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Principles of Comparative Research. Some review slides Robert Thomson. Some themes that run through the course. The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is stylistic Empirical research of all types should be theory-driven

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Principles of comparative research

Principles of Comparative Research

Some review slides

Robert Thomson

Some themes that run through the course
Some themes that run through the course

  • The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is stylistic

  • Empirical research of all types should be theory-driven

  • Develop theories that explain as much as possible with as little as possible

  • Report uncertainty

  • Develop rival hypotheses

A social scientist should always be able to answer how would you know if you were wrong

A social scientist should always be able to answer: “How would you know if you were wrong?”

Defining social scientific research
Defining social scientific research

  • Science is a set of principles, whose application is not restricted to a particular empirically defined subject area

  • The ultimate goal is causal inference

  • Procedures are public

  • Conclusions are uncertain

What are the boundaries within which the scientific method applies in political science
What are the boundaries within which the scientific method applies in political science?

  • To both basic and applied research that is empirical

  • Not directly to non empirical (purely theoretical, sometimes normative) research

    • But even in these traditions, researchers refer to facts about and relationships found in politics

Causal inference
Causal inference applies in political science?

  • Theories give explanations of classes of phenomena (e.g. the occurrence of wars, the duration of governments, choice of parties by voters)

  • Theories state causal relationships between variables

  • Theories simplify

  • Inference involves moving from observed to unobserved cases (e.g. from samples of respondents to entire populations)

Towards causal inference
Towards causal inference applies in political science?

  • Draw out observable implications of the theory

  • Select cases for study that allow you to move beyond these particular observations - this often means ensuring they are representative

  • Pay careful attention to accurate description

Public procedures
Public procedures applies in political science?

  • A social enterprise

  • Replicable

    • The derivation of hypotheses and predictions from a theory

    • The measurement of concepts

    • The analysis of relationships among variables

Uncertainty applies in political science?

Due to:

  • making inferences from observed to unobserved cases

  • the complexity of social phenomena

    • multiple causes

    • rudimentary theory

  • measurement error

  • rival theories

    Research is never finished

Evaluating research
Evaluating research applies in political science?

  • This implies that, at a minimum, social scientific research should:

    • lead to valid causal inferences

    • contain clear reports of procedure

    • report sources and levels of uncertainty

  • Contrast this with: “Like any creative work, research should be evaluated subjectively, according to informal and rather flexible criteria” (Shively 2002: 10)

This applies to both quantitative and qualitative research
This applies to both quantitative and qualitative research applies in political science?

  • Quantitative social research

    • Abstraction from particular events

    • Sometimes applies formal theory

    • Numerical measurement of concepts

  • Qualitative social research

    • Smaller number of cases, usually important in their own right

    • Rich descriptive approach to data gathering and analysis

Political science often combines quantitative and qualitative methods
Political science often combines quantitative and qualitative methods

  • E.g.

    • Government efficiency in Italy (Putman 1993)

    • International economic cooperation (Martin 1992)

    • Decision-making in the European Union (Hix 2006)

    • Democratic performance/ pledge fulfilment in various countries (e.g. Mansergh 2005; Thomson 2001)

The main components of a research design
The main components of a research design qualitative methods

A dynamic process within a stable set of rules of inquiry

  • Research questions

  • Theory

  • Deciding how and what to observe

    • Measurement

    • Case selection

  • Analysing data

Research questions
Research questions qualitative methods

  • Where do they come from?

    • “there is no such thing as a logical method of having new ideas… Discovery contains an ‘irrational element’, or a ‘creative intuition’” (Karl Popper 1968 32)

  • Unlike other parts of the research design, little to no formalised procedures

Real reasons for choosing a particular question
“Real reasons” for choosing a particular question qualitative methods

  • Personal motives

    • Membership of/affinity with the group affected by the topic

    • To help some group achieve its goals

    • Curiosity

  • Neither necessary nor sufficient

  • The scientific community does not care what we think, only what we can demonstrate

    • Contrast this with Blaikie (2000: 48): “It is important for researchers to articulate their motives for undertaking a research project, as different motives may require different research design decisions.”

