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Achieving Comparability of Secondary Data

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Research Design in Political Science
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‘Comparison is the methodological core of the scientific study of politics’ (Almond, Powell, Strom and Dalton, 2001, p. 399). Political scientists compare to find either particularities or generalities. In the first case, different contexts are used as ‘objects of analyses’ and are themselves the centre of attention (Kohn, 1987, p. 714). For instance, a researcher comparing Norway with Finland and Sweden is not primarily interested in testing general hypotheses about Scandinavia but wants to learn something about Norway. The second, more prominent field of research makes comparisons to test general assumptions in different contexts, which are then the ‘units of analyses’: ‘The more evidence we can find in varied contexts, the more powerful our explanation becomes, and the more confidence we and others should have in our conclusions’ (King, Keohane and Verba, 1994, p. 30; cf. pp. 208–9). The logic behind this argument is clear: The more often a theory test is repeated, the more telling the results. Investigators can expand their number of observations by looking at diverse geographical or cultural contexts (for example, nations, regions, cities), by comparing across time, by relying on different levels of aggregation or different datasets. Irrespective of the decision which way investigators follow, they first have to check ‘whether the new units are appropriate for the replication of [their] hypothesis’ (King, Keohane and Verba, 1994, p. 229).

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© 2007 Julia Rathke

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Rathke, J. (2007). Achieving Comparability of Secondary Data. In: Gschwend, T., Schimmelfennig, F. (eds) Research Design in Political Science. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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