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ffid,*, inthesociat
Partisansarticulatetheir positionswith passionand intensity,yet the nature of what
dividesthem is hard to pin down. At timeswe hearof a stand-offbetween'qualitative'
scholars,who make use of archival research,ethnology,textual criticism, and dis-
courseanalysis;and scholars,who deploy mathematics,game theory,
and statistics.Scholarsin the former tradition supposedlydisdain the new, hyper-
numerate, approachesto political scienceas opaque and overly abstract,while
scholarsof the Iatterstripederidethe of studyingpolitics asimpressionistic
and lackingin rigor.At other times the schismis portrayedasbeing about the proper
aspirationof the discipline- betweenthosewho believethat a scientificexplanation
of political life is possible, that we can derive something akin to physical laws of
human behavior, and those who believeit is not . . . at still other times the rivals are
portrayed as choicetheorists,'whosework is animatedby the assumption
that individualsarerationalmaximizersof self-interest(often economics,sometimes
not), and thosewho allow for a richer rangeof human motivations (Shapiro,Smith
and Masoud 2004a:l).

This quotation from the introduction to a recent volume on Problems and

Methods in the Study of Politics addressesa core methodological issue for the
social sciencesin general: how many approaches/methods are available for
students in the discipline? And what are the main cleavages along which they
are divided?
In The Structure of Scientific Retolutions, Thomas Kuhn (1962) suggested
that mature scientific disciplines rely upon a paradigm that defines what to
study (relevance of social phenomena), why to study (formulating explana-
tory hypotheses) and how to study (through which methods). In normal times
the presence of a paradigm, based upon previous acquisitions in a discipline,

Donatella Keating

allows for the accumulationof knowledge.In times of turbulence,scientific

revolutionsproducechangesof paradigm.An important elementof a para-
digm is that it is acceptedby the whole community of scientistsactivein a
certaindiscipline.Accordingto Kuhn, in the 1960sthe existence of a paradigm
in the socialsciences was an open question;in the 2000s,it remainsso.
Somesocialscientistsinsist that thereis only one approach(and thus one
paradigm)in the socialsciences. King, Keohaneand Verba(1994:6) synthe-
sized the to which any actual quantitative and qualitative research'
should aim in the following definition of research':

I Thegoalisinference. research
Scientific isdesigned or explana-
to makedescriptive
of empiricalinformationabouttheworld. . .
on thebases
torv inferences
The proceduresare public. Scientificresearchusesexplicit, codifi.ed,and public
methodsto generateand analysedatawhosereliabilitycanthereforebe assessed ...
areuncertain. . .
The conclusions
4 Thecontentis themethod.. . . scientific
research to a setof rulesof infer-
enceon whichitsvaliditydepends.

Not all social scientists,however,share all these assumptionsor even

believein the possibilityof a common definition of scientificresearch.Some
think that socialscienceis pre-paradigmatic,still in searchof a set of unify-
ing principlesand standards;others believethat it is post-paradigmatic,
havingsheda setof scientisticassumptions tied to a particularconceptionof
modernity (the post-modernapproach).Yet othersbelievethat it is non-
paradigmatic,in that therecanneverbe one hegemonicapproachand setof
standards,but that the socialworld is to be understoodin multiple ways,each
of which may be valid for specificpurposes;or eventhat it is multiparadig-
matic, with differentparadigmseitherstrugglingagainsteachother or ignor-
ing eachother.
Somesocialscientistsarespecificallyconcernedwith this issue,specializing
in the philosophyof socialscienceand the theory of knowledge.Otherstake
the basicissuesfor grantedand concentrateon empiricalresearch.We agree
that not all socialscientistsneedto be philosophers,and certainlymost social
scienceresearchwould neverget off the ground if we had first to resolvethe
fundamental questions about being and knowing. Nevertheless)some
reflectionon the foundationsof knowledgeis necessary asa preliminary to all
We arguethat it is possibleto encompass much of the field, not by impos-
ing a single truth, but by setting certain standardsof argumentationand
debatewhile recognizingthat therearedifferencesin approachesand typesof
e::t!.l;=i fiP;lq

evidence.Although thesedo not inevitablyconstitutefundamentallydifferent

world-views,they are not necessarilyall compatible.Researchers needto be
awareof the variousapproaches, the differencesamong them, and the extent
to which they can be combined.
Disputesover approachesare often presentedin a rhetorical form based
upon a dualistoppositionof two main approaches(usuallypositivisticversus
humanist,or quantitativeversusqualitative)(Cresswell1994).Othersfollow
a more nuanced with two more extremepositions
and a more moderateversionof one of them (asin Corbetta2003).In what-
follows,we haveconstructedsomesimplified ideal types of rival approaches
in order to explore their inherent logic. Such devicesare inescapableif we
areto understandclearlythe main issuesat stake,although in practicesocial
scienceresearchis more complex and different approachesare mixed in
various ways. We do not claim that any social scientistsfollow precisely
theseformulations,but many of the issuesdiscussedbelow provide relevant
guidelinesfor the methodologicalchoiceswe often have to make in our


Usually,competing approachesin the social sciencesare contrastedon (a)
relatedto the existenceof a realand objectiveworld; (b)
their ontologicalbase,
their epistemologicalbase, relatedto the possibilityof knowing this world and iili
the forms this knowledgewould take;(c) their methodological base,referring
to the technicalinstrumentsthat are usedin order to acquirethat knowledge
(Corbetta 2003: 12-13). liill
The ontologicalquestionis about whatwe study,that is, the objectof inves- liill
tigation. Disputesabout the existenceof a physicalworld go back to the tiill
ancients.This is not the point at issuehere,sincefew peoplenow bother to
dispute the existenceof physicalobjects.rRather,the question is how the
world fits togetherand how we makesenseof it. The natural sciencesare still
home to argumentsabout how we identif| natural phenomena,for example ii,il
whether taxonomiesof speciesreally exist in nature or are the product of j;i
. For nominalists,categories only existbecausewe arbi- ii;ii
trarily createthem. For realists,2 the categoriesare there to be discovered.
Again,we shouldnot overstatethis point. Therearecertaincategories that are lir{
unchallengedand others that everyone acceptsare the product ofconvention. ilr$


