What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Quantitative and Qualitative Comparative Approaches?
Virtually it is impossible for comparison not to exist, since it is a major part of human nature. Anything that exists and can be thought about has the potential to be compared. Swansen (1971: 145) stated that “THINKING WITHOUT comparison is unthinkable, so is all scientific thought and scientific research.” When the term “comparative approach” is used in the general sense it is a vital attribute in the field of social scientific methodology. In the general sense it may be assumed that all social scientific methods are comparative. However, in the field of sociology the term is more restricted to the explicit study and comparison of different societies; in an effort to determine the alike and different attributes of the societies (Eastthope 1974).
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However, some researches in this field of study have developed the position over the years that there is no uniqueness about this field of inquiry. One such researcher is Smelser (1976) who indicated that there is no separate goal recognised by comparative and non comparative researcher because they both describe societal trends by creating limitations over situations and case variants that occur in those trends. Ragin (1989), however, maintained that the comparative approach is a distinctive field because it can be characterised as having an undeviating experiential functioning of the nonfigurative notion of society that has a high level of notions. Based on this, Ragin stated that this is what differentiates compartivists and non- comparativits. Therefore it may be assumed that the comparative approach involves the studying of one society and comparing it to more than one case (society) based on their societal factors such as culture, politics, etc., and determining their similarities and differences and attributing them to why phenomenon exists in the society being analysed.
There are two major methods that researchers can apply when they conduct comparative research. These two approaches are called the comparative quantitative and comparative qualitative approaches. Therefore, in this essay I will be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of quantitative and qualitative comparative approaches. However, firstly I will conceptualise the term “comparative approach” within the tradition of social science and then I will define discuss the consequences this has for education. Reference will then be made the three stages the comparative approach evolved in education and the major principles that the comparative approach is hinged on. The qualitative and quantitative comparative approaches will then be defined; their features and functions, advantages and disadvantages will be discussed. I will then discuss what the best approach the comparative approach is; then I will finally be discussing the consequences that the comparative approach has for education.
Conceptualising the Comparative Approach
In the broad field of sociology the comparative approach may be defined as relating to a type of evaluation that contrasts one ideology or investigative plan aligned with others. It may have a possibility of being replaced by another one that can be used to explicate the same others that would explain the same common trend (Gerring 2008). Furthermore, Keaty (2008) stated that the comparative approach is the primary scientific process existing, that an individual can utilise to control theories and analyse the correlations of more than one variable, while maintaining all invariance that can latently alter factors. The main purpose of the comparative approach in this field of study is to construct a justification of worldwide trends that are common to these societies but also allows researchers to analyse the more intricate trends of a society Ragain (1987). Therefore, it may be assumed that through the use of the comparative approach researches are capable of distinguishing that a sound empirical elucidation is pertinent to a diverse number of situations, however it still provides the researcher the opportunity to identify that societal trends are multifaceted and that a broad rationalisation is an incomplete rationalisation.
Ragin (1989) further purported that the comparative approach is a rational approach and as a result it is hinged on John Stuart Mills (1888) principles of inductive inquiry. John Stuart Mills (1888) as cited in Etzioni and Du Bow (1970) called these three principles are called method of agreement, method of difference and the indirect method of difference. The method of agreement may be explained as if two or more cases of the occurrence that is being examined have one condition that is similar, it is assumed that this condition in which all the occurrence concur, is the origin of the specified trend. Therefore in order for an occurrence to be necessary it must occur in each situation (206-208). Furthermore, it may be assumed that in this instance the comparativits would be concerned with investigating situations where the condition can be identified and therefore by default conditions that are not recorded would not be necessary for the occurrence(s) to transpire.
The method of agreement that Mills (1888), as noted in Etzioni and Du Bow (1970), formulated may be explained as if an occurrence in which the trend under analysis takes place, and an occurrence in which it does not transpire, and the occurrence is the equivalent one should be reserved, that one taking place before; the condition(s) and the two cases that are different may be termed as the effect or a vital aspect of what caused the trend to take place. The final method that Mill (1888) defined, that the comparative approach is grounded on, is the indirect method of agreement. This method Mill’s indirect method of difference is the use of the method of agreement twice (208-210). Researchers draft cross tabulations in an effort to establish if trends are existent and if the result present/present or absent/absent then the notion can be maintained. When compartivists apply this method it has three major steps these are: – the dual employment of the indirect method of difference and the step which is related to the elimination of challenging single elements of clarification through opposite comparisons.
