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Comparative Studies in sociology

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3166 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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We undertake comparative study because, notwithstanding the difficulties of this exercise, there are clear benefits’ Discuss using examples to illustrate your arguments.

Comparative study is an area where risks and benefits are very frequently mentioned. Today, Comparative study has grown into a very major field that could be applied to most of the subjects, and especially so, for Sociology and other Social Sciences. The field of Social Policy had been immensely benefited by the comparative study, as this has facilitated to compare the social policies and ways of working with those of other countries. There is a long tradition of fascination of comparing one thing with another of similar position. Social research has a long and healthy background. Through systematic study, Montesquieu wished to see how, in ways previously unsuspected, society forms people as ‘social creatures’. At the same time, he did not view society in terms of progressive development, but one of advances and set-backs in the path to liberty and all that was ‘good’, says Tim May, (1996, p. 15).

Benefits belong to the fact that only a comparative study could hope to identify the factors that are specific to national health care systems, as distinct from being common to all such systems. A comparative perspective can extend national ideas about what is possible and at the same time provide the understanding that must precede prescription.

Comparative study is an important part of diverse branches of Social Studies. For years now, empirical and comparative studies, have formed integral part of any ongoing research of Sociology. Comparative study as a tool of research in most of the subjects has come to be accepted over the years. It can bring out elements that could offer an overpowering study.

Before analysing the negative and positive points of the comparative study, focus should be on the preliminary questions that have to be answered.

Defining the level of comparison is the best way of starting a research on comparative basis. A researcher might offer many levels or might target the minimum levels needed for the comparison. Levels of comparison may be internal, like comparisons with one local governments and another, or intra-organisational comparisons, taking two or three organisations for this purpose. Or comparisons could be between different systems like international comparisons, private and public sector comparisons. Studies have to be concerned with similarity or dissimilarity. The targets of study should be directly or indirectly comparable. If comparability could not be established, it is difficult to conduct even an unclear and incoherent comparative study. Target groups should be clearly defined and the researcher should have complete knowledge of his research topics. The path in which his research is heading should be crystal clear to the researcher. Validity of comparison should be an accepted one. This would help the scholar, as the acceptance of his theory through the study would be very important to him. Comparative evaluation, which perhaps might be the last goal of the researcher, should be clearly defined and the study should be conducted with this

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Difficulties had been plaguing Comparative Study from the beginning. The units of the comparison of organisational systems or even the sub systems cannot be the same and this had been the grouse of many social scientists. Risk also lies in the temptation of social scientists to seek perfect solutions to national problems in the experience of other countries. This is not a clever way of conducting research, because the distinct peculiarity of such a situation could not be emulated for the purpose of studies. Each country’s experience will be unique and diverse under the peculiarity of given circumstances and such a ‘strangeness’ could not compared with another one, with perhaps a uniqueness of its own. This social, political and economic eccentricity could be the product of that particular country and culture and cannot be universal.

According to some of the researchers, theory plays very little part in the comparative study. No doubt it is there, but it figures as a very small part of it. But theory does not make as big a contribution as it should make. This had been a stumbling block ever since the comparative research has become popular. Another problem that surfaces very often is that comparative study has become too common. Starting from ordinary market surveys, public opinions or any smallest thing possible, has come under comparative study and hence, this has become a very common way of research. There is no novelty left in it, and it has become stale. The methodology has been used too many times with too little gratification. This had been the argument of many social scientists.

There is another argument that a universal social science is emerging due to over use of the comparative study. In a historical study of development of comparative social research Scheuch shows how the commercial institutes for market and opinion research went into cross-national comparisons as early as in the thirtees, (Oyen, p.6). This would erase the peculiarities and distinctions of various societies leading to a uniform kind of society without any differentiation and that would be the ultimate human tragedy.

Another disadvantage lies in the sampling and sometimes the impossibility of it. Sampling might suffer due to lack of variety. And then dimensions might differ. Especially in studies of ethnicities, this could be a problem. The uniqueness, peculiarities, strangeness of one country might not be identified in another country. It is not possible to trace the counties who have the similar cultural peculiarities. People too would have their own distinctive features and this makes the study more difficult and less clear.

Indirectness of the observations is not appreciated by many social scientists. They feel that study becomes rather impersonal and lack lustre. They argue that studies conducted on Sociology should be more personal and connected to humanity, instead of raking up a cluster of figures.

