Ans. These studies take up a small number of countries, often just two (paired or binary comparisons), and concentrates frequently on particular aspects of the countries, politics rather than on all aspects. A comparative study of public policies in different countries has successfully been undertaken by this method.
Lipset distinguishes two kinds of binary or paired comparison: the implicit and explicit. In the implicit binary comparison, the investigators own country, as in the case of de Tocqueville study of America, may serve as the reference. Explicit paired comparisons have two clear cases (countries) for comparison.
The two countries may be studied with respect to their specific aspects e.g. policy of population control in India and China or in their entirety e.g., with respect to process of modernisation. The latter may, however, lead to a parallel study of two cases leaving little scope for a study of relationships.
The historical method can be distinguished from other methods in that it looks for causal explanations which are historically sensitive. Eric Wolf emphasises that any study which seeks to understand societies and causes of human action could not merely seek technical solutions to problems stated in technical terms.
The important thing was to resort to an analytic history which searched out the causes of the present in the past. Such an analytic history could not be developed out of the study of a single culture or nation, a single culture area, or even a single continent at one period in time, but from a study of contacts, interactions and ‘interconnections’ among human populations and cultures.
The world of humankind constitutes a manifold, a totality of interconnected processes, and inquiries that disassemble this reality into bits and then fail to reassemble it falsify reality.
Historical studies have concentrated on one or more cases seeking to find casual explanations of social and political phenomena in a historical perspective. Single case studies seek, as mentioned in a previous section, to produce general statements which may be applied to other cases.
Theda Scokpol points out that comparative historical studies using more than one case fall broadly into two categories, ‘comparative history’ and ‘comparative historical analysis’. Comparative history is commonly used rather loosely to refer to any study in which two or more historical trajectories are of nation states, institutional complexes, Louis and Richard Tilly’s The Rebellious Century 1830-1930, aim at drawing up a specific historical model which can be applied across different national context.
Others, such as Reinhard Benedix’s Nation Building and citizenship and Perry Anderson’s Lineages of the Absolutist State, use comparisons primarily to bring out contrasts among nations or civilizations, conceived as isolated wholes.
Skocpol herself subscribes to the second method i.e., comparative historical analysis, which aims primarily to ‘develop, test, and refine causal, explanatory hypothesis about events or structures integral to macro-units such as nation-state’. This it does by taking ‘selected slices of national historical trajectories as the units of comparison’, to develop causal relationship about specific phenomenon (e.g. revolutions) and draw generalizations.
There are two ways in which valid associations of potential causes with the phenomenon one is trying to explain can be established. These methods laid out by John Stuart Mill in his A System of Logic are (a) the method of Agreement and (b) the method of difference. The method of agreement involves taking up for study several cases having in common both the phenomenon as well as the set of causal factors proposed in the hypothesis.
The method of difference, which is used by Skocpol, takes up two sets of cases: (a) the positive cases, in which the phenomenon as well as the hypothesized causal relationships are present and the (b) the negative cases, in which the phenomenon as well as the causes are absent but are otherwise similar to the first set. In her comparative analysis of the French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions, in States and Social Revolutions, A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China, (Cambridge, 1979).
Skocpol takes up the three as the positive cases of successful social revolution and argues that the three reveal similar causal patterns despite much other dissimilarity. She takes up also a set of negative cases viz., failed Russian Revolution of 1905, and selected aspects of English, Japanese and German histories to validate the arguments regarding causal relationship in the first case.
Critics of the historical method feel that because the latter does not study a large number of cases, it does not offer the opportunity to study a specific phenomenon in a truly scientific manner. Harry Eckstein for instance argues that generalization based on small number of cases, may certainly be a generalization in the dictionary sense’. However, ‘a generalisation in the methodological sense’ ought to ‘cover a number of cases large enough for certain rigorous testing procedures like statistical analysis to be used’. (Harry Eckstein, Internal War, 1964).