Guidelines for selecting questions
Guidelines for selecting questions qualitative methods

  • Social and scientific relevance

  • Social relevance

    • “important” in the real world

  • Scientific relevance

    • A contribution to a scientific body of knowledge

Types of scientific relevance
Types of scientific relevance qualitative methods

  • A hypothesis that is presented as being important but has not yet been examined systematically

  • An accepted hypothesis believed to be false

  • (Apparently) contradictory hypotheses from different theories

  • (Apparently) contradictory findings

  • A new test of an old theory

  • Transfer of theories from other (sub) disciplines

  • Replication

Types of research questions
Types of research questions qualitative methods

  • Descriptive and explanatory

    • What (Descriptive)

    • Why (Explanatory)

    • How questions (Interventionist) (Blaikie 2000)

  • Relation to research objectives

    • Exploration

    • Description

    • Understanding

    • Explanation

    • Prediction

    • Change

    • Evaluation

  • Causal inference as the ultimate scientific objective?

Blaikie s procedure for identifying questions
Blaikie’s procedure for identifying questions qualitative methods

  • Write down every question you can think of

  • Review the questions (order and prioritise)

  • Separate what, why and how questions (reformulate so you can put them into these boxes)

  • Expose assumptions

  • Examine scope (practicalities)

  • Separate major and subsidiary questions

  • Is each question necessary?

  • Does any researcher do it like this?

  • Graham allison philip zelikow 1999 essence of decision explaining the cuban missile crisis 2 nd ed
    Graham Allison & Philip Zelikow qualitative methods(1999) Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis 2nd. Ed.

    • Stated research questions

      • Why did the Soviet Union place strategic offensive missiles in Cuba?

      • Why did the US respond with a naval quarantine of Soviet shipments to Cuba?

      • Why were the missiles withdrawn?

      • What are the lessons of the missile crisis?

    Allison s general argument
    Allison’s general argument qualitative methods

    • We think about problems of foreign and military policy in terms of largely implicit conceptual models

    • The Rational Actor Model dominates

    • Two other models – the organisational behaviour model and the governmental politics model – provide improved explanations

    Allison s implicit overarching research question
    Allison’s (implicit) overarching research question qualitative methods

    • What is the relative power of three competing theories in explaining the Cuban missile crisis?

      • Rational Actor Model

      • Organisational Behaviour Model

      • Governmental Politics Model

    Specific research questions associated with each theory
    Specific research questions associated with each theory qualitative methods

    • Rational Actor questions included

      • What were the objective (or perceived) costs and benefits of the available options?

      • What were the states’ best choices in this situation?

    • Organisational Behaviour questions included

      • Of what organisations did the governments consist?

      • What capabilities and constraints did these organisations’ “standard operating procedures” create in generating options for action?

    Specific questions cont
    Specific questions cont. qualitative methods

    • Governmental Politics questions included

      • Who played? Whose views and values counted in shaping the choices for actions?

      • What factors accounted for each player’s impact on the choices for action?

    George tsebelis 2002 veto players how political institutions work
    George Tsebelis (2002) qualitative methodsVeto Players: How Political Institutions Work

    • Presents and tests a general theory of political institutions

    • Examines the consequences of variations in the numbers and locations of veto players in political systems

    • Main focus on policy stability – causes and consequences

    Veto players and policy stability the winset
    Veto players and policy stability qualitative methodsThe winset



    Winset of SQ

    (Intersection of indifference curves)



    Veto players and policy stability the core
    Veto players and policy stability qualitative methodsThe core



    Core (within triangle)

    No winset of SQ2




    Tsebelis main research questions
    Tsebelis’ main research questions qualitative methods

    • How do veto players affect policy stability?

    • How does policy stability affect political outcomes such as:

      • The extent to which governments control the agenda

      • Government duration

      • Public expenditure

      • Bureaucratic independence

      • Judicial independence

      • Legislative outcomes in the European Union?

    What are causal theories
    What are causal theories? qualitative methods

    • A reasoned answer to an explanatory question

    • Identifies the explanatory variables, variation in which causes change in the dependent variable

      • Usually involving a set of assumptions, and descriptive and explanatory hypotheses

    • No theory without evidence

    What is causation
    What is causation? qualitative methods

    • A theoretical construct

    • Implies a counter-factual thought experiment

      • E.g. what if another party had entered government. Would public expenditure be different?

      • What should you hold constant in your thought experiment?

