POLSC221 Study Guide

Unit 1: Social Science and Comparative Politics

1a. Describe the scientific method

  • What are natural science and social science?
  • What academic disciplines fall into each category?
  • Why do researchers use the scientific method?
  • How would you explain how the four characteristics of scientific inquiry (replicability, precision, falsifiability, and parsimony) relate to the scientific method?

Scholars who study comparative politics define their approach to their discipline via scientific inquiry, in a systematic and verifiable manner. Otherwise, they run the risk of compiling information that is spurious and useless to other researchers. The scientific method provides the bedrock for all scientific inquiry and consists of four characteristics: replicability, precision, falsifiability, and parsimony. This rigorous approach allows social scientists to learn and obtain inferential knowledge.

To review, see Scientific Method on page five of Social Science Research. The page number is in the upper corner of each page.

1b. Differentiate between scientific laws and theories

  • How would you describe the difference between a scientific law and a scientific theory?
  • What are observed behavior and evidence?

How do scientists who rely on scientific laws and scientific theories differ in their understanding of the world? Researchers consider scientific laws to be observed behaviors, whereas scientific theories require explanations and make predictions based on evidence.

To review, see Scientific Knowledge and Scientific Research, beginning on page two of Social Science Research.

1c. Differentiate between inductive and deductive thinking

  • What are inductive and deductive thinking or reasoning?
  • What is the difference between inductive and deductive thinking or reasoning?
  • How do these two types of thinking differ?
  • How do researchers use them in their research to explain different types of phenomena or arrive at different conclusions?

Engaging in the two thought processes, inductive and deductive reasoning, requires making different types of assumptions that lead to different types of conclusions. We typically engage in deductive, top-down thinking to perform theory testing. We engage in inductive thinking to draw inferences, make conclusions, and generate new knowledge. Inductive reasoning forms the basis of the scientific method.

To review, see Scientific Research, beginning on page three of Social Science Research.


1d. Define explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive research

  • What are explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive research?
  • What was the historical progression and difficulties that were inherent to each of these three types of research?

Scholars engage in exploratory research to discover new areas they would like to explore or research further. Once a researcher has identified this new area of inquiry, they are better able to describe and catalog their area of interest through descriptive research. Researchers apply scientific rigor by using explanatory research to explain new phenomena. Going through this systematic, research-based, process of discovery is important to political science, since each type of research applies increasing amounts of scrutiny to the object of study, moving from basic observation to more substantial findings based on sound scholarly research.

To review, see Scientific Research, beginning on page three of Social Science Research.


1e. Differentiate between positivist, anti-positivist, and postpositivist methods

  • How would you explain the difference between quantitative and qualitative research?
  • What are the positivist, anti-positivist, and postpositivist research methods?
  • What are some examples of the types of research studies that would lend themselves to each of these three research methods?
  • What was the historical context behind these three methods?
  • Why did researchers, who followed a certain method, progress to the next level or type of methodology?

The positivist research method requires researchers to use observation to verify their conclusions. This approach typically incorporates research methods that collect quantitative data, such as research surveys and experiments. The anti-positivist research method typically uses a qualitative approach, such as unstructured interviews and participant observation. Finally, as a bedrock of falsifiability, the postpositivist approach determines researchers can only disprove knowledge with any degree of certainty: they cannot prove it.

To review, see History of Scientific Thought, beginning on page seven of Social Science Research.


1f. Differentiate between Mill's Method of Agreement and Direct Method of Difference

  • What are John Stuart Mill's comparative methodologies, method of agreement and direct method of difference?
  • What is the difference between them?

Social scientists apply John Stuart Mill’s two comparative methodologies to research single, isolated observations, or topics of inquiry, and to compare and contrast multiple instances. Mill called these research methodologies: method of agreement and direct method of difference. By using as much relevant data that is available, researchers can establish a level of certainty for their claims and examples: it is better to have more information available than too little.

To review, see Mill's Methods: How We Determine the Causes of Events and Causal Reasoning.


1g. Define comparative politics

  • What is the discipline of comparative politics?
  • How do scientists identify and study the patterns, similarities, and differences to compare political systems?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages of comparing multiple political systems?
  • What is selection bias?
  • Why do social scientists try to avoid selection bias? How do they do it?

When comparing different countries or political systems, social science researchers aim to examine the patterns, similarities, or differences they discover or observe with what other researchers have documented as part of the greater framework, i.e. what is established in the field.

In this course, we encourage you to compare and contrast the political culture, political socialization, and political participation of different countries.

Similarities: For example, when comparing different political systems, can you identify similarities in the political culture, political socialization, and political participation among the countries or regions? What are those similarities? Where did they originate? How do these similarities manifest themselves in the political culture and practices of the countries or regions? Why did these similarities come about?

Differences: What are the differences in the political culture, political socialization, and political participation among the countries? Where do you think the differences you have pinpointed originated? How do these differences manifest themselves in the political culture and practices of these countries or regions? Why did these differences come about?

Depending on the type of work being conducted, two or more comparisons may be appropriate. Researchers can apply their comparisons to the local, regional, national, or international level.

To review, see Comparative Analysis within Political Science.


1h. Identify and explain various comparative methodologies used to compare various political systems

  • What are three research designs used in comparative politics: case study method, small N analysis (also called the comparative method), and large N statistical analysis?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages of these three methods?

Researchers who compare political systems, such as when they review large datasets, must be thorough and cognizant of any bias to avoid making false generalizations and inappropriate assumptions.

To review, see Section 1 of Evaluating Research Methods of Comparative Politics.


Unit 1 Vocabulary

  • Antipositivism
  • Case study method
  • Comparative politics
  • Comparative method
  • Deductive thinking or reasoning
  • Descriptive research
  • Explanatory research
  • Exploratory research
  • Falsifiability
  • Inductive thinking or reasoning
  • Large N statistical analysis
  • Methodology
  • Natural science
  • Parsimony
  • Positivism
  • Postpositivism
  • Precision
  • Qualitative
  • Quantitative
  • Replicability
  • Science
  • Scientific knowledge
  • Scientific law
  • Scientific method
  • Scientific theory
  • Selection bias
  • Small N analysis
  • Social science