Almost everyoneacceptsa distinctionbetweenliving forms and inert objects,

and most accepta distinction betweenhuman beingsand other animals.On
the other hand, therewasan argumentin 2006aboutthe definitionof a planet
followingthe discoveryofobjectsin the solarsystemsmallerthanPluto,which
had beenacceptedasa planetfor years.This wasnot an argumentabout facts
(the existenceor size of the new body), but a purely nominalist argument
about definitions (Kratochwil,ch. 5, usesthe sameexample).
Most disputesbetweennominalistsand realistsin the natural sciencesare
at the margins,whereconventionalcategories and labelscanbe challengedon
the groundsthat they are misleadingor that they reif| what should properly
be seenasconceptsrather than objects.In the socialsciences there are much
wider differencesabout the degreeto which the world of socialphenomenais
realand objective,endowedwith an autonomousexistence outsidethe human
mind and independent of the interpretation given to it by the subject
(Corbetta2003).For some,the only'real'object is the individual person,with
all other units being mereartefacts.This is the basisfor indi-
vidualism' and for most, but not all, rational choiceapproaches.3 Most social
scientists,however,uselarggrcategories suchasclass,genderor ethnicity,pro-
voking disputesabout the extentto which thesearerealobjectivedistinctions,
the product of our own categorization,or just concepts.a
Epistemologyis about howweknow things.It is a branchof philosophythat
addresses the questionof the sourcesand limits of knowledge'(Klein
2005).Knowledgehere is propositionalknowledge- distinct from 'belief in
that it requiresthat we give reasonsfor sayingthat somethingis so and can
potentiallyconvinceothers.Again,the questionarisesalsoin the natural sci-
ences;but they havesharedstandardsof evidence,argumentand logic.This is
not soin the socialsciences,with somesocialscientistscallingfor objectiveevi-
denceakin to that of the natural sciences, while othersinsistthat other forms
of knowledgeare possible.For example,a common devicein positivesocial
scienceis to contrast'm1th', aswidely sharedbelief,with 'reality',revealedby
empiricalresearch; the taskof the socialscientistis to exposethis falsehoodand
discardwhat is not empiricallyverifiableor falsifiable.Many anthropologists,
however,would rejectthis way of proceeding,on the groundsthat rnythsand
beliefsaredata asvalid asany other and that we haveno businesstellingother
people (especiallyin other cultures)that their constructionof the world is
wrong, as opposedto merely different.Lessradically,many socialscientists
would agreethat mlths are important factorsin themselves and their role in
socialbehaviouris independentof whetherthey are true or false.Of course,
socialscienceitself can be chargedwith existingon m1ths,for examplethe

Howmany inthesocial
approaches sciences?


Positivist Post-positivist Interpretivist Humanistic

Doessocial Objective; Objective, Objectiveand Subjective:
reality exist? realism critical realism subjectiveas scienceof the
intrinsically spirit

Is reality Yes,and easy Yes,but not Somewhat,but No; focuson

knowable? to capture easyto capture not as separatefrom human
humansubjectivity subjectivity

Epistemologi cal issues

Relationship Dualism:scholar Knowledge is Aims at No objective
betweenthe and objectare influencedby understanding knowledgeis
scholarand flvo separate the scholar; subjective possible
his/herobject things;inductive deductive knowledge
procedures procedures

Forms of Natural laws Probabilistic Contextual Empathetic

knowledge (causal) law knowledge knowledge

myth of rationalizedinstitutionsthat - accordingto neoinstitutionalanalysis

of organizations- dominatesin modern societies(Meyer and Rowan 1983:
27). As in other domains,this modernist mlth is challengedby other dis-
coursesstressingthe post-moderncharacterof contemporarysocieties.
Taking these two dimensions together, we can identifr four broad
approaches(Table2.1).Again,theseshouldnot be takenashard categories(or
fixed labels),but rather aspositionson a spectrumfrom the most positivistic
to the most humanistic.
The traditional approach in positivism (as representedin the work of
Comte,Spencerand,accordingto some,Durkheim)sis that socialsciences are
in manywayssimilar to other (physical)sciences. The world existsasan objec-
tive entity,outsideof the mind of the observer,and in principle it is knowable
in its entirety.The taskof the researcher
is to describeand analysethis reality.
Positivistapproachessharethe assumptionthat, in natural as in socialsci-
ences,the researchercanbe separatedfrom the objectofhis/her researchand
thereforeobserveit in a neutralwayand without affectingthe observedobject.
As in the natural sciences, thereare systematicrules and regularitiesgovern-
ing the objectof study,which are alsoamenableto empirical research.In the

