The Comparative Method Lecture 2 Why and how to compare countries; description – classification – hypothesis-testing – prediction problems of comparisons
Objectives to know and understand the basics of the comparative method; its applications; its scope and limitations
Research traditions in comparative politics Early example of CP: • Aristotle’s Politics (350 BC): compared constitutions of Greek city states • Growth in the Discipline Post WW2: • Doubling of Independent states • south-east Asia, Middle East, north Africa and Africa south of the Sahara • WE since 1990: more than a dozen new cases for comparing liberal-democracy
SUBJECT and METHOD • Comparative Politics as a Subject • Examines domestic politics and government within numerous countries, whereas international politics looks at relations between different countries. • Comparative Politics as a Method • Comparative political analysis • Various ways of analysis
Trends in the Comparative Discipline Jean Blondel Comparative Government Three main phases in the study of CP: • Constitutionalist phase (Aristotle – 1900s) • Behaviouralist phase (1940s-1960s) • Institutionalist phase (1970s-)
Why compare? What does a comparative approach bring to the study of politics? • Knowledge • Classification • Formulate and test hypotheses • Generalisations and predictions Hague and Harrop 2001; Landman 2003
1. Knowledge • the simplest and the best reason • In 1925, Munro described the purpose as aiding’ the comprehension of daily news from abroad’. • Background information about foreign governments not only helps to interpret new developments, it also enables us to view our own country in a fresh light.
2. Classifications • The classification of executives into presidential and parliamentary types, allows to look at the origins and effects of each. • Comparative method allows to observe variations of a concept or model • Without a classification of governments, we have nothing to explain
3. Formulate and test hypotheses • We can develop and scrutinize questions as: • Do plurality electoral systems always produce a two-party system? • Do revolutions only occur after a country has suffered defeat in war? • Without comparison we would lack general knowledge of politics and therefore the ability to explain particular observations. • ‘You cannot be scientific if you are not comparing’. The American political scientist James Coleman
4. Generalisations can generate predictions • Example: • If we find that the plurality method of election always produces a two-party system, we can predict that countries which switch to this formula will probably witness a fall in the number of parties represented in their parliaments. • Studying one case leads to studying several cases, upon which a theory can be built • A theory allows to explain singular cases again
Additional benefits • To help us address the counterfactuals – ‘what if…?’ • to avoid ethnocentrism Mackie and Marsh, 1995; Dogan and Pelasy, 1990
The difficulties of comparison a) Conceptual stretching b) interdependence c) too many variables too few cases d) selection bias
Cases, units of observation, variables, and observations • Cases: The countries that we study (France, Nicaragua, Egypt) • Units of observation: The `things’ that we study (trade unions) • Variables: The features of the `things’ that can vary (legal status, membership figures) • Observations: The data points (CGT in France 1982)
a) Conceptual stretching • Countries must be compared against a common concept but the meaning of that concept may itself vary: • The connotation of ‘national pride’ differs considerably between, say, Germany and, Greece • Analyzing political behavior across countries depends on the conventions of the country concerned • E.g. an EP voting against his/her own government • Use more abstract concepts
b) Interdependence • Countries do not develop separately from each other • They copy, compete with, influence and (sometimes) invade each other in a constant process of interaction • The spread of Napoleon’s Code Civil • The impact of industrialization • The impact of the European Union (Europeanization) • Galton’s problem: the difficulty of testing whether similarities between nations are caused by diffusion across countries or alternatively by parallel but independent development
c) Too many variables, too few countries a major problem for scholars: • The small-N problem (not enough cases at hand) • Only a handful of cases in WE politics • How can we isolate one factor to test our hypothesis? • E.g. Why do we find the strongest communist parties in France and Italy? • Possible answers: strong catholic church OR late inclusion of working class into political process OR Both • For more valid explanations more cases would be necessary, but are simply not there
c) Too many variables, too few countries Often a problem even if the number of cases exceeds the number of variables: • Variables must indeed vary over countries • Does PR lead to multi-party systems? • Cannot be tested if all countries have PR and a MPS, no matter how many countries are compared
d) Selection bias • when the choice of what to study, or even how to study it, produces unrepresentative results • when generalizations cover only a small number of countries • often an unintended consequence of a process of case selection that is arbitrary but not truly random: • E.g. choosing countries which speak the same language, or which we have personal relations/experiences with, • The result is that findings of comparative politics are often weighted • toward consolidated developed democracies (actually a rare form of polity in the expanse of human history) • Large, powerful countries. • Only covering a large number of countries reduces the selection bias risk. • If the study covers all countries, selection bias disappears
Further Pitfalls of Comparing Pitfalls: • Description is not Comparison (Macridis, 1955) • The persistence of ‘Cultural Idiosyncrasies’ (Mayer, 1972; Ragin, 1987) • Trade-off between number of cases and level of detail • Ecological and individual fallacies
Ecological Fallacy • Support for the Extreme Right in the German General Election of 1990 concentrated in areas with high proportion of foreigners • Conclusion: Foreigners supported the Extreme Right – WRONG • Lesson: Do not use macro level data for inferences about micro level behaviour
Individual Fallacy • Do not use micro data to make statements about the macro level • Unless macro features are analytical, i.e. simply aggregate measures • Does a prevalence of individual authoritarian attitudes render a society authoritarian? • Yes if `society’ is defined as distribution of individual features (cf. Almond/Verba) • No if `society’ includes institutions, works of art etc.
Case study: Causes of a Revolution Hypothesis: "Revolution is caused by the combination of three factors: 1. High income inequality, 2. conflict within the governing group, 3. defeat in war." Whenever and wherever "1", "2", and "3" are present revolution will occur – a comparative (general) statement.
Method of Agreement Case 1 a b c Revolution d e f Case 2 a b c g h i Revolution
Method of Difference Case 1 a b c Revolution d e f g Case 2 - - - No Revolution d e f g
Strategies for Comparison • For large number of cases, use regression or other statistical techniques • For small number of cases • Method of differences leads to Most Similar Systems Design (MSSD, popular in area studies) • Method of agreement leads to Most Different Systems Design (MDSD) • Both methods focus on one key explanatory variable, others constant or varied • Useful, but cannot overcome the basic problem of small n (third variables)
Compare how? Case studies: • Representative cases –the study of a typical, standard example of a wider category. • Prototypical cases – a topic is chosen not because it is representative but because it is expected to become so • Deviant case –to cast light on the exceptional and the untypical; can provide the variation without which well-founded explanation is impossible • Crucial case – seeks initial support for a theory by testing it in favorable conditions.
Conclusion • The comparative method is both a subject and a method • It allows the researcher to gain knowledge on other countries/systems, to provide classifications, to test hypotheses and to make predictions • The advantage of the method is surplus knowledge compared to single case studies