Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) is a method, developed by the American social scientist Charles C. Ragin since the 1980s, which has had since then great and ever-increasing success in research applications in various political science subdisciplines and teaching programs. It counts as a broadly recognized addition to the methodological spectrum of political science. QCA is based on set theory. Set theory models “if … then” hypotheses in a way that they can be interpreted as sufficient or necessary conditions. QCA differentiates between crisp sets in which cases can only be full members or not, while fuzzy sets allow for degrees of membership. With fuzzy sets it is, for example, possible to distinguish highly developed democracies from less developed democracies that, nevertheless, are rather democracies than not. This means that fuzzy sets account for differences in degree without giving up the differences in kind. In the end, QCA produces configurational statements that acknowledge that conditions usually appear in conjunction and that there can be more than one conjunction that implies an outcome (equifinality). There is a strong emphasis on a case-oriented perspective. QCA is usually (but not exclusively) applied in y-centered research designs. A standardized algorithm has been developed and implemented in various software packages that takes into account the complexity of the social world surrounding us, also acknowledging the fact that not every theoretically possible variation of explanatory factors also exists empirically. Parameters of fit, such as consistency and coverage, help to evaluate how well the chosen explanatory factors account for the outcome to be explained. There is also a range of graphical tools that help to illustrate the results of a QCA. Set theory goes well beyond an application in QCA, but QCA is certainly its most prominent variant.
There is a very lively QCA community that currently deals with the following aspects: the establishment of a code of standards for QCA applications; QCA as part of mixed-methods designs, such as combinations of QCA and statistical analyses, or a sequence of QCA and (comparative) case studies (via, e.g., process tracing); the inclusion of time aspects into QCA; Coincidence Analysis (CNA, where an a priori decision on which is the explanatory factor and which the condition is not taken) as an alternative to the use of the Quine-McCluskey algorithm; the stability of results; the software development; and the more general question whether QCA development activities should rather target research design or technical issues. From this, a methodological agenda can be derived that asks for the relationship between QCA and quantitative techniques, case study methods, and interpretive methods, but also for increased efforts in reaching a shared understanding of the mission of QCA.
Qualitative Comparative Analysis: Discovering Core Combinations of Conditions in Political Decision Making
Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) was launched in the late 1980s by Charles Ragin, as a research approach bridging case-oriented and variable-oriented perspectives. It conceives cases as complex combinations of attributes (i.e. configurations), is designed to process multiple cases, and enables one to identify, through minimization algorithms, the core equifinal combinations of conditions leading to an outcome of interest. It systematizes the analysis in terms of necessity and sufficiency, models social reality in terms of set-theoretic relations, and provides powerful logical tools for complexity reduction. It initially came along with one technique, crisp-set QCA (csQCA), requiring dichotomized coding of data.
As it has expanded, the QCA field has been enriched by new techniques such as multi-value QCA (mvQCA) and especially fuzzy-set QCA (fsQCA), both of which enable finer-grained calibration. It has also developed further with diverse extensions and more advanced designs, including mixed- and multimethod designs in which QCA is sequenced with focused case studies or with statistical analyses.
QCA’s emphasis on causal complexity makes it very fit to address various types of objects and research questions touching upon political decision making—and indeed QCA has been applied in multiple related social scientific fields. While QCA can be exploited in different ways, it is most frequently used for theory evaluation purposes, with a streamlined protocol including a sequence of core operations and good practices. Several reliable software options are also available to implement the core of the QCA procedure. However, given QCA’s case-based foundation, much researcher input is still required at different stages.
As it has further developed, QCA has been subject to fierce criticism, especially from a mainstream statistical perspective. This has stimulated further innovations and refinements, in particular in terms of parameters of fit and robustness tests which also correspond to the growth of QCA applications in larger-n designs. Altogether the field has diversified and broadened, and different users may exploit QCA in various ways, from smaller-n case-oriented uses to larger-n more analytic uses, and following different epistemological positions regarding causal claims. This broader field can therefore be labeled as that of both “Configurational Comparative Methods” (CCMs) and “Set-Theoretic Methods” (STMs).
