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Comparative political method: the nature and types

The article considers topical issues of the nature and types of comparative political method which is still insufficiently studied in political science. The article points out that in the comparison increases the validity of theoretical generalizations, they become synthesized in nature. However, article also focuses on the discussion questions.

For comparative politics method problems are central. Actually, comparative politics got its name exactly by the method, not the subject. On this basis, many scholars deny for comparative political science your own subject and, accordingly, the specificity of his own theory, saying that comparative politics is the whole of political science that uses the comparative method. At the time, Emile Durkheim stressed that the comparative is all  sociology.

As a research method, the comparison makes the originality of the research, not only in technique, but in the result gain knowledge [1]. When comparing increases the validity of theoretical generalizations, they acquire a synthesized character. However, it should be remembered that comparative politics is not only the method of comparison, as well as the comparative method can be used in other Sciences.

The comparison supports as general installation knowledge. In everyday practice we are all somehow matched to each other. What is the essence of similes and comparisons? What is their nature? In the role of prompter here can speak the language. When comparing things or phenomena are put side by side. When compared they are equal and compared. There are similarities, i.e., moving to the same place, the convergence, or overlap, i.e., overlap each other, fall in one place. There may be differences, i.e. different faces, their multiplication. Even when this approach is quite justified to say that the comparison method is a method of identifying and similarities in the phenomena they are studying. It is not that other, as the two possible comparison operations. The first is the  operation of identifying, based on finding similar features. The second is the operation of distinction, establishing and explaining the differences. In accordance with the fact which operations is used, the comparison may be complete (if it consists of two operations – identification and differences) and incomplete (if it consists  of only  one operation).

Similar and different, general and specific leads to the question: compared to what? Sooner or later it becomes clear that it is more efficient to compare a unique phenomenon not to each other, but with the kind of standard sample. Indeed, the comparison is performed in the mapping compare the realities with the standard, which can be words, concepts, value judgments, ideal types, etc.

Returning to the issue of varieties of political knowledge, it can be argued that different levels are typical of its standards, criteria, and measures of comparison. For ordinary knowledge is words and concepts, doctrinal  concepts and perfect design, scientific – special tools, comparison, ideal type, model, sample, pattern, typology,  etc. For scientific knowledge is characterized by problematization of the comparison, the constant return to the question of equivalent extent and effective criteria, i.e. a high degree of critical reflection.

The benchmark for comparison contains within itself, as a rule, two sides of: generating a model and a taxonomy, i.e. build a number of classification. In this context, the comparison acts as a liaison between the abstractions of our thinking and the specifics of direct perception of reality. Conventionally, the first universal, the second is unique. In political science a comparison connects political philosophy, theory and  real  political practice.

Given these opportunities, comparative studies may well play the role of scientific experiment in which it is possible, for example to install, confirm whether the facts of any pattern or not, or Vice versa, to withdraw from a number of facts any regularity. John Stuart mill wrote that when comparing the historical facts, the researcher tries to find some generalizing empirical laws. A priori deduce them from the laws of human nature impossible.

The comparative method focuses primarily on producing empirical generalizations in the form of laws, correlations, models, typologies and classifications. To some extent, the results of the comparative analysis are descriptive and illustrative. Therefore, some researchers believe that the comparison does not give  new knowledge. A number of researchers have a higher opinion of the capabilities of the comparative method. For example, Lawrence Mayer writes that the tendency in comparative politics to the empirical analysis allows obtaining middle range theories, but this does not mean that comparative politics may be satisfied with this and  not to demand closer ties with the political theory and philosophy. Despite the difference in approaches should be recognized that the comparison is rarely used as an end in itself to research, it is an approach to the subject, a kind of methodological research strategy, research outlook [2].

Despite the seeming simplicity in fact, the comparison is a complex research technique. His organization typically includes a number of essential operations that allows speaking about an algorithm of operationalization  of the comparison.

The first step in the comparative study is conceptualization, i.e. the choice of theories and hypotheses, conditional objects for a comparative study. On their basis, selection of variables or criteria for comparison is carried out. Under variables refers to the characteristics, quality study political phenomena, the measurement of which can be applied non-metric or metric scales. Variables transformed into indicators and indexes with which the measurement is made. The measurement leads to the identification or discernment, which in fact, is complete or incomplete comparative analysis. The results obtained in the comparative procedures, or confirm the selected theory, or deny it, giving the material to develop a new.

