chapter  17
22 Pages

Comparative politics and the comparative method (1971)

Among the several fields or subdisciplines into which the discipline of poli-

tical science is usually divided, comparative politics is the only one that

carries a methodological instead of a substantive label. The term ‘‘com-

parative politics’’ indicates the how but does not specify the what of the

analysis. The label is somewhat misleading because both explicit methodo-

logical concern and implicit methodological awareness among students of

comparative politics have generally not been very high.1 Indeed, too many

students of the field have been what Giovanni Sartori calls ‘‘unconscious thinkers’’ – unaware of and not guided by the logic and methods of

empirical science, although perhaps well versed in quantitative research

techniques. One reason for this unconscious thinking is undoubtedly that

the comparative method is such a basic, and basically simple, approach,

that a methodology of comparative political analysis does not really exist.

As Sartori points out, the other extreme – that of the ‘‘overconscious thin-

kers,’’ whose ‘‘standards of method and theory are drawn from the physical

paradigmatic sciences’’ – is equally unsound.2 The purpose of this paper is to contribute to ‘‘conscious thinking’’ in comparative politics by focusing on

comparison as a method of political inquiry. The paper will attempt to

analyze not only the inevitable weaknesses and limitations of the compara-

tive method but also its great strengths and potentialities.