrageforschung und zielt darauf ab, Sozialwissenschaftler zu reflektierten forschungspraktischen Entscheidungen zu befähigen. Ausgehend von der Datenstruktur, die bei internationalen Vergleichen auf verschiedenen Ebenen vorzufinden ist, werden grundsätzliche Definitionen für Fälle und Kontexte, d. h. die zentralen Bestandteile des internationalen Vergleichs, vorgestellt. Anschließend wird die gesamte Bandbreite an Strategien zur Fallauswahl diskutiert, wobei auf ihre jeweiligen Vor- und Nachteile eingegangen wird. Im letzten Teil werden die Grenzen international vergleichender Forschung in den Sozialwissenschaften dargelegt. Der Beitrag plädiert für ein umsichtiges Design vergleichender Forschung, welches einer Vielzahl von Aspekten Rechnung trägt; dabei wird ausdrücklich betont, dass es keine Universallösung gibt.

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Notes

  1. One could argue that there are no N = 1 studies at all, and that every case study is “comparative”. The rationale for such an opinion is that it is hard to imagine a case study which is conducted without any reference to other cases, including theoretically possible (but factually nonexisting) ideal cases, paradigmatic cases, counterfactual cases, etc.

  2. This exposition might suggest that only the combinations of “most independent variables vary and the outcome is similar between cases” and “most independent variables are similar and the outcome differs between cases” are possible. Ragin’s (1987, 2000, 2008) proposal of QCA (see also Schneider and Wagemann 2012) however shows that diversity (Ragin 2008, p. 19) can also lie on both sides. Only those designs in which nothing varies, i. e. where the cases are similar and also have similar outcomes, do not seem to be very analytically interesting.

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Acknowledgements

Equal authors listed in alphabetical order. We would like to thank Ingo Rohlfing, Anne-Kathrin Fischer, Heiner Meulemann and Hans-Jürgen Andreß for their detailed feedback, and all the participants of the book workshop for their further comments. We are grateful to Jonas Elis for his linguistic suggestions.

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Goerres, A., Siewert, M.B. & Wagemann, C. Internationally Comparative Research Designs in the Social Sciences: Fundamental Issues, Case Selection Logics, and Research Limitations. Köln Z Soziol 71, 75–97 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11577-019-00600-2

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Keywords

  • International comparison
  • Comparative designs
  • Quantitative and qualitative comparisons
  • Case selection

Schlüsselwörter

  • Internationaler Vergleich
  • Vergleichende Studiendesigns
  • Quantitativer und qualitativer Vergleich
  • Fallauswahl