g:r.x. :..;i::.-j
kS,.."*",|J Donatella
Lif-: rtii'tril

words of Emil Durkheim (1982: 159), the law of causality has
beenverified in other domains of nature and has progressivelyextendedits
authority from the physicaland chemicalworld to the biologicalworld, and
from the latter to the psychologicalworld, one may justifiably grant that it is
Iikewisetrue for the socialworld.'
In neo-positivismand then post-positivism, theseassumptionsare relaxed.
Realityis still consideredto be objective(externalto human minds), but it is
only imperfectly knowable. The positivist trust in causal knowledge is
modified by the admissionthat somephenomenaare not governedby causal
laws but, at best, by probabilistic ones. This does not representa sharp
break with the natural sciencesbut follows modern scientificdevelopments
(Delanty 1999). If positivism closely resemblesthe traditional scientific
method (or Newtonianphysics)in its searchfor regularities,post-positivism
is closerto modern scientificapproaches,which accepta degreeof uncer-
tainty. Criticalrealistepistemologyholdsthat thereis a realmaterialworld but
that our knowledgeof it is often sociallyconditionedand subjectto challenge
and reinterpretation.6There are mechanismsgoverninghuman affairsthat
may be unobservedand unobservable,but theseare not thereforeto be dis-
counted.Again, this is also true in the natural sciences,where theorieshave
often beenformulatedand appliedbeforethe underlyingcausalmechanisms
Similar ideasarepresentin (social)constructionlsz(sometimescalledcon-
structivismT).This approachdoesnot, asis sometimesthought, arguethat the
physicalworld itself is the product of the imaginationof the socialscientist;
rather, it is he/shewho puts order onto it. As Hacking (1999:33) explains:
constructioniststend to maintain that classificationsare not deter-
mined by how the world is but are convenientwaysto representit.'Theories
are not descriptionsto be evaluatedby their literal correspondence to some
discoverablereality, but partial ways of understandingthe world, which
shouldbe comparedwith eachother for their explanatorypower (Kratochwil,
ch. 5). The world is not just there to be discoveredby empirical research;
rather,knowledgeis filteredthrough the theory the researcheradopts.
Theseontologiesand epistemologies shadeinto the interpretivisfapproach.
Here, objective and subjective meanings are deeply intertwined. This
approachalso stresses the limits of mechanicallaws and emphasizes human
volition. Sincehuman beingsare'meaningful'actors, scholarsmust aim at dis-
coveringthe meaningsthat motivatetheir actionsrather than relying on uni-
versallaws externalto the actors.Subjectivemeaning is at the core of this
knowledge.It is thereforeimpossibleto understandhistoricaleventsor social


phenomenawithout looking at the perceptionsindividualshaveof the world

outside.Interpretation in various forms has long characterizedthe study of
history as a world of actorswith imperfectknowledgeand complexmotiva-
tions, themselvesformed through complexcultural and socialinfluences,but
retaininga degreeof freewill and judgement.8
Historiansalsorecognizethat the interpretationis often dependenton the
valuesand concernsof the historian him/herselfand that reinterpretationof
the past (revisionism) is often stimulated by the political agendaof the
present.Suchtraditional forms of interpretationhavebeenjoined by a newer
school of interpretivism derived from post-modernistpremises(Bevir and
Rhodes2003).This schoolcastsdoubts on the epistemologicalconstantsof
much socialscience,which it seesasunduly influencedby modernistassump-
tions about order, causationand progress(themselvesin turn derivedfrom
nineteenth-centurynatural science).Interpretationworks at two levels.The
world can be understoodnot as an objectivereality,but as a seriesof inter-
pretationsthat peoplewithin societygiveof their position;the socialscientist,
in turn, interprets theseinterpretations.In a further reflexiveturn, social
scientists'interpretationsfeed back to the people through literature and
media, influencing them yet againin what Giddens(1976) callsthe
hermeneutic'.This is one reasonwhy relationshipsthat may haveheld in the
pastmight not hold in the future (Hay 2002).
The humanisticapproaches shift the emphasisfurther towardsthe subjec-
tive. In this perspective,what distinguisheshuman sciencefrom natural I
sciencesis that human behaviouris alwaysfiltered by the subjectiveunder-
standingsof externalreality on the part of the peoplebeing studiedand the I'
researcherhim/herself. Social science is therefore, in the often-quoted lI ;i
definition proposedby Clifford Geertz(1973:5), an experimentalscience
in searchof laws but an interpretativesciencein searchof meaning'.In the lii
most radicalversionsof this approach,reality doesnot existbeyondthe (rel-
ativeand partial) imagesthe various actorshaveof it. Knowing the reality is li

therefore impossible,and scholarsshould focus on the meaning through iiti:l
empatheticknowledge. itl;i
1 . ij
in thesocialsciences? li

The methodologicalquestionrefersto the instrumentsand techniqueswe use til l ,

to acquireknowledge.At one level,this is independentof the ontologicaland
epistemologicalquestionsjust discussed,since there are multiple ways of ilr

ff :j

acquiring eachtype of knowledge.In practice,they tend to be linked, since

positivistic social sciencelends itself naturally to 'hard' methods, seeking
unambiguousdata, concreteevidenceand rules and regularities,while more
interpretiveapproachesrequire 'softer'methodsallowing for ambiguity and
contingencyand recognizingthe interplay betweenthe researcherand the
object of research(but seebelow). All thesedifferencesare linked with the
differing final scopeof the research.
In the positivisttradition, researchaimsat singlingout causalexplanations,
on the assumption of a cause-effectrelationship between variables (see
H6ritier, ch. ). Researchers aim at an explanationthat is structural and
context-free,allowing generalizationand the discoveryof universallaws of
behaviour.Suchlawsmay be discoveredin two ways.The inductiveapproach,
which is associatedwith pragmatismor behaviourism(Hay 2002),involves
derivinggeneralizations from specificobservationsin a largenumber of cases.
Positivistsin the more scientifictradition, however,would insistthat one start
with a theory,which then generateshypotheses(an expectedstateof affairs)
which are then subjectedto the test of hard factsand only acceptedif they
survive the ordeal (see H6ritier, ch. 4).e This is the hypothetico-deductiye
(deductive-empirical)method,r0in which the study of socialreality utilizes
the conceptual framework, techniquesof observationand measurement,
instruments of mathematicalanalysisand proceduresof inferenceof the
naturalsciences (Corbetta2003:l3). Sinceit is rarelypossible in the socialsci-
encesto conduct experiments,large datasetsand statisticalanalysesare used
in order to identify and isolatecausesand effectsin a rigorous manner and
arriveat a singleexplanation.This is not to saythat positivistsuseonly quan-
titative methods;but wherethey useother (qualitative)methods,they follow
the samelogic of inference.The main aim is 'identifliing,assessing and elim-
inating rival explanations'(Collier,Brady and Seawright2004at229).
By contrast,interpretive/qualitativeresearchaims at understandingevents
by discoveringthe meaningshuman beingsattribute to their behaviourand
the externalworld. The focus is not on discoveringlaws about causalrela-
tionshipsbetweenvariables,but on understandinghuman nature,including
the diversityof societiesand cultures.More specifically, following weber,this
type of socialscienceaims at understanding (verstehen)the motivationsthat
lie behind human behaviour, a matter that cannot be reduced to any
predefinedelementbut must be placedwithin a cultural perspective,where
culture denotesa web of sharedmeaningsand values(seedellaporta, ch. 11,
and Keating,ch. 6). Theory is important, but is not alwaysestablishedprior
to the researchas in the deductive-empiricalapproach.In the form of