Comparative study has emerged as one of the biggest and much used tools of sociological research. While conducting either an evaluation or study, it is much easier and clearer to have another standard to compare it with. If there is no way of measuring it, the study does not become clear. As it is, Sociology is such a branch of study that faces criticism, as everything in it is lucid and a kind of myth making. These studies provide a firm basis against which the other details could be checked and they provide a checking point.

Study by comparison has its own drawbacks. Circumstances may not be similar. Objects may not be similar. End product could be different. Atmosphere could be different. Circumstances could be altered every now and then. It is not possible to keep the same kind of circumstances endlessly as these studies could go on for years at times. Social atmosphere had been mercurial and it is too much to expect that they would remain static to oblige the social scientists. The standard set may be a difficult one. It might vary later or many more changes and alterations could be demanded. There might not be much similarity between the circumstances. Comparative ethnic studies is one of those areas where it is impossible to find a similarity between the communities and yet, a researcher is forced to find some similarities at least. But it is an accepted fact that ethnic societies could never have similar customs or background. Tensions, ancestry could never be the same, even though the future societies might be heading towards a depressing similarity.

There is no study in sociology, which is not at least remotely compared with something else. It has become a regular practice of most of the evaluative studies. There are negative points. All the time, it is not easy to find exact or even passable comparisons. But social policy has made comparative study a necessity, as the Social Policies of other countries are compared with it either to its advantage or disadvantage all the time. It is impossible to find exact similarities so that the comparisons could be apt. As a result, the results cannot be accurate. Results would be more of speculative or hypothetical nature, than concrete one. Different types could be compared at the same time and time would be saved. All need not be given explanatory details. If one is given and the rest of them are just shown in the symbolic way, it should be enough. And this advantage makes the rest of them to be compared with one point and that way it is less confusing and more genuine.

There are several ways of gaining an entry into the comparative method but none of them are simple and instantaneously gratifying. Mainly it started with cross-national studies. Some of these sources are located outside the arena of sociological research. There are many internal and external forces at work in a comparative study. The recent internationalization has led to many kinds of social, political, cultural and economical interaction beyond the boundaries of nations and countries. Intense mobility has taken over and people are not committed to one land any more. Internationalism could be seen in every field. In the same way, problems that used to be internal have got globalized. Very few internal problems have remained today and most of the problems are internationalized and sensationalised.

Some people who are initiating the surveys may be having interest in more than one country and perhaps they would like to see if they could get a cross-country comparative study, which would be positively helpful in their own work. Politicians call for such studies to sum up their achievements. Comparing their achievement with another country might make them feel smug, if the other country’s achievements are comparatively insignificant. Politicians would definitely feel that their status internally and externally grows with that kind of comparison. Comparison study is also based on the theory of pluralism and not on totalitarianism.

Another area that is coming under comparative study very often nowadays is the international eco system. After the conservation and concern for eco system have become a world concern, comparative study on this science has become imperative. Even though we do not have other worlds to compare the eco system with, comparison with various parts of the world and their eco systems have become a fruitful study that gives opportunity not only to improve the errors, but also to study the results of conversation activities. Still more precise comparative studies in this area are needed. This has become a major area of research based on comparative evaluation in recent years and this would go on improving. Even the reliability of these studies is improving fast.

The national and international surveys and studies have filled up the databanks in every subject. New Techniques and methodologies have been employed recently. Social scientists have become more and more adept in their studies and Sociology, from more or less an abstract subject, is fast becoming a precise area. That is one more advantage of comparative study. It is capable of giving preciseness into any vague subject. New software of recent technologies could be used for the comparative study more easily. Technical issues involved in cross-national studies could be researched and evaluated without complication.

Cross-national research has adopted various patterns and relationships. Comparative study has brought subjects like Sociology from the theoretical mode.

Throughout the period during which we have been struggling with comparative research, one lesson learned is that whatever we do in the way of cross-national comparisons must be theoretically justified – and cutting into countries theoretically is a complex process of the beginning of which we have only caught a glimpse, says Oyen, (1990, p. 3).

Hence, comparative study does not reduce Sociology totally to a subject of statistics and figures, but keeps the theoretical part of it equally important. Looking from that point of view, it could be stated that comparative study furthers the subject without harming its traditional fabric. It is an additional asset and definitely not an usurper. Cross national research employing comparative study as a tool is mainly done to reduce variance that had been remained hitherto unexplained. Sociologists too are showing more and more preference towards conventional ways of research. Even though new methods are adapted, they are against abandoning the traditional ways of research. Macro sociological analysis and micro sociological methods combine both theory and practice.