However, when the comparative approach is applied in education it may be defined as being a combination of pedagogy and the social sciences. The comparative approach in education deals with the structure and purpose a school serves. It is suggested by Noah and Eckstein (1969) that the field of education and the social sciences have merged because researches have focused on analogous types of statistics and congruent subject matters. Furthermore, the other reason for this merger between fields is the noticeable interest in quantitative and experiential and approaches of investigation (Noah and Eckstein 1969). The application of the comparative approach in education is purposeful for four main reasons. Crossley and Watson (2004) have tried to identify these purposes. Firstly, it allows stakeholders to comprehend their own educational structure. Secondly, it provides individuals with the opportunity to also be able to comprehend other people’s educational structures, their cultures and its societal interactions. Thirdly, individuals would be able to recognise contrast educational structures, procedures and effects as a means of recording and comprehending the issues in education, and assistance to the development of educational guiding principles and traditions. Fourthly and finally it supports enhanced global comprehending and collaboration owing to augmented understanding to various beliefs and traditions of the world.
When the comparative approach is applied in the field of education it is hinged on the various stages that evolved from. They are two major theories that are used to explain this process. According to Bereday (1964) as noted in Bray, Adamson and Mason (2007) the development of the comparative approach in education went through three steps. The first step he insinuated occurred during the 19th century and was established by Marc- Antonie Jullien the first known methodically, academic comparative educationalist. This period was referred to as borrowing. Bereday (1964) stated that during this phase great importance was focused on the categorisation of explanatory facts. After that emphasis was placed on contrasting the information collected in an effort to determine the preeminent traditions that a country was using with the purpose of implementing them in other countries. Bereday’s (1964) second step in the development of the comparative approach in education transpired within the first 50 years of the 20th century. This phase, he contended was pioneered by Sir Michael Sadler in the United Kingdom and it emphasised that educational structures are interlinked complicatedly to the nation that maintains them. Beredey’s (1964) last step involved interpretation which stresses the development of the evolving of hypothesis and approaches and the apparent creation of the stages of comparative processes and strategies to assist the improvement of ideologies. According to Bereday (1964) as noted in Bray et al (2007) this modern new historical era that examined was a extension of the conventions of the phases of guessing, but it proposed that preceding guessing and ultimate borrowing is endeavoured it is essential that the subject is methodically implemented and applied to the educational policies.
Comparative social science is also important in the field of comparative education. The process of borrowing and analysing educational systems across countries are very important for the existence of this field. As such, the use of the quantitative and qualitative approach is also important in comparative education research. The general field of comparative research is generally associated with applying the qualitative approach because cases have to be analysed. However, when applied in education there is a greater need for compartivists to apply the quantitative approach. This demand was brought about because of the move in focus contained in the discipline of comparative education from chronological, descriptive investigations in the direction of investigations applying arithmetical data and quantitative data analysis methods (Bray et. al 2007).
The Two Approaches to Comparative Research
As previously mentioned they are two major means by which researchers approach their investigations, through the application of either the quantitative or qualitative approach. In this section I will be discussing these both approaches in the broad social science field and then I will be discussing them as they are applied to the field of comparative education.
According to Picciano (2004) the major differences between the both approaches when applied in education are based on the rationale of the investigation, the type of information to be collected, the method by which the collected information would be scrutinised, and how conclusions will drawn based on the findings of the collected data. For example, if a researcher wanted to investigate and understand trend that was occurring in a society the researcher may apply the qualitative approach. However, if another researcher was desirous of conducting a correlation study on students’ performance, they may apply the quantitative approach
Quantitative Comparative Approach
When the qualitative approach is applied generally, Bryman (2004) defined it as an investigative approach that typically stressed on words as opposed to the computations involved the gathering and interpretation of information. He further stated that this approach has three major features. The first feature is that it involves a deductive methodology towards the interaction connecting assumptions and investigation, in which the emphasis is situated on the examination of these assumptions. The second feature is that it integrates the systems and standards of positivism and of the natural empirical model. And thirdly it exemplifies an analysis of societal veracity as a peripheral authentic purpose Bryman (2004).
The application of the qualitative approach in the social sciences is generally advantageous for four major reasons. Bryman (2004) stated that these reasons are measurement, causality, generalization and replication. Measurement is essential because it allows the researcher to define fine disparities between the cases, it is a reliable mechanism for shaping dissimilarities and it provides the foundation for further accurate educated conjectures of the level of association between notions. When the quantitative researcher is investigating a trend he or she is not interested in explaining the trend but rather in determining why the trend is occurring. When the researcher has made their final findings and conclusions there results may be able to be generalised to the whole population being researched. And finally, because of generally steps that are followed, and this method of research is void of personal biases it is objective, therefore if the researcher or any other researcher conducted the same research following the same steps the results yielded should be similar. Therefore this would give an indication that this approach to the social science is reliable and valid (Bryman 2004).