For example, for comparative analysis, we have chosen the problem of the organization of countries. Conceptualizing our choice, we need to clarify the object for comparison: it is not just an abstract device, but a territorial - political, state structure, moreover, its specific - a kind - federation. So we defined a hypothesis or a theory - federalism. Further we specify objects for comparison - federal arrangements of the countries. Now we select the variables for comparison. They can be the following categories: history of the development of federal relations, federal state formations, modern constitutional provisions on federalism - subjects of the federation, government bodies in them, spheres of legislation and exclusive competence of the center, subjects, the sphere of competing legislation, the principles of the federal system, the political doctrines of federalism etc. Comparative analysis of federalism can be performed in the framework of inductive or deductive strategy. Selecting inductive strategy, we need to identify a specific country with a Federal system and to compare them according to the set variables. (Comparison of each variable can be a structural unit of text – a paragraph, etc. Although it is possible the part devoted to individual countries, structured according to the specified variables. Part of the country should strictly correspond to each other, to be proportionate). Within the deductive strategy, we compare the theoretical model of federalism by applying the same scheme. It can also form the basis for the structure of the work. Various countries are given as examples to confirm the theoretical propositions.

Specific  comparative  studies appear  a lot of difficulties,  called the  methodological  problem of  comparison.

They were compiled and grouped. We will present the most common ones.

The problem of comparability. It consists in the fact that when studying two or more objects, the question always arises: are they comparable? A well-known Latin saying conveys doubt: «Si licet parva  componere maqnis» (If I may compare small with great). The condition of possibility of comparison emerges as the similarity and difference of objects. It’s all the matter in the conceptual framework and subjective as the researcher. It should be borne in mind mill's logic expressed in Canon the only differences. According to this logic, the objects for comparison must be as close as possible, similar. If the analyst chooses to compare countries,  they should be related historically, culturally, economically, etc.

In the framework of mathematical logic was formulated the basic principle of any comparison: compare may be only those objects which have similar characteristics. The mathematical counterpart of this principle is the following statement of set theory: if two sets contain no common elements, then they are not equivalent.

The equivalence problem. This problem is particularly important when conducting comparative studies using interviewing techniques, questionnaires, expert analysis. In this case, it is an equivalence of concepts and procedures used in the study. It  is important here to achieve  conceptual equivalence,  i.e. Mutual correspondence of the meaning of concepts in different cultures.

The problem of universality. The determining factor in the comparison is the search for universal empirical generalizations. The quality of universality has vaber ideal types. The problems of universalism concepts are well known: do the General concepts of the policy content of political processes as they apply to various cultural and historical environments. For example, does the universal "Parliament" to all the specific similar structures or universal "democracy" - to the different political regimes? It is known that numerous indices of democracy have a tendency to favor some countries and understate it in other countries. In contemporary comparative politics, the universality is changing, becoming more careful. This is evidenced by the decrease in debts for global studies and the relevance of comparative – historical research of a small number of countries with a focus on qualitative rather than quantitative methods.

The problem is "few N, many variables". It consists in that the researcher is usually limited to a small number of cases, for example, countries that can be studied, whereas the number of variables that characterize countries is large. In this case, the comparatives’ faces two problems: in order to make the study more reasonable, he must either maximize the number of cases or, on the contrary, be able to limit the number of variables. Until recently, a small number of cases have considered the lack of comparative studies, so comparatively tried in every way to increase this number if compared to the country, then tried to cover almost all countries of the world. So there were many global comparative studies, for example, the level of democracy. Currently, however, the value of   such studies has decreased, and some scientists say the real crisis in this area. Mattei Dogan noted that the   problem of global studies is that it reaches a very large expansion due to the loss of any living sense made comparisons among the less diverse set of nations. Some researchers, especially in recent times, on the contrary think the low number of cases, the advantage rather than a disadvantage of the comparative method.

"Problems of Gelton". Very often in a comparative political study, the unit of analysis is the national political system, state, country. However, they are treated as independent units of study. However, in the context of globalization the question arises regarding the role of external factors and conditions concerning the reality of the concept of national sovereignty. The problem is named for the President of the Royal anthropological Institute of Great Britain Gelton who in 1889, when discussing the methodology of cross – cultural analysis suggested a significant influence on the culture of the external factor. It is highly desirable, - he said - were given complete information regarding the extent to which customs compare tribes and races are independent.

In comparative political studies it was assumed that several methodological solutions "to the problem of Geltona". According to the "Galitskoe methodology" of the nation state as the unit of analysis is interrelated whole, integrated system. However, holistic approach a problem is the choice of unit of analysis.

Close to holistic methodology is the theory of world-system analysis of I.Wallerstein and his school. In accordance with the latest economic, political and other systems of the countries considered open to external influences of the world system and, in addition, are considered nothing more than parts of this world system. It is the latter, not the national state, should be the object of analysis.

The problem of measurement. It refers to quantitative comparative studies. Measuring the quality always raises the question about possible use of metric scales. When selecting indices it is sometimes stated, the influence of value orientations of the researcher. In global comparative studies there is a difficulty related to the lack of necessary and adequate statistics on countries.

The problem of interpretation. Recently, in connection with a certain weakening of interest in quantitative methods of analysis there is the problem of interpretation, which is that there are many meanings of the same  phenomenon. Researchers - relativists argue that any socio – political concept does not exist in reality; it is always constructed in the moment. How to analyze and compare democracy in various countries, if this notion is nothing more than a social construct and depends on the assessments ideology, the ideologues and the researcher, and the peoples of the countries where she studied? Overcoming the problem of interpretation lies in the path of development of scientific – realist methodological strategies [3].

