comparative method


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Related to comparative method: Constant comparative method
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Fig. 5 Comparative method. Mill's methods.

comparative method

  1. any method that involves the examination of similarities and differences between phenomena or classes of phenomena with the aim of:
    1. establishing classifications and typologies of social phenomena; and
    2. the testing of hypotheses about casual relations by examining the empirical association and temporal ordering of factors.
  2. specifically cross-cultural or cross-societal (including historical) comparison of similarities and differences between social phenomena with the above aims (see CROSS-CULTURAL COMPARISON, HUMAN RELATIONS AREA FILES).
Since the comparative method is used in the absence of strict experimentation in sociology, it is also sometimes referred to as the quasi-experimental method. See also EXPERIMENTAL METHOD.

An early systematization of the comparative method was provided by J. S. MILL. The three most used of these methods within sociology are outlined in Fig. 5. Explicit use of Mill's methods is seen in classical sociological studies such as DURKHEIM's Suicide (1897) and WEBER's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05). The method of concomitant variation receives further elaboration and systematization in modern statistical analysis (especially see STATISTICS AND STATISTICAL ANALYSIS, CORRELATION).

Compared with the experimental method proper, the problems which occur when the comparative method is used arise from an in ability to manipulate truly ‘independent’ variables. The main problem is the possible influence of unknown variables which, in the natural settings observed, may affect in unknown ways the variables for which a direct causal or concomitant relation is suggested.

The early use of the comparative method in cross-cultural analysis was in the work of evolutionary sociologists who have often been accused of suspect judgements of similarity and difference, and of studying units out of context.

Generally, the use of the comparative method is not invalidated by such problems, but they do underline the difficulties which can attend the use of the method, especially in its cross-cultural forms.

A more root-and-branch objection to the use of the comparative method in sociology arises from theorists who emphasize the importance of MEANINGFUL UNDERSTANDING AND EXPLANATION, or VERSTEHEN. In extreme cases (e.g. WINCH,1958),no place is seen within sociology for the testing of general hypotheses of the conventional scientific kind. However, most sociologists reject the RELATIVISM involved in this view and continue to examine general hypotheses.

With implications for both experimental and quasi-experimental methods, modern philosophical analysis has rejected Mill's view that INDUCTION AND INDUCTIVE LOGIC and the comparative method can provide the conclusive proof possible in deductive LOGIC (see EMPIRICISM, FALSIFICATIONISM). However, this does not undermine the usefulness of the comparative method any more than it undermines the experimental; it merely points to there being no recipe for establishing causality.

References in periodicals archive ?
The establishment of the Comparative Method of study has been the greatest intellectual achievement of our time.
The third method is the comparative method (CM), which is based on the comparative of standardised sinusoidal waveforms.
The book runs into an important problem in comparative methods that is most noticeable in the Introduction.
4 Applications of comparative method in comparative sciences clusters and their branches
Reading the volume "cover to cover" provides the reader with an engagingly clear and highly instructive presentation of the uses and misuses of the comparative method.
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In the heart of the book -- the chapters on stressed openings in Sievers's Types B and C, light verses, and clashing stress in Old English -- the comparative method virtually disappears and the Latin verse discussed in the opening chapter is nearly forgotten.
This work gets wide coverage in the book in the discussion of functional explanations and the comparative method.
Use of the international comparative method to improve understanding of domestic trends is undergoing a revival.
In order to understand why comparative theory designed to advance theoretical certainty now raises instead what seem like inevitable doubts, one must first examine the shifting course of the comparative method since Descartes.
In The Heroic Age (1912) Chadwick began to develop a comparative method of the study of literature.
His use of the comparative method is usefully extended by the inclusion of a chapter on the coal and the iron and steel industries.

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