theory', it may be built up in the courseof the research,but then
be availablefor further researchand the study of other cases.Casesare not
broken down into variablesbut consideredasinterdependentwholes;gener-
alization is achievedby assigningcasesto classesand approximatingthem
to ideal types. Context is consideredas most important since researchon
human activity must consideran individual's situationalself-interpretation
(Flyvbjerg2001:47).Predictabilityis impossiblesincehuman beingschange
in time and spaceand,in the words of Bourdieu(1977:109), hasa
logic, which is not that of logic'. The outcomeof the researchthen takesthe
form of specificexplanationsof cases,but also of refined conceptsfor the
analysisof future cases.
This tlpe of research,like the positivist approach,seeksexplanationsfor
social outcomesbut does not expect to derive thesefrom universalrules.
Rather,explanationcomes from the interpretation of people'smotives for
their actions. Ferejohn (2004: 146) clarifiesthis distinction by contrasting
and'internalist' explanations:

Externalistsexplainactionby pointingto its causes; internalistsexplainactionby

showingit asjustified
or bestfromanagent's perspective.
Externalist explanations are
positivistand predictive;internalistexplanationsare normativeor hermeneutic.
tendto callthemselvespoliticalscientists;
And,both externalists andinternalists
agree,ifthey agreeon little else,that theyare
engaged in different

Sometimesthis differenceis presentedas a contrastbetweenquantitative

(positivist) and qualitative(interpretive)methods (Creswell1994;Corbetta
2003). This is a sourceof considerableconfusion,conflating ontology and
epistemologyon the one hand with methodsand methodologyon the other.
The quantitative method refers to sophisticateddata analysisusing large
numbers;thereis certainlya streamin socialsciencethat is both positivistand
quantitative in approach.Brady, Collier and Seawright(2004) describea
quantitative method' as an approachbased upon the use of
regressionanalysisand relatedtechniquesaiming at measuringcausalinfer-
ence;but note that work in the positivist tradition also makesuse of non-
quantitative material such as case studies,paired comparisons,interview
recordsand evenethnographicapproachesin field researchand interpreta-
tion. King, Keohaneand Verba (1994),leading exponentsof the positivist
approach,acceptthat qualitativemethods may be used as a supplementto
quantitativemethodsas long as they follow the samelogic. The chaptersin
Brady and Collier (2004)arguethat qualitativemethodscan tacklequestions
Donatella Keating

that quantitativemethods cannot encompass,but remain within the same

positivist epistemologicalframework. Even participant observationis often
'theory-driven'researchdesigns(Lichterman2002). Laitin (2003
usedwithin )
likewiseadmitsto the validity of narrativeapproaches but only aspart of a tri-
partite approach in conjunction with statisticsand formal modelling. For
Laitin, narrativescan provide plausibility tests for formal models,mecha-
nismsthat link dependentand independentvariables,and ideasfor searching
for new specificationsof variablesthat haveyet to be modelled.
There is, however,another rather different, more specificmeaning often
given to the term qualitativemethods,linked to the interpretiveapproach
derivedfrom ethnographyand anthropologyand which has now arrived in
other areasof the socialsciences.As definedby Denzin and Lincoln (2000:3) :

Qualitative research is a situatedactivitythatlocatestheobserver in theworld.It con-

sistsof a setof interpretivepractices
that make the world These
visible. practices
form theworld.Theyturn theworld into a seriesof representations, includingfield
notes,interviews> conversations, photographs, recordingsandmemosto theself.At
this level,qualitativeresearchinvolvesan interpretive,naturalisticapproachto the
world.Thismeansthat qualitative researchers studythingsin theirnaturalsettings,
attemptingto makesenseof, or to interpret,phenomena in termsof the meanings
peoplebringto them.

Favouredmethodsfor this are unstructuredinterviews,focusgroups,textual

analysisand content analysis(seeBray,ch. 15). However,just as positivists
may makeuseof interviews,casestudiesand evenparticipantobservation,so
interpretivistssometimesuse quantitative techniques.Sophisticatedcom-
puter softwareis availablefor analysisof the content of speechand textsto
identifr keywords,patternsof symbols,codesand references. This showsonce
again that we should not confuse issuesof epistemologywith those of
methodologyor researchtechnique.


to method
It would thereforebe a greatsimplification to saythat there is a distinction
betweenquantitativeand qualitativemethods correspondingto the distinc-
tion between positivist and interpretivist epistemologies.Methods are no
more than ways of acquiring data. Questionsabout methods do, however,
come togetherwith epistemologyand theory in discussionsabout method'
ology,whichrefersto the way in which methodsareused.Herewe facechoices