However, they are also some disadvantageous which occur from applying the quantitative approach. Bryman (2004) has identified four major disadvantages that are generally associated with the application of this approach. Firstly he stated that researches of this approach are unsuccessful in discriminating individuals and societal organisation from the way by which people construe the world. Secondly, some individuals are of the opinion that the means by which the data is measured false belief that it is exactitude. For example, if a researcher distributed questionnaires, it is likely that some individuals may misinterpret the questions, and the answers may not be accurate. Thirdly, sometimes, the respondents may not have enough knowledge to answer the questionnaire adequately, which will result in the data not reflecting the current trend. And finally the investigation of interaction among variables produces an inert perspective of societal that is mutually dependent of individuals’ lives (Bryman 2004).
An example of how the quantitative approach was applied in mainstream social science was the study conducted by Chin, Fisak and Sims (2002). This study was termed “Developing a Likert Scale: the case of attitudes to vegetarians”. This study was used to investigate the behaviours of vegetarians who were said to be abnormal and as a consequence were considered with scepticism and resentment. As a result, the study conducted on a sample of undergraduate students of a university from the United States. There scale sought to answer four major questions. These questions were based on the type (s) of behaviours that vegetarians exhibited that was seen as offensive, discrepancy with their vegetarian’s ideologies, health concerns of vegetarians and how to treat them aptly.
The researchers of the comparative quantitative approach also refer to this approach as the variable approach. Ragain (1989) defined this approach as being established on theory. Furthermore he opined that the qualitative comparative approach seeks to determine and analyse the association among perceptible interactions throughout various nations, and extensive hypothetically established descriptions of worldwide societal trends, as opposed to trying to comprehend explicit results. However, it must be noted that the main purpose of the quantitative comparative approach is based on establishing theories which are formulated from common assumptions as opposed to analysing historical conditions, in an attempt to create various historically results. This approach, the quantitative comparative approach has been famous for more than 25 years and its fame because there was a revamping in the concern of researching global societal phenomenon. This revamping of the field prompted researchers to inculcate the quantitative procedures from the conventional social sciences, which led to the application of the social science procedures to analyse hypotheses. The application of the quantitative approach in comparative social science has been beneficial because compartivists now have and increased authenticity and a renewed association with conventional social science (Ragin 1989).
The use of the quantitative comparative approach is advantageous obviously for the same reasons mentioned for the use of the quantitative approach in mainstream social science, however Ragin (1989) has presented seven advantages that compartivists derive when they apply the quantitative comparative approach. Firstly, comparitivts are now equipped with an approach that allows them to study a large number of cases at an instant. Furthermore, it allows these researchers to increase the quantity the amount of scrutiny which does not require a great amount of knowledge of the field; despite having knowledge of the field would improve the quality of this approach. Secondly, it has stimulated a novel awareness in consistent quantitative cross-national data. This awareness is valuable because measuring permits more precise examination of the hypothesis to be achieved. Quantification of description of societal composition presents a foundation for analysing a wide range of conjectures concerning the interaction among cases. Thirdly, it allows investigators to consider alternative explanations more carefully when testing a theory. Fourthly, comparativists now have access to information from various a large cross sections of countries data bases. Fifthly, through the application of the quantitative comparative approach, researchers have now when creating scientific generalisations; since the quantitative procedures that have been introduced are conventional like the traditional design in mainstream social science. Sixthly, it has reduced the inclination between some comparativits to appreciate specific elucidations when confronted with several contradictory situations. And finally it has given researches the opportunity to use procedures of statistical control (Ragin 1989). An example of a quantitative comparative study would be Bronschier and others (1978) study of developed countries that had an advanced level of local investment economies grew quicker.
However, some individuals have criticised the quantitative comparative approach of these comparativists. Picciano (2004) has identified some major criticisms. Firstly, individuals have stated that comparativits who apply this approach has not given their subjects the opportunity to express their genuine perceptions, unlike the researchers who use the qualitative comparative approach. The quantitative comparative approach is also said to be criticised because findings from this approach tend to be void of significance. Researchers of the qualitative comparative approach also are condemned because they tend to be concerned with hypothesises which are unrelated to cases being examined, therefore this results in findings which are not truly linked to the instigative enquiries. As such, statistics are produced which is fictitious and inappropriate to distinct situations (Picciano 2004).
