Theda Skocpol and Margaret Somers, “The uses of comparative history in macro-social theory” Comparative Studies in Society and History 22 (1980), pp. 174-197.

Summary: looks at the logics of different types of comparative history (Lijphart (1971) mistakenly collapses them all into one type). There are at least three distinct logics are in use: (175)

1) comparative history as macro-causal analysis: resembles multivariate hypothesis-testing (e.g. Barrington Moore Jr. [ the dean of contemporary practitioners of this approach], in Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy; Theda Skocpol in States and Social Revolutions).

  • Macro-analysts try to specify configurations favourable or unfavourable to particular outcomes they are trying to explain. The logic of this analysis resembles that of statistical analysis, which manipulates groups of cases to control sources of variation in order to make causal inferences when quantitative data are available about a large number of cases.

2) comparative history as the parallel demonstration of theory (e.g. Eisenstadt in The Political Systems of Empires; Paige in Agrarian Revolution).

  • The reason for juxtaposing case histories is to persuade the reader that a given, explicitly delineated hypothesis or theory can repeatedly demonstrate its fruitfulness – its ability convincingly to order the evidence – when applied to a series of relevant historical trajectories. Parallel comparativists seek above all to demonstrate that a theory similarly holds good from cases to cases; for them differences among the cases are primarily contextual particularities against which to highlight the generality of the processes with which their theories are basically concerned. (176, 178)

3) comparative history as the contrast of contexts (e.g. Geertz in Islam Observed; Bendix in Nation-Building and Citizenship).

  • Has almost exactly the opposite objective from that of Parallel comparative history. Comparative history in this case is used to bring out the unique features of each particular cases included in their discussions, and to show how these unique features affect the working-out of putatively general social processes. Above all, contrasts are drawn b/w or among indvl cases. Usually such contrasts are developed with the aid of references to broad themes or orienting questions or ideal-type concepts. (178)

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