pointing in the direction of more or lessformally structuredapproachesand

To explorethem,we first presenta simplifiedset
of choicesto be made in researchdesignand in method selection(seealso
dellaPorta,ch. 1l).
The first choiceis in the framing of the researchquestion.Positivistswill
usuallystart with a hypothesisdeductivelyderivedfrom theory and previous
knowledge.Typically,this will postulate some expectedstate of affairs or
causalrelationshipand be empiricallyfalsifiable.By this we do not meanthat
it is actuallyfalse,merelythat the conditions under which it can be rejected
are specified.If it is not falsified,then it can be takenastrue, not only for the
casesin questionbut for all caseswith the samecharacteristics. Interpretivists
(or qualitative researchers in the restricted sense)work more inductively,
build up the researchquestionin the courseofthe researchand are prepared
to modifr the designwhile the researchis in progress.There is thus no clear
time distinction betweenthe researchdesignand its implementation,asthey
are interlinked with continuous feedbacks.Positiviststake care to opera-
tionalizetheir conceptsand hypothesesin scientificand generalterms,while
interpretivistslet the conceptsemergefrom the work itself.
Another differencerefersto the number of casesanalysed,aswell asthe cri-
teria for selectingthem. Positivistswill often choosea largenumber of cases
to achievethe maximum generalizabilityand capturemost sourcesof varia-
tion. A-lternatively, they will choosea small number of cases,but rigorously
selectthem in such a way that their differencescan be specifiedprecisely.In
f. S. Mill's (1974) classicformulation, two casesshould be chosensuch that
they shareonly one attribute in common, or so that they differ in only one
attribute.In this approach,numbersarenot necessarily used,and casescanbe
few: the logic is, however,the approximation to a statisticaltype of analysis,
with concernswith (statistical)representativity, validity and reliability.Non-
quantitativetechniquesmust thus follow the samelogicalstructureand rules
for scientificinference(King, Keohaneand Verba 1994).t2Interpretivists, on
the other hand, will selectcaseson the basisof their inherent interest (for
example,paradigmaticcases),not becausethey are typical of a categorybut
for what they tell us about complexsocialprocesses.
Positivistsusuallyemploy the languageof variables.That is, they are not
interestedin casesassuch,but in the propertiesofthose casesthat causethem
to differ. Sincethey are concernedwith generalor universallaws,they want to
knowwhat factorscausewhich outcomesin sociallife, for examplewhat is the
causal relationship between economic growth and democratization.This
requires that they developan operational definition of economic growth and
i.: iirl i..'l

of democratizationand waysof measuringthem. Thesethen becomethe vari-

ablesin the analysis,with economic growth as the or causal
variableand democratizationasthe or causedvariable.Of course,
it is rarelythe casethat one independentvariablewill everywhereand always
produce the sameeffectson the dependentvariable,but this merely means
that more variablesneed to be added so that, eventually,all variation is
accountedfor. In the words of Przeworskiand Teune(1970),the aim is ulti-
matelyto proper names'- that is, to accountfor socialprocesses by
referenceto generalrules without talking about individual cases,since these
will all be accountedfor within the generalrules (Corbetta2003).Contextfor
thesesocialscientistsmerelyconsistsof variablesthat haveyet to be specified
adequately(Laitin 2003).
Neo-positivistapproacheshaverelaxedthe assumptionthat knowledgeis
context-freeand that the samerelationshipsamong variableswill hold every-
where and at all times. Instead,there is more emphasison the particular and
the local, and on the way in which factorsmay combinein differentcircum-
stances.To capture this contextual effect, researchershave increasingly
resortedto the ideaof institutionsasbearersof distinctpatternsof incentives
and sanctions,and on the way that decisionstakenat one time constrainwhat
can be done later.Theseinstitutional factorsmay be expressed in the form of
variables,but an important role is playedby comparativestudy of a small
number of cases,wherethe variation is the institutional structureand its his-
torical evolution (seeSteinmo,ch.7). Neo-positivistsseekto expressthe effect
of contextin the form of institutional structuresand try to avoidthe concept
of culture as impossibleto operationalizeand inimical to generaltheorizing.
Others, however,have moved from institutions into culture, providing a
bridge betweeninterpretivistand positivistapproaches(seeKeating,ch. 6).
Interpretiveanalyses keepa holistic focus,emphasizingcases(which could
be an individual, a community or other socialcollectivity)ascomplexentities
(dellaPorta,ch. I I ) and stressingthe importanceof context.Conceptsareori-
entativeand can be improved during the research.The presentationof the
datais usuallyin the form of thick narratives,with excerptsfrom texts(inter-
views, documents and ethnographic notes) presentedas illustration. The
assumptionof mutual influenceamong the many factorsat work in any case
discouragesany attempt to reasonabout causesand effectsor to generalize.
Understandingrealityimplies ourselvesin information about the
actors in question, and using both empathy and imagination to construct
credible accountsof their sensesof identity' (Smith 2004: 43).In such an
enterprise,methods generallylabelledas qualitative- such as interpretative

textual analyses,ethnographicfieldwork,biographicalstudiesor participant

observation- are key (seeBray,ch. 15).
Another differenceis in the relationshipof the researcherto the research
object:how much participationis permissiblein the situationto be observed?
How much of a strangershould the researcherbe? And how sympathetic
towardsthe point of view of the objectof his/her research? The positivistsets
up a completeseparationbetweenthe observerand what is observed,taking
carenot to the researchby becomingpart of it. S/hewill prefer
standardizedquestionnairesand interview schedules,anonymizedsurveys,
rigorous coding of responses and, often, quantitativetechniques.The inter-
pretivistwill tend, on the contrary,to immersehim/herselfin the situationto
be studied,to empathizewith the population and to seethingsfrom their per-
spective.Anthropologistsspend long periods in the field seekingto gain
an inside knowledge.The sociologyof intervention (as pioneeredby Alain
Touraine) involvesthe researchers working with social movementsand the
activiststhey study in a common path, with the aim of helping the latter to
interpret the situation and engagingin mutual learning.In the most radical
understanding,all statementsabout the externalworld havesuchstrongsub-
jectiveelementsthat no sharedobservationcan exist.The acknowledgement
of the role of interactionsbefweenresearchers and the objectof the research
posesmany ethicalissues;among others,whom to acceptas a sponsor,how
much to revealabout the researchto the interviewees,how to protect their
privacy,how to compensatethem for their collaboration,how to keepthem
informed about the resultsof the researchand how to avoid manipulation.
Another critical question that differentiatesapproachesconcernsvalue-
neutrality.In the positivist perspective,the researcherbrings no normative,
ideologicalor political perspectivesto bear on the research.S/he is merely
seekingthe unadornedtruth. Critics would arguethat this often concealsa
normative agendaand indeed that the founding assumptionsof positivism
themselvesreflecta valuechoice.13 Positivistscounterthat, if this is the case,
then all suchnormativetendenciesshouldbe declaredin advance.Normative
work as such is, accordingto this perspective,a separateendeavour,which
belongsin the field of ethicalphilosophy.Interpretivistswould tend not to
make sucha sharpdistinction betweenempirical and normativework; taken
to its fullest, this approachdeniesthe distinction betweenfacts and values
altogether.More moderateversionsarguethat most languageand speechacts
have both descriptiveand normative elementswithin them, that concepts
themselvesusually have some normative content, and that the researcher
should be awareof this. Recently,there have been consciousefforts to pull

ffijffi dellaPodaandMichaelKeating


Positivist Post-positivist Interpretivist Humanistic

Which Empiricist,aiming Mainly empiricist, Relativefocus Focuson values,

methodoloEry?at knowing the recognizing on meanings, meaningand
realitY context context purPoses

