Political their strengths and weaknesses. Comparative politics relies

 Political science focuses on
the analysis of how political decisions are made and implemented. ‘Comparative
politics, as a field of study, provides us with a ready array of conceptual and
analytical tools that we can use to address and answer a wide range of
questions about the social world.’ (Lim, 2010). Political scientists aim to
have a better understanding of how political institutions and systems function,
how problems have occurred and how other problems may come about in the future.
However, there is much debate on what method should be used to achieve this.
The quantitative method (large-N analysis) uses mass data from statistics and
inquiries, to establish trends and patterns. The qualitative method uses
singular case studies to control variables and provide in-depth analysis.
Small-N analysis binds these two methods together, by comparing a
small-handpicked selection of case studies. Many researchers champion the
large-N analysis, whilst others argue that this sacrifices depth and therefore
produces unreliable data. Due to the nature of comparative politics, although
depth is sacrificed for breadth in many cases, it is necessary to draw
comparisons and make assumptions about various democracies. This essay will explore
large-N and small-N comparisons, along with individual case studies, comparing individual
research reports, all using different methods, to then assess their strengths
and weaknesses. Comparative
politics relies on breadth to generate variables and create typologies. The aim
of comparative research is to formulate rules and to apply them to similar
cases. Therefore, exploring multiple cases in a breadth study is imperative to
generalise and fulfill the requirements of the hypothesis. Hypotheses are key
in comparative politics, especially when considering the interaction of
different variables. Consequently, it is imperative that various results from
different studies are considered. Scientists must study, from alternative
perspectives, political systems, which should formulate and test similar
hypotheses. Wieviroka (1992:163) argues that to avoid starting again from
scratch, earlier findings have to be borne in mind. Therefore, when conducting
a study, there must be a basic knowledge of political systems as most political
scientists usually adopt the typical comparative politics methods; the method
of difference and the method of agreement. These make sure that variables
representing the differences and similarities can be identified to give the
study good foundations. For example, there are broad consensuses over
approaches used in comparative politics such as institutionalism, pluralism,
corporatism, behaviourism, cultural perspectives and policy analyses. This
emphasises that there is a need to integrate findings of various studies to
gain a better understanding of how institutions influence the individual’s
choice. Various approaches have aided comparative politics in its ability to
create a complex picture of political systems and the factors that contribute
to the structuring of the state. These breadth analyses then provide further
foundations for typologies and classifications. For example, Amorim Neto &
Cox’s “Electoral Institutions, Cleavage Structures, and the Number of Parties”
conducts a large-N study to analyse if there is a correlation (and if so, how
far it goes) between the different measures of electoral system permissiveness,
the number of effective parties and ethnic fragmentation. The data collected
was from 54 elections around the world, including both presidential and
parliamentary elections. From this, Neto and Cox were able to deduce that the
effective number of parties are dependent on the diversity of the state and the
types of electoral systems. The benefit therefore of conducting a large-N
analysis is that statistical controls can be used. Statistical control
(SC) refers to the ‘technique of separating out the effect of one particular
independent variable from the effects of the remaining variables on the
dependant variable in a multivariate analysis’ (Gujarati, 2003). Using SC can
aid political scientists in ruling out rival explanations for why outcomes are
produced. Within this, it is easier to identify ‘outliers’ and then make
generalisations as their theory is tested over a larger sample and in turn
becomes much more representative. One of the main problems with this type of
study is that it is often expensive and time consuming, as Collier (1993) notes
that there is a problem with “collecting adequate information in a sufficient amount of time”. However,
this is a necessity to gather evidence and draw comparisons, which is what
comparative politics is founded upon. 

However, case studies can
prove to be valuable for scientists as they provide in depth analysis, which
takes into consideration multiple variables. This broaches the issue that often
arises from breadth studies that many people have different opinions. For
example, the question of ‘What is Democracy?’ is extremely controversial, as
many have different opinions of what it actually entails. This is often
contentious as different states carry different political cultures. This is a
problem often exacerbated by the fact many countries have different political
cultures. However, quantitative study is often guided on the basis of generally
acknowledged and accepted mass data. Dogan (1994) argues that a false sense of
security often arises with mass data and therefore this prevents researchers
from assessing the ‘validity of quantitative data’. Especially as some
worldwide studies that come from specific sources (e.g. the World Values
Survey) use statistics from specific institutions such as the United Nations,
World Bank and the European Union. These sources are not always precise and
therefore support Dogan’s claim. For example, political participation in
Islamic countries is very unalike the patterns we see in the Western world.
Norris and Inglehart (2004) link this with beliefs about how gender roles
should be carried out. Researchers often do not have the resources to conduct
all of their own studies, which allow them to control variables, and even if
they did so, by the time they had conducted the studies, the economic and
social realities may have changed. Here, case studies provide valuable, as they
are able to construct hypotheses, contribute to theory building, and produce
in-depth analysis of outliers that are found through large-N studies (Landman, 2000).
The benefits of a singular case study is portrayed in Robert Putnam’s Making
Democracy Work whereby he analysed 20 different regions throughout Italy
across 20 years of study. He studied the impact that institutional reform had
on institutional performance. When he came across discrepancies in these findings,
he assessed the reasons for cross-temporal and cross-sectional variation in
institutional performance, and he studied six of these regions in more depth as
a result. This would not have been possible with a large-N study. Hence, a key
benefit of case studies is that you can explain outcomes with process tracing (George
and Bennett, 2005). Bryman (1974) adds that qualitative research gives
political scientists more freedom to shape their own design and therefore adapt
to ‘social complexities’ to a much larger extent than quantitative methods of
study. Nevertheless comparative politics as a whole does
not sacrifice breadth for depth as case studies mean that only one entity is
analysed and are therefore of a limited value to political scientists. Case
studies merely lay foundations as an explorative method to further
understanding quantitative analysis (Lijphart,1975:160) as they are only useful
to “disconfirm a regularity to a limited degree” (Sartori, 1994:23). Therefore,
in the field of comparative politics they have limited value, as
generalisations cannot be drawn from them.


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