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According to Bryman (1988) and Smith (1983) as noted in Bray et al (2007) the use of quantitative comparative education in education is purposeful for the formation of principles which provide some form of clarification and forecasting of educational trends Principles of relationship maintain a practical reliance among objects, while principles that seek to determine reasons (qualitative comparative approach) entail an unchanging series of procedures. Observing this approach to the nomothetic form of analysis entails that investigators contemplate such principles to be worldwide, despite of dissimilarities that exist. Principles increases potentiality to explicate and forecast interactions among trends across circumstances.
The quantitative approach is also imperative in education. These comparative educational investigators are interested in analysing in a fashion that their results would be generalised and pertinent to all the trends regardless of the nation our culture. Concurrently, there are feasible assumptions, systems, and strategies across the globe, and an aspiration to get worldwide explanations to worldwide phenomena. Major records from worldwide researches of educational accomplishment, and educational statistics collected by global organisation, can be appealing to knowledgeable and apprentice investigators similarly as a result of its accessibility. Ultimately, if the government indicates that they require the educational system a worldwide group to carry out an investigation they may require that researchers apply a more quantitative comparative approach (Bray et al 2007).
Qualitative Comparative Approach
When the qualitative approach is defined in mainstream social science Creswell (1998) stated that it is an investigative procedure of comprehending rooted on clear customs of inquisition that investigates a societal or human dilemma. The investigator creates a multifaceted, whole depiction, evaluates words, reports comprehensive ideologies of subjects, and performs the research in a real situation. However, he maintained that researchers who use this approach ought to conduct a quantitative research preceding it. Lincoln (1995) stated that this approach is procedure has a large concern of integrating and deducing the real subject with an effort to explain and understand trends of people. Furthermore this type of investigations uses diverse types experimental resources e.g. interview, case study, etc.
When researches use the qualitative approach to conduct their investigations they are six steps that they must follow. Bryman (2001) has identified these six steps. The first step involves formulating broad investigative enquiries. The next step involves the choosing of the pertinent cases to be investigated. Thirdly, these researchers should seek to gather their pertinent information that will answer their research questions. Fourthly, the researcher has to construe the gathered information and afterwards they should seek to do some theorising. At this point the researcher has to redefine the research question, gather more information and re-interrupt the gathered information. Finally, the research can then construct their findings and conclusions. An example of the application of the qualitative approach to investigation is Taylor’s (1993:8) study cited in Byman (2004). This research involved the investigation of female drug users who used needles. In her study she showed that these women were rational active individuals who were capable of making choices rooted on the eventualities of both their drug abuse and the roles they play in society collectively.
The qualitative approach in mainstream social science is advantageous. Burns (2000) has identified some advantageous of applying this approach when conducting research. Firstly, because the basis of research in this approach is not established on testing a hypothesis the investigator is provided with the opportunity to have a more intimate relationship with the subjects, and therefore a better understanding of the phenomenon being investigated. Researchers of this approach can also have a better opportunity in developing causations as it relates to trends that are occurring. Ultimately, when the findings are prepared they are not represented with numerical summaries; therefore the average person can understand the results presented (Burns 2000).
However, they are four major disadvantages which can be associated with the application of the qualitative approach in mainstream social science. Firstly, the approach is too subjective, as such the results are too reliant on the investigators disorganised perceptions about what they view consequential. This approach to investigation is impossible to reproduce because it does not have any formal structure. Another criticism of this approach it that the results yielded cannot be generalised and can only be applicable to the small number of cases that were researched. Finally the whole procedure that is carried out in this approach does not clearly depict what the investigator procedures and how they made their deductions (Bryman 2001).
The qualitative comparative approach is defined as an approach that compartavists use to create chronological clarification of detailed past results or previously distinct grouping of observed trends. This approach is also referred to as the case-orientated comparative method. The objective of this methodology is equally past construe and fundamental rational. Therefore, comparativits who use this method attempts to comprehend or infer explicit cases based on their inherent values. Thus the general aim is to create restricted generalisations regarding the subjects of tentatively distinct groups of experiential trends universal to a small group (Ragin 1987).
They are some advantageous which can be derived from utilising the qualitative comparative approach. Ragin (1989) identified some of these advantages. Firstly, it is feasible to focus on fundamental difficulty involved in studying the cases based on attributes that create the significant societal transformation and trends that concern social scientists. Also this methodology necessitates that the researcher defers suppositions concerning the similarity of subjects and situations. This accommodation enhances the interactions between ideologies and findings. The research sample is manageable since the cases are few. Therefore these compartivists will be able to contrast the differences, and have a personal understanding of pertinent subjects (Ragin 1987).