\Mrich Imitating the Basedupon Seeking Empathetic

method/s? natural method approximations to meaning interactions
lexperlments, the natural (textual between
mathematical method analysis, and
models, (experiments, discourse objectof
statistical statisticalanalysis, analysis) research
analysis) quantitative

togethernormative work derived from philosophy with empirical research

(seeBaubock,ch. 3). While in one sensenew this alsorepresentsa return to
the classicalera of socialthought. Flyvbjerg(2001) has controversiallysug-
gestedthat, sincethe socialsciencescan nevergain the explanatorypower of
the natural sciencesbecauseof the nature of the world, they should return to
this earlierageand seekto provide reflexiveanalysisand discussions of values
and interestsaimedat praxis,that is,to contributeto the realizationof a better
society.This in turn hassparkedsomecritical rejoinders(Laitin 2003).
Returningto our fourfold classification,
and with the caveatsalreadymen-
tioned,we cansummarizesomemain methodologicalassumptions (Thble2.2).


Howmanywaysto knowledge?

How exclusivemust be our methodologicalchoices? Shouldwe leavespacefor

epistemological anarchism> and trust exchangeswith scholarsworking within
the other Even switching betweenthe two? Or is the building
of knowledge only possiblewithin one paradigm?Is the combination of
approaches/methods usefulto overcomethe limits of eachmethodology?Or
would it risk undermining the soundnessof the empiricalresults?
Threeapproachesto theseissuescan be singledout in the socialsciences:
(a) Paradigmatic,exclusiveapproach.In the light of Kuhn'sconceptionof
the role of paradigm, some social scientistsaim at a paradigmaticscience,
'- I T;;":":s:i

where only one paradigm is consideredas the right one, combining theory,
methods and standardstogether,usually in an inextricablernixture (Kuhn
1962:109).Thosewho seethe socialsciences asparadigmaticstressthe impor-
tanceof convergingon (or imposing) one singleway to knowledge.
(b) Anarchist,hyper-plurqlistic
approach.At the other extreme,there is an
position that combinesscepticismabout a 'true'knowledge with
enthusiasmfor experimentationwith different paths to knowledge.Those
who subscribeto this position to various extentssupport Feyerabend's anar-
chism and his belief that:

theworldwewantto exploreisa largelyunknownentity.Wemusttherefore keepour

optionsopen. . . Epistemological prescriptions maylook splendidwhencompared
with otherepistemologicalprescriptions. . . but how canweguarantee
thebestwayto discover,notjusta fewisolated'facts',but alsosomedeep-lying
of nature?(Feyerabend 1975: 20).

(c) Thesearch for commensurable knowledge. Betweenthosetwo extremes,

there are positionsthat admit the differencesin the pathsto knowledgeand
denythe existenceof a one',but still aim at renderingdifferencescom-
Within this third perspective- which we tend to follow in this volume - it
is important to comparethe advantagesand disadvantages of eachmethod
and methodologybut also be awarethat not all are compatible.Goalsthat
cannot be maximizedat the sametime include seekingprecisecommunica-
tion asopposedto fertility in the applicationof concepts,parsimoniousexpla-
nations as opposedto thick descriptions,and generalizabilityas opposedto
simplicity (Collier,Bradyand Seawright2004a:222).It may thereforebe ne-
cessaryto trade off one advantageagainstanother.This choicewill be made
on the basisof the fundamentalquestionthe researcheris trying to answer-
for example,whether he/sheis trying to explain a particular case;to gain
nomotheticknowledge(discoveringgeneralrules);or seekingwaysto achieve
a better society.It dependson the preferencesof the researcher, and on the
sorts of data that are available,including reliablestatisticaldata or detailed
field data requiring long immersionin the field.
The choice of approach is linked to another choice in social science
research: whetherto startwith a theory,a method or a problem.Thoseaiming
at a paradigmaticsocialsciencewill often start with a theory,seekingto test
it with a view to proving, disproving or modif ing it and so contributing
to universalknowledge.This is often tied to a particular methodology to
allow studiesto be reproducedand compared.Thoseinterestedin a specific
m*ffi;! Donatella

problem, on the other hand, will tend to look for the method and approach
that seemsto offer more by way of understandingof the case.Exponentsof
the first approachare accusedof studying methods for their own sakeand
choosingonly issuesthat are amenableto that method - summed up in the
old adagethat if the only tool you haveis a hammer,everyproblem startsto
look like a nail (Greenand Shapiro1994;Shapiro2004).Thosewho focuson
problems,in contrast,are accusedof adding nothing to the writings of his-
torians and journalists(Shapiro,Smith and Masoud 2004a).
Waysof combining knowledgecan be characterized assynthesis,triangu-
lation, multiple perspectivesand cross-fertilization. Synthesisinvolves
merging elementsof different approachesinto a single whole and can be
done at various levels. Synthesizingdifferent epistemologiesis virtually
impossible,sincethey rest on different assumptionsabout socialreality and
knowledge.Methodologiesmay be easierto syrrthesize since,aswe haveseen,
they are not necessarilytied to specific epistemologicalassumptions.
Techniquesand methods are most easilycombined since,aswe havenoted,
many of them canbe adaptedto differentresearchpurposes.Socomparative
history and historicalinstitutionalismhaveadoptedand adaptedtechniques
from comparativepolitics,history and sociologyto gain new insight into
processes of change.
Tiiangulationis aboutusingdifferentresearchmethodsto complementone
another.Again,it is difficult to triangulatedistinct epistemologies,
methodologiesand very common with methods.So positivistscan incorpo-
rateinterviewsand textualanalysisinto their researchdesigns,althoughusing
theseashard dataratherthan in the mannerof interpretivists.Casestudiesare
frequentlyusedto complementlarge-Nstatisticalanalyses aswaysof opening
the box'of explanation(seeHdritier, ch.4). Surveyresearchmay be
complementedby ethnographicwork, which exploresthe way in which ques-
tions areunderstoodand the meaningsof the responses.
Multiple perspectives impliesthat a situationmay havemorethan one inter,
pretationaccordingto how we view it. De Tocqueville( 1999)wrote that in his
life he had met theoristswho believedthat eventsin the world owedeverlthing
to generalcauses,and practicalpeoplewho imaginedthat daily eventsand
actionswerethosethat movedthe world - he addedthat both weremistaken.
Allison's (I971) study of the CubanMissile Crisis examinedthe sameevents
using differentframesto comeup with differentexplanations.
It hasbeen said that everyoneis born either an Aristotelianor a Platonist
(Hacking 1999:84),yet hardly any socialscientistnow is a naive empiricist
who believesthat the world representsitself to us without interpretation.

