Comparative Method

Durkheim was the first to explain comparative method in the study of social events most clearly in his book entitled, The Rules of Sociological Methods. According to Durkheim, social explanation is given through the establishment of cause-effect relationship.

In order to show that one social event is the cause of another social event, such events, wherein two events are present or absent together will be studied. In this way, we can know how far one event depends on the other.

Comparative method has been successfully applied in many studies in the field of anthropology. Hobhouse, Wheeler and Ginsberg studied chief social institutions in primitive societies through a comparative method. In this study, various kinds of economic organizations in primitive societies were differentiated and then the reaction of the difference among economic organizations on the social standardization was discovered.


Criticising the comparative method, Redcliffe Brown has written that “The comparative methods alone give you nothing. Nothing will grow out of the ground unless you put seeds into it. The comparative method is one way of testing hypotheses.” It is clear from this criticism of the comparative method that formation of a clear hypothesis is necessary before applying the comparative method.

The hypothesis is true or untrue is proved through comparative studies. There is no use applying this method in the absence of hypothesis. There is another limit to the application of comparative method that a comparison among all societies, through this method, is difficult. A comparative study of special social institutions in one and the same society is easier.