Comparing and Miscomparing

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Citation: Giovanni Sartori (1991) Comparing and Miscomparing. Journal of Comparative Politics (RSS)

doi: 10.1177/0951692891003003001 Wikidata: Q69448213

Tagged: Sociology (RSS)


In this article, Sartori addresses what he sees as the serious failure of the field of comparative politics to make genuine progress. He outlines the basic framework which he believes defines the comparative method, which in turn defines the field of comparative politics. First, he asserts that the purpose of comparative work is to allow for checking of generalizations across cases and to provide "control" -- akin to statistical controls. He confronts the question of "incommensurability" -- that is, concern that nothing can ever be compared to anything else because of differences in context -- by challenging scholars to be guided by the question "comparable in what respect?" He then proceeds to outline several flaws observed in the field: parochialism (only considering one case), misclassification (categorizing things into the same category when they are not), degreeism (treating everything as on a continuous scale, with arbitrary cut-points), and conceptual stretching (applying labels that don't really belong). He closes by referring to an approach he recommends called a "ladder of abstraction", where one proceeds from particulars to generalities, in a focused and disciplined way.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

This article offers a sharp, clear roadmap for producing comparative scholarship and avoiding nihilistic conceptual muddiness.