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Sociology 814, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Spring 2021

Class Meetings: Online, Mondays, 3:30-6:00 p.m., January 25-May 10, 2021 (except February 15 and April 5).

Instructor: Charles Kurzman.

Telephone: +1 919-962-1007.


Office hours: Online, by appointment.

This course will address methodological issues that social scientists face in qualitative comparative-historical research, using an interdisciplinary set of readings. The course will begin with prescriptive debates, beginning with John Stuart Mill in the 19th century and continuing to the present. The course will then examine paragons of work in comparative-historical analysis, to be selected by participants in the course. In the final segment of the course, students will present and discuss methodological plans for their own research. Course assignments include written notes responding to each reading and a 2,000-word project proposal in lieu of a final research paper.

Mini-lecture notes: Practical Magic for Comparative-Historical Social Science.

Readings, except for full books, are available on Sakai.


Part 1. Recipes for Comparative-Historical Research

Week 1.

John Stuart Mill, “Of the Chemical, or Experimental, Method in the Social Science,” from A System of Logic (London, England: John W. Parker, 1843), Vol. 2, pp. 541-548. Reading question: Which method does Mill prefer for research in social science: the direct method of difference, the indirect method of difference, the method of agreement, the method of concomitant variations, or the method of residues? (This is a trick question.) Cheat sheet.

Matthew Lange, Comparative-Historical Methods (Los Angeles, California: SAGE, 2013), Chapters 1 & 5. Reading question: How does Lange salvage Millian methods?

American Sociological Review, “Suggested ASR Reviewer Guidelines for Comparative Historical Papers,” November 2015. Reading question: Any qualms with this?

Supplementary reading: Resources and Materials, Center for Qualitative and Multi-Method Inquiry, Syracuse University.

What is comparative-historical social science?
Information retrieval.
Scheduling the unschedulable.

Week 2.

Charles Ragin, Redesigning Social Inquiry: Fuzzy Sets and Beyond (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 13-43. Reading question: Which of Mill’s methods does Ragin pursue? Questions from outside the reading: What is the difference between Ragin’s “configurational analysis” (also known as “qualitative comparative analysis,” or QCA) and “correlational analysis”? How does Ragin resolve the objections that Mill had to this sort of approach?

Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 198-206. Reading question: Which of Mill’s methods does King/Keohane/Verba’s “matching” procedure match? Definitions: unit homogeneity (causal processes work the same in all cases, pp. 91-94); conditional independence (no endogenous or reverse effects, pp. 94-95).

Matthew Lange, Comparative-Historical Methods, Chapters 2 & 7. Reading question: Why is Lange less concerned than King/Keohane/Verba about sampling error and selection bias?

Mini-lectures on research design:
Comparison is inevitable. History is inevitable. Comparative-history is inevitable.
How many cases should I study?

Week 3.

Theda Skocpol, “Emerging Agendas and Recurrent Strategies in Historical Sociology,” in Skocpol, editor, Vision and Method in Historical Sociology (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 356-391. Reading question: What advice does this influential practitioner seem to offer to newcomers to the field of (comparative-)historical social science?

Julia Adams, Elisabeth S. Clemens, and Ann Shola Orloff, “Introduction: Social Theory, Modernity and the Three Waves of Historical Sociology,” in Adams, Clemens, and Orloff, editors, Remaking Modernity: Politics, History, and Sociology (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2005), pp. 1-72. Reading question: What advice do these influential practitioners seem to offer to newcomers to the field of (comparative-)historical social science?

Supplementary reading: Damon Mayrl and Nicholas Hoover Wilson, “What Do Historical Sociologists Do All Day? Analytic Architectures in Historical Sociology,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 125, No. 5, pp. 1345-1394, 2020.

Mini-lectures on research design:
The audience.
Can I select cases based on the things I already know or care the most about?

Week 4:

Matthew Lange, Comparative-Historical Methods, Chapters 3, 4, 6, & 8. Reading question: What is “within-case” comparison and how does it differ from “between-case” comparison?

Please select one of the following two books. Reading questions: How does this approach differ from Skocpol’s and Adams et al.’s visions for comparative-historical social science? What take-away point(s) would you like to share from the additional chapter you select?

