cross-cultural comparisonthe comparison of a social phenomenon in different societies, and perhaps at different historical times, with the aim of establishing either:
- the common ‘causal’ basis of shared features, including the existence of any orderly pattern to social evolution; or
- the unique features of a particular culture or society. Sociologists have often held sharply contrasting views on the relative importance of these two goals of cross-cultural analysis. Most theorists have recognized the considerable difficulty of defining the units of analysis and of comparing like with like in cross-cultural comparisons. While theorists and researchers taking the first view have been prepared to risk advancing general propositions about the overall form and types of human societies, those taking the second view have used comparisons mainly to highlight differences, usually portraying their use of general concepts merely as aids to comparisons (i.e. as heuristic IDEAL TYPES), with their main goal the understanding of particular cultures. See also COMPARATIVE METHOD.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000