Conversely,nobody in mainstreamsocialsciencedeniesthe existenceof the

physicalworld or maintainsthat realityis entirelysubjectiveand in our minds.
This encouragesa cross-fertilizationin a largemiddle ground.
Conceptsoften arisein the socialsciences by different tracks,derivedfrom
slightlydifferentstartingpoints but endingin similar places.For example,the
conceptof widely usedin policy analysisto indicate the different
waysin which peoplewill defineand conceptualizea policy issueor problem,
can be derived from an anti-positivistand interpretivist position (Fischer
2003)but also from a positivistone. It has been used in socialmovement
researchsincelong beforethe so-called turn'by scholarsinterestedin
strategicaction by collectiveactors(suchas David Snow),but alsoby others
more interested in the micro-dlnamics of cognition (such as William
Gamson).In all cases,the ideais that situationscan be interpreteddifferently
and presenteddifferently to evokedifferent reactionsfrom the sameset of
facts.The differencesarein exactlyhow much weight is givento the objective
world and how much to its interpretation.The conceptof culture,much used
by interpretivists,is rejectedby positivistsand rational choice analystsbut
then often brought backin asnormativeinstitutionalismor sharedmeanings
and understandingsthat underpin policy communities (seeKeating,ch. 6).
Context is centralto ethnographicand interpretivistapproaches,where it is
deeplytextured and rich, but is also used in neoinstitutionalistanalysisand
evenfeaturesin the hardestregression analyses(wheredifficult whole casesare
expressed asdummyvariables).New institutionalismhascomeinto the social
sciencesthrough severaldoors:in political science,where it is a responseto
decontextualized rational choiceapproaches;in sociology,where it drawson
organizationaltheory; and in economics,whereit drawson economicsociol-
ogy.The result is a set of conceptsthat are very similar but, becauseof their
distinct origins and vocabulary,neverquite identical.
There is alsoa largecrossoverin waysof developingand using theory.As
mentioned, grounded theory does not start with a deductively produced
hypothesisbut with experience;nevertheless, it doesthen go on to build up
generaltheory of wider applicability.It owesa lot to the Americanpragmatist
tradition, with roots in a but it hasbeenextendedand elab-
orated in more interpretivistapproaches.Meanwhile,in the United States,
that same realist ontology has evolved into varieties of rational choice
approaches,based supposedlyon the solid foundation of the individual
person,but in practiceusingan ideal-t1peconstructand modelsderivedfrom
deductivereasoning.Indeed,rational choiceapproachesthemselvesseemto
be compatibleboth with determinism(on the assumptionthat preferences are
r Donatella

knowableand outcomespredictablefrom individual self-rnaximization)and

with freewill (in that the individual doeschoose).A greatdealof socialscience
proceedsby going back and forth betweentheory and cases,usingthe one to
developand deepenunderstandingofthe other.
Sometimesthe cross-fertilizationis explicitlyacknowledged. In a contribu-
tion to a volume significantly titled RethinkingSocial Inquiry. Diverse'fools,
SharedStandards, Collier,Seawrightand Munck (2004)stressthe importance
of good theoriesand empirical methods,but alsoappreciatethe contribution
of interpretivework to conceptformation and fine-graineddescription.Many
of the classicworks in sociologyand political sciencehavetakenthe form of
interpretivecasestudiesfrom which generaltheorieshavebeendevelopedby
example,replication and extension(Van Langenhove2007).Examplesare
Alexisde Tocqueville'sDe Ia ddmocracie enAmdriqueandL'ancienrdgimeet la
rtvolution, but also more recent historical sociology in the school of
Barrington Moore Jr. Qualitative analysishas also been used to highlight
causaleffectsby focusingon striking caseswherethe impact is clearestand the
detailed mechanismscan be examined.In this way, social scientistscan
proceedfrom correlation,wherethe samecausesareassociated with the same
effects,to explanationsof why and how.
Influencescome not only from within the disciplinebut also from other
areasof science.Newtonianphysics,with its searchfor lawsand constants,has
been an inspiration for positivist social science,while its opponentshave
drawn attentionto the uncertaintiesunderlyingmodern physicsand the huge
epistemological assumptionsamongwhich scientists haveto choose(suchas
the existenceof one or paralleluniverses).Evolutionarybiology now provides
inspiration for historical institutionalists (see Steinmo, ch. 7).ta Rational
choice scholarsare inspired by neoclassicaleconomists,while institutional
economistslearn from sociology.History long providedthe model and tools
for the study of politics in Britain, while law was its basisin many European
countries.After a period in which the socialsciencesinsistedon their own
specificity,manyscholarsarenow turning backto history,while developments
in legalscholarship(including law in context,critical legaltheory and consti-
tutionalism) are linking back to concernsin political scienceand sociology.
Literaturehashelpedinspire the imagination'byportrayingdra-
matic situationsthat needto be explainedand resolvedand drawingattention
to the conflictswithin the individual mind.
Cross-fertilization,however,is inhibited by the existenceor closingup of
researchcommunities,groups of scholarsin regularcontactand discnssion,
lvho may definetheir common interestby substantivetopic, methodology,or
6f ,g]:;s-'-:
in thesocialsciences?