James Mahoney and Dietrich Rueschemeyer, “Comparative Historical Analysis: Achievements and Agendas,” in Mahoney and Rueschemeyer, editors, Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 3-38, and one substantive chapter of your choosing.

Kathleen Thelen and James Mahoney, “Comparative-Historical Analysis in Contemporary Political Science,” in Mahoney and Thelen, editors, Advances in Comparative-Historical Analysis (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 3-36, and one substantive chapter of your choosing.

Mini-lectures on analysis:
Disciplinary differences.
Fancy names for common-sense methods.

Part 2. Great Examples of Comparative-Historical Research

Week 5: Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1979). Reading question: How does this book match or diverge from the impressions of the book that you may have gotten from the field statements that we’ve read?

Supplementary reading: James Mahoney, “Nominal, Ordinal, and Narrative Appraisal in Macrocausal Analysis,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 104, No. 4, pp. 1154-1196, 1999.

Mini-lectures on analysis:
What makes a classic?
Reflexive versus virtuosic methods.

Weeks 6-11: Readings in this section of the syllabus are selected by each year’s course participants.

Week 6: Stephanie L. Mudge, Leftism Reinvented: Western Parties from Socialism to Neoliberalism (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2018).

Week 7: Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised edition (London, England: Verso, 2006).

Week 8: Julian Go, Patterns of Empire: The British and American Empires, 1688 to the Present (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Week 9: Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982).

Week 10: Cybelle Fox, Three Worlds of Relief: Race, Immigration, and the American Welfare State from the Progressive Era to the New Deal (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2012).

Week 11: Erin Metz McDonnell, Patchwork Leviathan: Pockets of Bureaucratic Effectiveness in Developing States (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2020).

Selections from previous iterations of the course are listed here.

Mini-lectures on analysis:
The fraud of induction.
Values, politics, and research methods.

Part 3: Student Research Proposals

Weeks 12-14.

Presentation of research proposals-in-development by students in the course. Please upload a draft of your proposal to our Sakai site one week prior to your class discussion.

Mini-lectures on practicalities:
Human-subject protection.
Getting funded.
Getting good anecdotes.
How do I know when I’ve gathered enough research material?
Do not transcribe.
Qualitative data analysis software.

Mini-lectures on writing:
If I am right, who is wrong?
What’s a good example: ideal-types versus representatives?
Anecdotes vs. descriptive evidence.

Course Requirements:

1) Attendance and Participation (25% of final grade)

    Attendance means on-time arrival (at the scheduled hour); participation means the contribution of insightful comments on the basis of the assigned readings. If you cannot make it to class, please let me know in advance. You are allowed to miss one class during the semester; after that, absences count 1 point each. You are responsible for material covered and due in classes that you miss.

2) Weekly Reading Notes (25% of final grade)

    Reading notes on the week’s readings are due by e-mail attachment before the beginning of each class. These notes, approximately 600 words per book, should include: (a) the full bibliographic citation of the work, (b) the main points of the reading, including summaries of each chapter; (c) definitions of major concepts and methods and examples of their use in the text, (d) significant quotations and items that you find interesting; (e) your reactions/questions/critiques/linkages with other authors/etc. (these analytical notes should be set aside from the descriptive notes via brackets or some other technique). Always give page references throughout; these notes will serve as your customized index to the reading. See a sample of my reading notes.

3) Research Proposal (50% of final grade)

    The research proposal, due by e-mail attachment before the last class session, is the course’s primary writing assignment. The proposal should be approximately 2,000 words in length and should propose an empirical comparative-historical test of some substantive hypothesis from your home discipline. The proposal should comprise: (i) Title: a short and descriptive title; (ii) Summary: a 150-word paragraph summarizing the entire proposal; (iii) Literature: a 600-word discussion of the literature on the hypothesis you propose to test; (iv) Case Selection: a 250-word justification of your case selection; (v) Method: a 1000-word discussion of methodology, concluding with your preliminary findings and a discussion of how various anticipated findings would reflect on your hypothesis; and (vi) References: a list of references cited in the paper. See sample papers in a similar format from another course.

Last updated March 15, 2021.