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.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Beyond comparative-historical methods, I used statistical methods and large-scale survey data on early childhood education and child development.
Even though such insights are deficient in some ways, they provide a solid bridge to lead us to a better method of comparative-historical research.
Employers and Industrial Relations in Comparative-Historical Perspective, Routledge, London, 1991.
As Erik Martinez Kuhonta declares, "I suggest then that Southeast Asianists deepen their conversations with the founders of the comparative-historical canon....
In maintaining that the classical languages of India, the Near East and Europe descend from a common source, Jones was making an imaginative leap which effectively marked the beginning of Indo-European comparative grammar and modern comparative-historical linguistics.
Following an extensive comparative-historical analysis of the evolution of early retirement, he rejects both the one-sided views put forth by authors who argue that the trends in early retirement are explained fully by the pull factors (e.g., the introduction of external incentives into the labor market that he calls "politics against markets") and the views of other authors that push factors (e.g., firms' efforts to remove less productive workers from their workforce in a "politics for markets" explanation) fully account for the trend.
(1) Winner, 2005 Gregory Luebbert Book Award of the Comparative Politics section of the American Political Science Association; Honorable Mention, Best Book Award of the Comparative-Historical section of the American Sociological Association.
The present grammar is based on the intensive and extensive work with native speakers of Yaqui by John Dedrick, whose ill health (he died in 1999) left much work in the hands of Eugene Casad, who also added comparative-historical material relating to other Uto-Aztecan languages and Proto-Uto-Aztecan.
Grimes); "Historical Linguistics in Southeast Asian Language Programs" (Paulette Hopple); "Comparative-Historical MesoAmerican Reconstruction and SIL Personnel: Accomplishments and Problems" (Robert E.
He attempts to bridge the unfortunate divide between more deductive formal research strategies and more empirical and comparative-historical work.
The papers in the volume could have been grouped into 2 main parts: Linguistics (Part I, II and III) and Linguistic and Literature (Part IV); or into 3 parts: Comparative-Historical linguistics (Part I, II) Semantics (Part III) and Linguistic and Literature (Part IV).
Fulcher applies the comparative-historical argument to what he (after Barrington Moore) calls the "suppressed alternatives," or roads not taken, in the two countries.

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