A good example of a qualitative comparative study is Marvin Harris’ (1978) study of “sociocultural puzzles” This study entailed him to studying the various views people had regarding meat from various parts of the world. He was able to explain these different ideologies of meat eating for the various regions based on cultural elucidations.
They are also some disadvantages in applying the qualitative comparative approach. Picciano (2004) identified four disadvantages. Firstly, the analysis of the information is too dependent on the researcher. Furthermore, when the researcher has completed their investigation the study cannot be reproduced nor can the results be generalised for any other cases. And ultimately, since the results are not presented statistically some researchers will view the results as insufficient to provide valuable proof and furthermore being an assault to the truth.
Since the qualitative approach to social to comparative method involves determining causation compartivists tend to apply comparative historical research when investigating. Mahooney and Ruechemeyer (2003) noted that this approach is a primary type of investigation that is applied in the social science. The comparative historical researchers’ primary interest is in enquiries which are precise to specific chronological cases. As a result of the desire to explicate these cases, frequently may result in additional research which extends beyond the initial subjects. Comparative historical analysis also involves explicating and recognising of fundamental configurations that create significant outcomes Furthermore investigators clearly examine past trends and obtains the changes over a time frame. And ultimately because comparative historical researchers typically are acquainted with all cases, they are able to they can assess variables based on theoretical analysis and legitimacy is achievable when a reasonable number of cases are chosen (Mahooney and Ruechemeyer 2003). An example of a comparative historical study in the field of education would be Green and Wiborg (2004) study on “Comprehensive Schooling and Educational Inequality: An International Perspective.”
Skopol and Somers (1980) have identified three approaches that can be used in comparative historical analysis. The first one is called “Parallel Demonstration of Theory”. The chief principle of this approach was for contrasting situations/countries past to convince the reader that a specified and described assumption can frequently reveal its effectiveness. An example of this approach is Jeffery M. Paige’s study on the “Agrarian Revolution”. The second approach is “contrasting on contexts” by putting cases beside each other and more or less has a differing purpose than “parallel comparative history”. An example of this approach is Reinhard Bendix investigation of “nation building and citizenship”. Generally comparison is done between separate subjects. Typically contrasts are advanced by of the direction of assumptions. The third approach is the “Macro-social Analysis”. These investigators employ this style chiefly to determine causation about macro-level methods and systems. An example of this approach is Barrington Moore’s research on “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy” (Skopol and Somers 1980).
Mahooney (2000) also identified another approach that may be used in comparative historical analysis as path dependency. Through this approach researchers indistinctively conceptualise the past that is significant and the impacts it will have on the future. This form of investigation essentially analyses the association between sequential variables are considered, however it does not essentially scrutinise path-dependent progression of transform. However, it proposes an account for specific results of occurrences of exceptions. An example of the path-dependency approach to comparative historical analysis is Jack Goldstone’s “Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World” (Mahooney 2000).
However within comparative education they are some researchers who prefer to adopt the qualitative comparative approach, and therefore insist that this method is applied. They prefer this method because they opine that it will eliminate the inadequacies that are associated with the quantitative approach to comparative education. Qualitative investigators within the field of comparative education also view that there is a sound conviction in the significance of traditional, political and societal framework and the opinion that education cannot be unrelated from its indigenous customs. Qualitative investigation is also supported through a great quantity of worldwide numerical statistics, frequently insignificantly engaged devoid of reflection of impending preconceptions. And also by means of elements of investigation contrasted which not only include native circumstances and societal difference, with consideration to the enquiry of the objectivity or importance of the investigators undertaking. The qualitative comparative investigators in education focus on the necessitatity to the immensely prospective for partiality and difficult conjectures when investigators act externally from their personal intellectual circumstances. They opine that effort ought to be present in order to become cognisant of such partialities and furthermore to enquiry individual postulations although attempting to comprehend the postulations fundamental to the nations and traditions which are aims of investigations. An example of the use of the qualitative comparative approach in education is Margaret Archers (1979) as noted in Green (1990) study on “The Social Origins of Education Systems”. Her study was conducted in Russia, England, France and Denmark. This research was also the basis for Green (1990) study on “Education and State Formation”. Another example is Ramierz and Boli (1987) study on “The political Construction of Mass Schooling: European Origins and Worldwide Institutionalization”
Combing the qualitative and quantitative approaches to the comparative approach is beneficial when considering the many advantages and disadvantages t
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