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Nguyen Hong Hanh 15228928

READING NOTE: Asking Why: Research Questions in Comparative


Politics
People first learn about societies and histories through important events and
the dates, names, places associated with them. Scholarship, however,
requires more than just description and recall. It requires us to develop
analytical skills so as to analyze politics comparatively.
Factual knowledge is easy to achieve, and though it is obviously important, it
does not allow us to have the most profound understanding of the social and
political world. Only when we seek to answer the Why question (instead of
Who/ What/ When/ Where questions) about events around us can we access
richer discussions and debates. Answering Why correctly also requires more
research, more reasoning and more debate.
Why questions are often answered not with a simple fact. They give rise to
answers talking about the causes of events, and they turn basic facts into
evidence. The core pursuit of comparative politics is to develop strong claims
about cause and effect, testing various hypotheses using factual evidence,
and developing larger theories about the operation of the world.
Most political phenomena are caused by various factors, and explaining a
phenomenon does not mean finding one or another of these factors. In order
for an event to happen, there needs to be both necessary conditions and
sufficient conditions that produce it. It is comparative politicians job to try to
explain things through listing these factors.
Comparative politics focus on certain key questions, mostly cause-and-effect
questions that can be answered by looking at different countries politics.
While asking questions, it is important that the expected answer is not built
into the questions to prevent biased arguments. Questions need to be openended to help researchers remain open to what the evidence reveals. Good
questions do not necessarily start with Why because sometimes Why
questions may be poor questions and may be ill-suited to cause-and-effect
research.
The issue of right and wrong related to the issue of causal arguments versus
normative arguments. Empirical arguments explain why the political world
operates in certain ways by linking cause and effect. Normative arguments
emphasize the way things should be. Comparative politics is more concerned
about causal arguments and its principal role is to describe what is and
explain why, rather than proclaim what ought to be.

The sort of puzzles for social scientists is mirrored in the pop culture. Social
scientists solve these puzzles in a similar manner as TV shows protagonists
by gathering evidence and formulating hypotheses, but their job is much
more difficult because they cannot rely on physical evidence but on social
facts and evidence of a more qualitative and historical nature. The evidence
used by social scientists is often subject to interpretation.
Many academics and professionals rely on evidence, logic and reason to
make persuasive arguments, even in the absence of proof. Sometimes, proof
comes after the fact, when the hypothesis is tested.
Since the world never confesses its secrets, the best social scientists can do
is work with a standard that requires them to make the strongest and most
persuasive case possible by using and interpreting the available evidence.
Many social scientists use statistical methods, but good scholarship seeks
evidence, tests hypotheses, makes arguments and contributes to the
theoretical debates.

Comments: It is a very clever idea to compare social scientists to actors on


TV shows because this makes it easier for people to have a good
understanding about what social science is about.