The subdivision of political science that uses the empirical comparative method in the study of politics. The aim of this inductive method is to find general rules and principles (e.g., common causes and consequences) through the study of events—usually historical—and discovering what is common between them. An example would be a study of the causes of European civil wars during the 20th century. The comparative method would compare all civil wars in Europe in the 20th century (dependent variable: war) and examine what variables all the nations had in common (independent variables: economy, birth rates, religion). A danger of this method is that the correlation between the dependent and the independent variable might be due to an extraneous third variable.
John Stuart Mill's (1806-1873) “Joint Method of Agreement and Difference” is commonly used by social scientists as a comparative method. This method involves searching for cases where (1) the observed change in the independent variable is the only thing in agreement between subject groups and (2) the observed change in the independent variable is the only thing different between subject groups. The sociologist Neil J. Smelser in Comparative Methods in the Social Sciences (1976) argued that the comparative method should not be treated as a distinct method of investigation, since the majority of social science research involves the comparison of subject populations and looking for observed differences. For more information, see Smelser (1976) in the bibliography.
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