Normal behaviour and norms cannot be studied without acknowledging deviations from the normal. Actually, no social phenomenon can be isolated and studied without comparing it to other social phenomena, according to Oyen (p. 4).

International social science has come a long way, mainly due to comparative study. After the advent of globalisation, social science has not remained curtailed to particular countries any more. It has become part of the world social science. Now Comparative studies have emerged victorious bringing the world societies together. This has brought up another advantage. Any kind of knowledge anywhere in the world is becoming the common property of the world in no time, and based on that, further knowledge gets built up continuously. The knowledge of the present generation, compared to the earlier generations is growing very fast.

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1. The case of abolishing child poverty: Child poverty is a depressing phenomenon, which is plaguing all the countries in the world in some way or other. Child poverty is connected with the parental poverty and so, the standard of living has to be improved to undermine the child poverty. At the same time, there are orphans, deprived children and it is not practical to connect all of it to the parental poverty. Child poverty is very different from country to country depending on the standard of living, resources, government care and many other social, economic and political causes. Still a comparative study of various countries would yield useful results for the ongoing struggle against child poverty. There is strong evidence that unemployment, even if not accompanied by poverty, has serious secondary effects. A recent Danish study shows that it doubles the chances of family break-ups, and much later, of unemployment among the children, (Esping-Anderson, 2002, p. 54).

2. Gender inequality: To a certain extent gender inequality exists in all societies Western or Eastern. In Western societies, it is found less virulent, whereas in traditional societies, it assumes threatening stature. A comparative cross-nation study, on the face of it, might look absolutely unnecessary and ambitious. But it does help. Taking other factors into consideration, combining the backgrounds and politico-social elements of each society, a cross national study would help the scholar to form a balanced view of the gender inequality of the entire world and that would give a proper perspective to his own research.

3. Social Policy: Over the years, social policy, especially in Western societies, has become an obsession and necessity. Other that countries like America and Canada, most of the Western countries are small in size with less population. Concentrating on this population’s welfare, combined with the wealth these countries possess, it had not been impossible for them to concentrate and evolve an effective Social Policy. This does not mean that it is without flaws and drawbacks. But for the erstwhile colonies, it is still an uphill task to feed their enormous population, educate and clothe them while struggling continuously to improve the standard of living. So, they are totally dissimilar to each other. Still, through comparative research, it is noticed that there are many fields where the experience of one country could be used very effectively by another country to enormous advantage. Comparative studies on social policy comparing the Western countries to each other, comparing them collectively with other developing countries, comparing the European social policy system with that of Canada or USA had been a continuous, thriving branch of the study for social studies. These studies should not be dismissed lightly. They form the basis of further improvement in social polities of all countries. They combine many factors available in all countries and even the so-called highly advanced countries could derive plenty of benefits from the practical knowledge of other lesser-known countries. There are different medical systems, hitherto not really popular. Bringing them to the forefront and conducting further research on them could be highly beneficial to other systems. They could be complimentary to other systems and effectively fill the knowledge gaps. There is no such thing called perfect and ultimate knowledge and there is always something to learn even from the most ancient societies. Comparative studies have unfailingly pointed out this wisdom.

We are in an era in which rival forces, once again, promote their blueprints for a Good Society. Indeed, much suggests that we are heading towards yet another historical regime shift, according to Esping-Andersen, (2002, p.2).


1. Esping-Andersen, Gosta, (2002), Why we need a New Welfare State, Oxford University Press.

2. Elienne du plessis, (2004), Compulsion and Restitution, Stair Society, Edinburg.

3. Hensel, Howard, (2004), ed. Soverignity and the Global Community, Aldershot, Hants.

4. Hansen, ed ((2002), A Comparative study of six city – state cultures, Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, Copenhagen.

5. Kamerman, Sheila and Kahn, Alfred, (1981), Child Care, Family Benefits and Working Parents, A study in Comparative Policy, Columbia University Press, New York.

6. Knorr-Cetina K. and Cicourel, A.V., eds., (1981), Advances in Social Theory and Methodology, Routledge & Kegal Paul, London.

7. May, Tim, (1996), Situating Social Theory, Open University Press, Buckingham.

8. Oyen, Else, (2002), Comparative Methodology, Sage Publications Limited, London.

9. Quovertrus, Mads, (2002), A Comparative Study of Referendums, Manchester University Press.

10. Whiteford, G. (2003), A Comparative Study into the competitive Advantage Theories, (Thesis).


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