David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Sociological Theory 22 (3):371-400 (2004)
Case studies and "small-N comparisons" have been attacked from two directions, positivist and incommensurabilist. At the same time, some authors have defended small-N comparisons as allowing qualitative researchers to attain a degree of scientificity, yet they also have rejected the case study as merely "idiographic. " Practitioners of the case study sometimes agree with these critics, disavowing all claims to scientificity. A related set of disagreements concerns the role and nature of social theory in sociology, which sometimes is described as useless and parasitic and other times as evolving in splendid isolation from empirical research. These three forms of sociological activity-comparative analysis, studies of individual cases, and social theory-are defended here from the standpoint of critical realism. In this article I first reconstruct, in very broad strokes, the dominant epistemological and ontological framework of postwar U.S. sociology. The next two sections discuss several positivist and incommensurabilist criticisms of comparison and case studies. The last two sections propose an understanding of comparison as operating along two dimensions, events and structures, and offer an illustration of the difference and relationship between the two.
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