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Katzenstein and et al: The role of theory in comparative politics

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Katzenstein and et al. 1995. The role of theory in comparative politics: A symposium. World Politics 48 (October): 1-49.

Peter Evans:

"Let me sum up. First, individual and societal incentives push us toward the detailed examination of individual cases, toward history. At the same time, they demand guidelines to future outcomes--that is, prediction. The character of work in the messy eclectic center is an effective response to these pressures. Second, rational choice and game-theoretic approaches are less threatening to the messy eclectic center than they might seem. They can be a useful source of causally plausible mechanisms for explaining institutional change. Their more sophisticated practitioners will tend to get drawn into more institutional and historically complex investigations, which lead them in turn in the direction of the messy eclectic center. This tendency is reinforced by the fact that recent innovations at the mathematical heart of economic theory have opened theoretical space for historical and institutional arguments.

"The potential hegemony of cultural approaches is limited by the fact that the incentives of conventional political economy still make sense to most people "on the ground." As long as cultural analysts eschew prediction, they will not satisfy most consumers and patrons and will therefore remain marginalized. When states, markets, and conventional politics fail to deliver the conventional goods, the politics of identity and culturally distinctive values become more salient. In a global political economy that consistently delivers for some but not for others, cultural analysis must be combined with conventional political economy, a combination most likely to be offered by the messy eclectic center of comparative politics."

Peter Katzenstein:

"To recognize and understand or interpret these processes requires bridging the world of comparative and international studies. A sharp distinction between a nomothetic and an idiographic social science, more recently between rationalism and culturalism, will do little to help us recognize and make intelligible this world of regions. For anybody seeking to answer an important and interesting question would be a fool to sacrifice the insights that can be gleaned from either perspective. Although it is true that among the blind the one-eyed is king, it is also true that good depth perception requires two eyes.

"The new regionalism creates local processes of political mobilization and demobilization around internationally and regionally induced political struggles over power, markets, and identities. The intersections of global and local processes and the connections between regional contexts and national states may give us a sense of some of the newly emerging processes and structures as we witness the collapse of some of the old."

Adam Przeworski:

An interesting discussion of methodological problems inherent in comparison (of the "Most similar cases" method variety especially, but also of comparative analysis generally). The world is not random--what we can possibly observe is already subject to significant selection bias. Read it. Conclusion:

"To conclude, if the observed world is not a random sample of the possible worlds, then inferences from the observable cases, one or all, will be invalid. Comparisons must then entail counterfactuals. We must worry about selection mechanisms, identify their effects, and correct for them.

"These conclusions add up to an antiexperimental posture. Our effort should not be to match, since we cannot match when the world does not generate all the pairs we need. Indeed, matching the observable cases may just exacerbate the selection bias. Instead, we must theorize about the mechanisms by which the observations are generated and then use this knowledge to compensate for the nonrandom nature of the observable world."

Susanne Hoeber Rudolph:

A postmodernist, who wants us to recognize that our Western lenses prevent us from seeing fairly. Western history is not world history, yet we treat it as such. We must recognize that other explanations and methods are not to be suppressed.

James Scott:

"Now for that maxim, although I'm against maxims in principle because they have a habit of hardening into doctrines: If half of your reading is not outside the confines of political science, you are risking extinction along with the rest of the subspecies. Most of the notable innovations in the discipline have come in the form of insights, perspectives, concepts, and paradigms originating elsewhere. Reading exclusively within the discipline is to risk reproducing orthodoxies or, at the very least, absorbing innovations far from the source. We would do well to emulate the hybrid vigor of the plant and animal breeding world."

Theda Skocpol:

"This exploration of substantive research and theoretical developments in one area of comparative politics leads to conclusions that I should like to present in a summary fashion. For those of us who do comparative politics, it pays to compare. And it is not necessary to get hung up on grand model building and purely deductive theorizing, on the one hand, or on producing interpretively rich narratives of particular times and places, on the other. There is a middle way, comparative historical analysis, which allows us to notice patterns in history and generate better theoretical ideas from them. At the same time, we can use well-designed comparisons to explore and better specify hypotheses derived from whatever theories we have available as we launch into a given investigation."

Atul Kohli:

"To sum up, this symposium was designed to take stock of the role of theory and of theoretical controversies in comparative politics. A variety of views were expressed. An important and surprising conclusion emerged, however--that contemporary theoretical controversies are not deeply divisive. In spite of the challenges thrown out by both rational choice and postmodern cultural approaches, a diverse group of symposium participants adhered to a loosely defined "core," or to what one participant characterized as the "eclectic center" of comparative politics. The minimal definition of this "core" includes a problem orientation and a commitment to causal generalizations. Beyond that, a variety of theoretical approaches is considered desirable. Nevertheless, even on this score, while microinductive approaches and deductive frames of reference provide important complements, most comparative politics scholars in this eclectic center pursue theoretically relevant, macroempirical analyses, focusing on one or more countries, through diverse conceptual lenses, and utilizing a variety of data, contemporary or historical, quantitative or qualitative."

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Katzenstein, Peter (author)Comparative PoliticsRational ChoiceStructuralismCultureMethodological Preliminaries

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