James Mahoney, “Qualitative methodology and comparative politics”, Comparative Political Studies 40 (2007), pp. 122-144.

Summary: Within the larger context of the comparative methodological debate, Mahoney looks at two aspects of qualitative studies: theory development and theory testing. He examines the underlying connections between qualitative studies and conceptual development, addressing many of the “quantitative critiques” including problems of developing testable (and re-testable) theories, selecting on the dependent variable, and the use of small populations for theory testing.

Method: Splitting his argument into theory development and testing, Mahoney uses thick description and instruction, followed up by a comparative analysis of several methods of theory testing commonly used in the field.

Important Insight: Unique to the Mahoney piece is his advancement and defense of some of the modern approaches to theory testing in cross-case analysis such as within-case analysis, categorization through the use of fuzzy sets, and necessary/sufficient conditions.

Critique: Mahoney’s not-so-veiled critiques of the quantitative method should be addressed however, as he somewhat simplistically states that qualitative research is not subject to “data-induced measurement” – a somewhat naïve statement given the propensity for even the most in-depth qualitative studies to be subject to data error through false information in fieldwork observations.