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.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
The constant comparative method of data analysis was used to determine themes that emerged from data and to determine the direction in which the study would go next.
The comparative method offers a systematic framework for assessing claims about the nature of children's language.
The multilayer feed-forward neural network was used as a comparative method. The MFFNN had three hidden layers and its structure was 10 [right arrow] 15 [right arrow] 10 [right arrow] 10 [right arrow] 1.
Using a constant comparative method (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), common themes were sought among the school counselors' responses to the structured and secondary questions in order to make sense of the data.
The effectiveness of the comparative method is evident in Ernst Schurer's 'Erneuerung des Theaters?: Broch's Ideas on Drama in Context', which includes a useful discussion of Broch's ideas on drama against the background of the experimental theatre of the 1920s as practised, among others, by Leo Lania and Erwin Piscator.
Thus Merom's book attempts to exemplify the comparative method in the study of small wars and be relevant in the spheres of both theory and policy.
Bowern, Claire and Harold Koch (eds) 2004 Australian Languages: Classification and the comparative method, John Benjamins Publishing, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, x, 377 pp, ISBN 9027247617.
That is double the yield of any comparative method."
The book's strength is its comparative method. Scholars of media and politics are increasingly turning to this kind of work to show how taken-for-granted framings of international events are peculiar to particular countries or media outlets, and how nations' unique histories and media systems influence coverage and shape public opinion.
Field notes and verbatim transcripts of those interviewed were analyzed through constant comparative method of data analysis to uncover the main themes, categories and subcategories.
Based on the multiple data sources, the researchers used Lincoln Guba's (1985) constant comparative method to make sense of the data.

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