Diana Kapiszewski, Lauren M. MacLean, and Benjamin L. Read
Generations of political scientists have set out for destinations near and far to pursue field research. Even in a digitally networked era, the researcher’s personal presence and engagement with the field context continue to be essential. Yet exactly what does fieldwork mean, what is it good for, and how can scholars make their time in the field as reflective and productive as possible? Thinking of field research in broad terms—as leaving one’s home institution to collect information, generate data, and/or develop insights that significantly inform one’s research—reveals that scholars of varying epistemological commitments, methodological bents, and substantive foci all engage in fieldwork. Moreover, they face similar challenges, engage in comparable practices, and even follow similar principles. Thus, while every scholar’s specific project is unique, we also have much to learn from each other.
In preparing for and conducting field research, political scientists connect the high-level fundamentals of their research design with the practicalities of day-to-day inquiry. While in the field, they take advantage of the multiplicity of opportunities that the field setting provides and often triangulate by cross-checking among different perspectives or data sources. To a large extent, they do not regard initial research design decisions as final; instead, they iteratively update concepts, hypotheses, the research question itself, and other elements of their projects—carefully justifying these adaptations—as their fieldwork unfolds. Incorporating what they are learning in a dynamic and ongoing fashion, while also staying on task, requires both flexibility and discipline.
Political scientists are increasingly writing about the challenges of special types of field environments (such as authoritarian regimes or conflict settings) and about issues of positionality that arise from their own particular identities interacting with those of the people they study or with whom they work. So too, they are grappling with what it means to conduct research in a way that aligns with their ethical commitments, and what the possibilities and limits of research transparency are in relation to fieldwork. In short, political scientists have joined other social scientists in undertaking critical reflection on what they do in the field—and this self-awareness is itself a hallmark of high-quality research.
Regional Politics and Powers: Hierarchy and Comparative Regional Analysis in International Relations
Jon Patrick Rhamey, Jr. and Thomas J. Volgy
Comparative regionalism constitutes a new frontier of international relations analysis that provides a more focused theoretical lens for understanding the localized phenomena dominant in international politics. However, as is often the case with a relatively new area of academic inquiry, the subfield currently suffers from a number of challenges in conceptual agreement and operationalization conventions that have slowed progress. Having perhaps finally caught up with area specialists and researchers in the field of comparative politics in recognizing the relative importance of regional spaces, the question remains as to how to most effectively understand the extent regions—as either levels of analysis or units unto themselves—are substantively integral in generating the outcomes studied by international relations scholars. Following almost four decades of theorizing, future steps lie in clearer conceptual definitions followed by generating novel empirical findings that may complement, or contradict, existing international relations theories.
While some early attempts at engaging comparative regionalism exist prior to the Cold War’s conclusion, most theorizing begins at the point at which the region as a concept is able to emerge from the shadow of international relations research’s emphasis on the bipolar order of the American–Soviet rivalry. These early explorations, however, were frequently limited to either qualitative discussion of emerging trading behaviors and political institutions or, alternatively, the exploration of “non-Western” types of political engagement that challenged the traditional Anglo-European understanding of both international relations and the conduct of political science. Building on the backdrop of this conceptual theorizing, empirical work highlighting regional distinctions began to emerge as well. This renewed emphasis on comparing regional spaces is often undertaken from a small-N comparative methodological approach to identify similarities and differences between regions, with a very specific interest in developing an understanding for the causal variation behind how regional spaces’ trajectories develop and diverge.