both (Sil 2004).Theseare reified and perpetuatedby processes which them-

selvesare worthy of sociologicalanalysis,including the existenceof journals
weddedto particular approaches,the orientation of individual departments
or sections,patterns of graduatesupervisionand discipleship,routinized
assessment procedures,and routes to careeradvancement.When research
communitiesare definedboth by substantivetopic and by method, barriers
may be very high and knowledgeremainlimited to the problemseachmethod
is bestfit to tackle,secludedfrom externalstimuli and challenges. On the other
hand, when barriersare more fluid, the problem emergesof the commensu-
rability of differentforms of knowledge,aswell as'fuzzy'and ill-definedstan-
dards(Ruggie1998).This makesit all the more important for researchers to
know the field and to be ableto comparestandardsand argumentswith those
from different communities.This is what Sil (2004) suggestsunder the label
of eclecticism,where problems of incommensurabilityare not absoluteand
comparisonscan be made acrossfields to the advantageof both empirical
knowledgeand theoreticalinnovation.
Furtherproblemsarecausedby the tendencyfor conceptsor expressions to
becomefashionableand then stretchedbeyond their original or indeed any
usefulmeaning.In recentyears,for example,the useof the word 'governance'
hasexploded.For somescholars,this is a specificphenomenondistinct from
governmentand capableof operationalization,but for othersit is usedinter-
changeablywith government.Still othersseeit aslessthan government,refer-
ring to a specificway of governingthrough networks,alongsidetraditional
institutional government.Othersseeit asa broadercategoryof socialregula-
tion, of which governmentis a subcategory.Someseeit as an alternativeto
government- that we aremoving from a world of governmentto one of gov-
ernance. construction'aresimilarly stretchedto cover
almost everything(Hacking 1999) as,for a while, was the term 'invention'.
Discourseanalysisis sometimesusedasa specificmethodology,with its own
ontology (speechactsthemselves)and its own techniques;at other times it is
appliedto any techniquethat involvesusing textsand interviews.Sometimes
the blame for all this confusionlies with scholarsthinking that they need to
getinsidethe current paradigmin order to maketheir point; often it is merely
a matter of publisherslooking for a trendy title.
Of course,not everlthing is methodologically healthy,and the labelof eclec-
ticism should not be usedto justify hybridsthat violate,if not rules,at least
codesof conductof whatwe havepresented hereasmain approaches. Although
the triangulation of various methods and methodologieswithin the same
research projectoftenincreases reliabilityand improvesour understanding, the
W Donatella andMichaelKeating

different parts of the enterprise must respectinternal coherence.If an
knowledge' of qualitative and quantitative techniques enriches a researcher's
curriculum, human limits, together with the increasing sophistication of most
qualitative and quantitative techniques, impose some specialization. The
following chapters offer difrering approaches in ontology, epistemology and
methodology but also indicate points of commonality and overlap.

I This is eitherbecausethey acceptthe materialworld, or becauseit is a questionthat cannot
and neednot be answeredand is thereforefutile to debate.
2 This is one of the termsin socialsciencethat hasa multiplicity of meanings.In international
relationsit hasa rather differentmeaningfrom the one givenhere (seeKratochwil,ch. 5).
3 In fact,eventhe individualistsolution,reducingthe ontologyto the individualhuman being,
doesnot answerthis questiondefinitively,as one might arguethat eventhe self-regarding
rational individual is an artefact of social sciencemethodologyand not somethingthat
occursnaturally,sincethe original condition of human beingsis the group.This is arguedin
Adam Ferguson's( 1966)Enlightenment classtc,Essayon theHistory of Civil Society,of 1767.
4 Aclassicexampleofthisisthecaseofgender-Whilenobodydeniestheexistenceofsexua
differences,there is a big disputeover the categoryof gender,which includesa lot of other
attributesand roleswhich havebeenmappedonto sexdifferences.
5 Van Langenhove(2007)claimsthat late twentieth-centurysocialscientistshaveoften por-
trayedthe classicalsociologistsas more simplisticallypositivistthan they reallywere.
6 Critical realismhasbeendefinedas philosophicalview of scienceand/or theologywhich
assertsthat our knowledgeof the world refersto the-way-things-really-are, but in a partial
fashion which will necessarilybe revised as that knowledge develops'.Christopher
Southgate,www.meta-library.netI .
seeHacking (i999: 47-9).He recommendsleavingthe
7 For a discussionof the dift'erence,
term'constructivism'to the mathematicians.
8 This taps into a long-standingdivision in philosophy betweendeterministsand those
emphasizingfree will. While for St Augustineand John Calvin, determinismwas a matter
of divine selection,for modern socialscientistsit is a matter eitherof geneticprogramming,
socialconditioningor a predictableresponseto institutionalincentives.Believersin freewill
cannotby definition be certainabout how anotheractor will behave,no matter what con-
straintsthey are under.
9 In practice,socialscientistsoften go back and forth between and theory-driven
approachesas they seekto frame their projects.
l0 This is not to be confusedwith the pure deductivemethod,in which conclusionsarederived
from premisesby pure reasoning,with no empirical researchinvolved. H6ritier (ch.4)
explainsthe link betweeninduction and deductionin the positivisttradition.
I I Theseterms are not usedin a value-ladenway to suggestthat one is better than the other.
Hard methodscorrespondto the view that socialsciencecanbe madeto resemblethe phys-
ical sciences;
soft methods to the view that socialreality is more elusive.

12 For example, casestudies can be acceptedeither to disconfirm a hypothesis (since it only

takesone caseto disprovea rule) or asa basisfor formulating hypothesesfor generaltesting.
They are not valuablein themselves.
l3 This is perhaps most obviously so in rational choice analysis,which claims a strictly posi-
tivist basisbut includessomestrong assumptionsand tendsto lead to highly normative con-
t4 This is not to saythat the unity of the naturai and socialsciencescan therebybe restored,as
many people insist that the specificity of the latter is that the objectsof study are endowed
with consciousness
and can act on their own volition.