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Article

Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus

Case studies in the field of education often eschew comparison. However, when scholars forego comparison, they are missing an important opportunity to bolster case studies’ theoretical generalizability. Scholars must examine how disparate epistemologies lead to distinct kinds of qualitative research and different notions of comparison. Expanded notions of comparison include not only the usual logic of contrast or juxtaposition but also a logic of tracing, in order to embrace approaches to comparison that are coherent with critical, constructivist, and interpretive qualitative traditions. Finally, comparative case study researchers consider three axes of comparison: the vertical, which pays attention across levels or scales, from the local through the regional, state, federal, and global; the horizontal, which examines how similar phenomena or policies unfold in distinct locations that are socially produced; and the transversal, which compares over time.

Article

Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus

Comparison is a valuable and widely touted analytical technique in social research, but different disciplines and fields have markedly different notions of comparison. There are at least two important logics for comparison. The first, the logic of juxtaposition, is guided by a neopositivist orientation. It uses a regularity theory of causation; it structures the study by defining cases, variables, and units of analysis a priori; and it decontextualizes knowledge. The second, the logic of tracing, engages a realist theory of causation and examines how processes unfold, influenced by actors and the meanings they make, over time, in different locations, and at different scales. These two logics of comparison lead to distinct methodological techniques. However, with either logic of comparison, three dangers merit attention: decontextualization, commensurability, and ethnocentrism. One promising research heuristic that attends to different logics of comparison while avoiding these dangers is the comparative case study (CCS) approach. CCS entails three axes of comparison. The horizontal axis encourages comparison of how similar policies and practices unfold across sites at roughly the same level or scale, for example across a set of schools or across home, school, religious institution, and community organization. The vertical axis urges comparison across micro-, meso-, and macro-levels or scales. For example, a study of bilingual education in the United States should attend not only to homes, communities, classroom, and school dynamics (the micro-level), but also to meso-level district, state, and federal policies, as well as to factors influencing international mobility at the macro-level. Finally, the transversal axis, which emphasizes change over time, urges scholars to situate historically the processes or relations under consideration.