ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

Thomas König

Theory and Methodology in International Comparative Research

There are many reasons, why international comparisons have become en vogue in the social sciences. International research helps to unravel one's own hidden cultural preconceptions by showing alternative lines of action and concepts. The quasi-experimental research design of much of international comparative research ensures a high degree of ecological validity, while it allows at the same time for a reasonable control of key variables. Finally, in times of so-called globalization, international comparative research is an almost natural match for current theoretical debates. This seminar introduces students into theory and methodology of international comparisons. During the first three weeks we will discuss the logic that stands behind comparative research. Subsequently, we will analyze the key methodological problems in international comparisons. In the final part of the seminar we will have a look at international methodology “at work:” We will use the insights learned in part one and two to evaluate four landmark studies of international comparative research.
Organization: All required readings are to be read prior to the sessions to which they are assigned. Monographs are to be skimmed focusing on methodological issues. On average, reading assignments will cover about 50 pages.
Requirements: Students must submit weekly assignments and produce either a term paper or an oral presentation.
Grading: assignments 70%, class participation 20%, presentation 10%; when term paper is chosen: assignments 55%, class participation 10%, term paper 35%
Prerequisites: Completion of introductory course in research methodology (e.g., Schein in "Einführung in die Methoden empirischer Sozialforschung"); some knowledge of German and epistemology a plus.

Acrobat Document English Syllabus

Acrobat Document Deutsch Seminarplan

Theory of international comparative sociology

Week 1 Introductory Meeting

Overview over the class. The following readings are relevant throughout the semester:

Week 2 Why compare?

What are the pecularities of comparaticve research? Which advantages does comparative research offer to social scientists? as ist komparative Sozialwissenschaft? Welche Vorteile bringen sozialwissenschaftliche Vergleiche für die Theorieentwicklung?

Required readings

Week 3 Compare what?

International comparative research frequently considers that national societies are the basic units of comparison. This seemingly innocent assumption creates unexpected theoretical problems.

Required readings
Recommended readings

Week 4 Compare how?

With which criteria should we select cases for comparison? That is the key question in Mill's now famous essay on the logic of comparisons. Smelser extends on Mill's logics of comparison.

Required readings
Recommended readings

II. Methodology in International Comparative Research

In this section of the seminar we will learn about major hazards that plague international comparative research in particular.

Week 5 Concepts in international comparisons

How broadly should concepts be designed to enable comparisons across cultures? How narrow must the concepts remain to avoid excessive ambiguities?

Required readings
Recommended reading

Week 6 Indicators

The same concepts frequently require different measurements within different settings. How can we ensure that different indicators measure the same concepts?

Required reading

Week 7 Reduction of Complexity

How can a complex data set be analyzed to gain meaningful information for the examination of sociological theories?

Required readings
Recommended reading

III. Comparative Studies: True, modern and wannabe-classics

Week 8 Durkheim's Suicide

Durkheim's Suicide is probably the first big internationally comparative social study and definitely one of the most influential sociological studies to date. Durkheim develops on a series of suicide data from a number of different countries a typology for suicides and social anomy.

Required readings

Week 9 Few cases, small universe

Theda Skocpol develops on the cases of the French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions a general theory of revolutions.

Required readings

Week 10 Few cases, large universe

Brubaker shows in his seminal study, how the different concepts of citizenship in France and Germany have affected their national citizenship laws and migration regimes.

Required reading
Alternative reading

Week 11 Many cases, large universe, qualitative data

Drawing on a wealth of secondary data, William Gamson has developed an ingenious and highly generalizable resource mobilization account of protest movements.

Required reading

Week 12 Many cases, large universe, quantitative data

Data from the largest global value survey are employed to corroborate Ronald Inglehart's thesis of a shift towards postmaterialism in developed countries.

Required reading

Week 13 Two cases, all sorts of data and methodologies

Ferree et al. recently presented the new authoritative study of the abortion discourse in Germany and the United States. It also is a landmark study for the empirical research on democracy.

Required reading

Week 14 Round-up

What makes international social research successful? How can macro phenomena and theories shed light on developments on the micro level.

Required reading

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