    • The Fundamental Problem of Causal Inference

      • We cannot observe causation directly

    Inferences about causal effects
    Inferences about causal effects qualitative methods

    • Based on observable variation across different units or cases

    • Requires

      • Comparability

      • Unit homogeneity or constant causal effects

    Are there other types of causation
    Are there other types of causation? qualitative methods

    • Causal mechanisms / process tracing

      • The processes through which variation in an IV causes variation in DV

    • Multiple causality

      • Different IVs may lead to the same changes in DV

    • Asymmetric causality

      • Increase in value of IV may not have the same size of effect as a decrease of IV of the same magnitude

    What does a good theory look like
    What does a good theory look like? qualitative methods

    • Falsifiable

      • Could be wrong

    • Internally consistent

      • Don’t contradict themselves

    • Concrete

      • Contain clearly defined concepts

    • Broad in scope

      • Explain lots of things

    Falsifiable qualitative methods

    • Avoid tautologies

      • E.g. some applications of the concept of national interest in explaining foreign policy decisions

    • Distinct from Popper’s use of the term

    • Use both confirming and disconfirming evidence to gauge theory’s scope

    Internally consistent
    Internally consistent qualitative methods

    • Contradictory hypotheses prove a theory wrong without evidence

    • Formal models are used to provide consistency

      • Mathematics and the study of political systems

      • Abstract from complexity of reality

      • Ignore other relevant IVs

    • At what cost?

      • Exclusion of other relevant IVs

      • Accessibility

    Concrete qualitative methods

    • Avoid vaguely defined concepts

    • Think ahead to operationalisation

    • Avoid reification

    • What this does not mean

      • Studying only phenomena that can be observed directly

      • Limiting scope unduly

    Broad in scope
    Broad in scope qualitative methods

    • Explain as much as possible with as little as possible

    • Push the boundaries of the theory’s applicability

    • Tempered by

      • Need to be concrete

      • The fact that most social science theories are conditional (only sometimes true)

    Allison s model i rational actor model
    Allison’s Model I: Rational Actor Model qualitative methods

    • Basic unit of analysis: governmental action as choice

    • Main concepts:

      • Unified “national” actor

      • Action as rational choice

        • Objectives

        • Options

        • Consequences

        • Choice

    Rational actor model cont
    Rational Actor Model cont. qualitative methods

    • Dominant inference pattern

      • Finding purposes that are served by the action being explained

    • General proposition

      • Increase in perceived costs of an alternative reduce the likelihood of that action being chosen

    • Evidence

      • Relates to objectives, options and perceived consequences

      • Naïve applications in danger of tautology

    Allison s model ii orgnisational behaviour model
    Allison’s Model II: Orgnisational Behaviour Model qualitative methods

    • Basic unit of analysis: Governmental action as organisational output

    • Main concepts:

      • Organisational actors

      • Factored problems and fractionated power

      • Organisational objectives, capacities

      • Organisational routines and standard operating proceduures

    Organisational behaviour model cont
    Organisational Behaviour Model cont. qualitative methods

    • Dominant inference pattern

      • Uncover the capacities and organisational routines that produced the outputs (policy actions) in question

    • General propositions include

      • Existing organisational capabilities influence government choice

      • Organisational priorities shape organisational implementation

    • Evidence

      • On the organisations involved

    A qualitative methods






    Issue 1







    Issue 2

    Issue 1

    Potential exchange partners







    Issue 2




    An exchange model of political bargainingStokman & Van Oosten (1994)

    sA1/sA2 sD1/sD2

    A model of the consultation procedure qualitative methods

    Adapted from Garret and Tsebelis 1999










    Predicted Outcome QMV

    Pivotal player QMV

    Compromise model
    Compromise model qualitative methods

    Power /

    Effective power

    Predicted outcome of model

    Issue continuum / positions

    The Compromise Model qualitative methods

    Oa = (  xia cia sia ) / (  cia sia )

    Oa : Prediction of compromise model on issue a

    xia : Position of actor i on issue a

    cia : Capabilities of actor i on issue a

    sia : Salience actor i attaches to issue a

    Illustration of model predictions qualitative methods

    A fisheries regulation (CNS/1998/347)

    Issue 1: Scrap build penalty: How many tones of old fishing vessels need to be scrapped to qualify for EU funding for fleet renewal?

    Procedure 0

    XM 21

    Compromise model 36

    BE, EP, FI, FR, DE, EL, IE, IT, PT, ES, SE


    AT, DK, UK

    0: One to one. Reference point and OUTCOME

    50: Scrap 115 tones of old ship for every 100 tones of new

    90: 130 old for 100 new

    100: 150-180 old for 100 new

    Issue 2: Linkage. To what extent should funding be linked to MAGP targets?

    Compromise model 68

    Procedure 80

    EP, FR, IE, IT, ES

    BE, EL, PT

    AT, DK, FI, DK, SE, UK

    XM 86



    0: No linkage reference point

    40: limited linkage

    70: linked to annual objectives


    100: Linked to annual and final objectives