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The Theory and Practice of Comparative Sociology

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Comparative Sociology and Social Theory
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Sociology is in essence a comparative discipline, as Durkheim recognized when he wrote that ‘Comparative sociology is not a special branch of sociology; it is sociology itself (1982, p. 157). As soon as we go beyond purely descriptive accounts into the realms of analysis and explanation, sociologists are necessarily involved in making comparisons, since it is only through comparisons that the particular characteristics of different social situations and relationships can be distinguished from their more general, universal features. In this enterprise, social theory plays a central role by providing frameworks through which comparisons can be made and analyses and explanations developed. It was in the course of developing her critique of atheoretical, descriptive accounts that Stacey argued that ‘The most valuable researches in the field of sociology are those which can be used comparatively’ (1969, p. 138). Stacey emphasized the need to be clear about what it is that is being compared, and what methods of comparison are being employed, if comparative sociologists are to contribute to the development of the discipline.

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© 1997 Graham Crow

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Crow, G. (1997). The Theory and Practice of Comparative Sociology. In: Comparative Sociology and Social Theory. Palgrave, London.

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