Finally, one of the greatest theoretical challenges of comparative regionalism is the applicability of theories designed to understand the interactions of the entire international system (with primary focus on the major powers) to more localized spaces and conflicts. This is not to claim that politics necessarily follows different rules within different regions, but instead that because regional-local contexts are sufficiently unique, the combination of causal variables present may lead to very different outcomes for many phenomena of interest that scholars seek to understand. As regional importance has risen over the past 20 years, a clear set of criteria upon which theoretical development and empirical analysis can proceed is required in order to delineate the effects of regions on states and international politics.
Thomas J. Leeper
Empirical media effects research involves associating two things: measures of media content or experience and measures of audience outcomes. Any quantitative evidence of correlation between media supply and audience response—combined with assumptions about temporal ordering and an absence of spuriousness—is taken as evidence of media effects. This seemingly straightforward exercise is burdened by three challenges: the measurement of the outcomes, the measurement of the media and individuals’ exposure to it, and the tools and techniques for associating the two.
While measuring the outcomes potentially affected by media is in many ways trivial (surveys, election outcomes, and online behavior provide numerous measurement devices), the other two aspects of studying the effects of media present nearly insurmountable difficulties short of ambitious experimentation. Rather than find solutions to these challenges, much of collective body of media effects research has focused on the effort to develop and apply survey-based measures of individual media exposure to use as the empirical basis for studying media effects. This effort to use survey-based media exposure measures to generate causal insight has ultimately distracted from the design of both causally credible methods and thicker descriptive research on the content and experience of media. Outside the laboratory, we understand media effects too little despite this considerable effort to measure exposure through survey questionnaires.
The canonical approach for assessing such effects: namely, using survey questions about individual media experiences to measure the putatively causal variable and correlating those measures with other measured outcomes suffers from substantial limitations. Experimental—and sometimes quasi-experimental—methods provide definitely superior causal inference about media effects and a uniquely fruitful path forward for insight into media and their effects. Simultaneous to this, however, thicker forms of description than what is available from close-ended survey questions holds promise to give richer understanding of changing media landscape and changing audience experiences. Better causal inference and better description are co-equal paths forward in the search for real-world media effects.
The sovereignty of postcolonial African states is largely derived from their recognition by other states and by the United Nations, irrespective of their actual effectiveness. Such international legal sovereignty has been a resource to weak African states, allowing them to endure against the odds, and to their rulers who have instrumentalized it to foster their domestic authority and domination. Yet, African sovereignty has also been a curse. Being exogenous to domestic social and political relations, it tends to isolate and shield rulers from the ruled and predisposes state institutions toward predation. It also standardizes and homogenizes the continent’s institutional landscape in disregard to the wealth and promise of effective institutional arrangements on the ground, to which it denies legitimacy. Despite the equilibrium properties of the African sovereignty regime, there might be opportunities to tweak the system in ways that could unleash more effective and accountable state and nonstate institutions.
The situation of trans rights in Latin America varies greatly by country and region despite a binding 2017 opinion from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) clarifying member states’ obligations to guarantee trans rights. While countries in the Southern Cone and Northern Andes have recently made great strides in protecting and supporting their trans citizens, Central America, the Caribbean, and several countries in South America continue to offer little or no legal support for trans rights. Some countries, such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay, have passed Gender Identity Laws that provide trans people with the ability to rectify their documents to reflect their names and gender identities. The current state of trans-specific policy in the region is explored by first framing it through an overview of the relevant parts of the IACHR ruling and then presenting the case for the depathologization of trans identities, one of the movement’s most pressing goals. Crucial to this discussion is the next section, which presents the current rights and limitations in trans-specific healthcare in the region. A discussion of the importance of gender identity as a basic human right, recognized in the IACHR ruling, follows, continuing on to an analysis of the place of children, adolescents, and their parents in relation to this right. Relatedly, the next section explores the prevalence and force of anti-discrimination laws in the region, which vary greatly in their specific protection of trans people. Finally, we attempt to look forward to what may be next in the fight for trans rights in the region, exemplifying cases such as that of Uruguay, which has recently begun to debate trans-specific reparations, and Argentina, which has begun to debate dedicated employment slots for trans people.