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The Promises of Comparative Research

Project ID: HPSE-CT-1999-00032


In reviewing the development in comparative research since the 1960s, Scheuch (1989) concluded that �the wheel of cross-cultural methodology keeps on being reinvented� (p. 147). This paper takes an opposite view, arguing instead that the availability of new cross-national datasets, and the development of new statistical methods of analysis (and their related software) have given a new impetus to comparative research. In particular, this paper points to recent methodological developments that were not fully apparent in the reviews of comparative research published in the 1970s and 1980s (see for example Lijphart 1971, Elder 1976, Jackman 1985). For sure, the problem of equivalence in cross-national research, and the problem of diffusion and dependence of observations are still relevant today, and so is the debate over case-oriented versus variable-oriented approaches. But, as argued in this paper, the availability of new cross-national longitudinal datasets, together with new techniques of analyses, such as multilevel analysis, have opened a new chapter in comparative research.
This paper has three main objectives. First, it aims at providing a review of comparative research from a theoretical and methodological perspective, especially recent developments in terms of datasets and methodologies. Second, it aims at critically assessing the current comparative research, by stressing its implicit assumptions and limitations. By the same token, it also aims at integrating recent research developments into the comparative approach: developments that have, so far, appeared only in single country studies. Finally, the paper also aims at identifying the most promising avenues of comparative research and at pointing out key substantive questions that will benefit from a comparative perspective.

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