Taking into account the methodological problems of comparison researcher D.L. Bari formulated the rules of comparative literature, which became recognized as a methodological concept.

The first rule: it is necessary to make sure that the questions we are posing actually allow a comparative analysis, i.e. are applicable to different countries and are quite politically correct in relation to different states.

The second rule: each variable must be equal to the measure of concepts that correspond to each culture in the sample countries. In other words, when comparing sites in different countries, it is necessary to use the same term – or choose concepts that are specific to each country, but meaning essentially the same thing.

Third rule: countries for analysis need to be selected in such a way as to minimize the influence of culture, which can distort the results of the study. Here two variants are possible: selection of countries on the principle of maximum similarity, then the explanation of the differences, you can exclude similar features; the choice of countries on the principle of maximum difference, then the explanation of the similarity can be neglected differences.

The fourth rule: the events explored in each country should be as independent as possible, i.e. if possible, you should eliminate the diffusion process – when events in one country affect the life of another country. Therefore, in the process of comparative analysis it is necessary to identify all the signs of influence of one country on another, and then to exclude the latter from the study. It is important to keep in mind the "problem of Galton", when the comparison process can be seen as a causal relationship between two events, in one country, which in reality does not exist because both events are caused by the strong influence of another state.

Interesting research on methodological problems of comparison did Giovanni Sartori, aptly calling it "Distortion of concepts in comparative political sciences". Sartori identifies the following problems.

The problem of "portability" of concepts. Than wider becomes the subject of study, especially if the scientists want to study any socio – political reality in a larger number of countries in the broader field of geographic coverage, so they are more actively resorting to the stretching of concepts, or to conception stretch. The end result of such exaggeration is the fact that the acquisition terms of coverage area usually entails losses  in terms  of content accuracy. For example, the term "Parliament" in its democratic Western version has to stretch to refer to the Eastern advisory or consultative bodies.

Quantification and classification. Quite often, the scientists randomly collected facts. In the words of John La Palombara, graduate students sent around the world to "indiscriminate fishing facts". It's like that to go fishing, not picking up networks. Taxonomic (classification) of the network to solve the problems associated with the establishment, systematization and use of facts. No science, including comparative political sciences is impossible without the classified information base.

The ladder of abstraction. Concepts should be subject to meaningful interpretation, for this can be placed on different levels of abstraction, e.g., lower, middle and upper.

Miscalculations of comparative literature. One of the major failures is the presence of a developed functional vocabulary  and  lack  a  structural  (descriptive)  terminology.  For  example,  there  are  many  names  for various political institutions (Parliament, legislature, house of representatives, the government...), but there are far fewer words to their definitions: "agency to...". The big problem is that many categories of Western science, developed for understanding Western political dynamics, do not work in Asia, Africa, i.e. in the conditions of eastern statehood.

In comparative political sciences there are the following types of comparative studies.

Case – study comparison. This type of comparison is used when one analyzes a country or any political phenomenon in the background of the comparison with other countries. These are  so-called  "case-by-case" studies. Not all scholars recognize comparative, because the comparison often appears in them no more than an illustration, but the comparative the accent is present, which allows other scientists to consider them truly comparable. Arend Lijphart identifies the following types of comparisons of this kind: first, interpretive research "single case", which uses the existing theory for the description of the event; the second kind is the study of individual cases to validate and confirm the theory; third, study of individual cases, for the production of hypotheses; fourth, studies of deviant individual cases.

Case – study comparison is one of the most common types of comparative strategies, as evidenced by the  predominance of relevant publications.

Binary comparison. This research strategy of the two countries or any two political phenomena, allowing identify common and special. There are two types of binary comparisons: indirect and direct. Indirect binary comparison is studied is mainly one object, but the background or the context of the second depending on the position of the researcher. A classic example of the indirect binary comparison is a study of democracy in the United States of Alexis de Tocqueville. America is indirectly compared with France, it is the comparative context gave the opportunity to the author vividly represent many aspects of American political practice. A direct binary comparison is immediate and allows the researcher to include the orbit of the study of two countries at once.

A regional comparison. In this type of comparison compared regions or countries within the same region. Researchers emphasized the fruitfulness of such a comparison, especially of countries in the same region, as they allow you to solve a number of problems of comparison (comparability, equivalence, etc.). As a rule, in comparative political science examines the countries of Western Europe, the Scandinavian countries, Latin America, English-speaking countries, Central and Eastern Europe, republics of the former Yugoslavia, former Soviet countries etc. However, the premise of similarity of countries in a region often leads the researcher from possible finding a life of differences in the respective group of countries, which can serve  as  explanatory variables.

John Matts gives the following guidelines for comparative analysis of similar countries, based on comparative research in Latin America: first, it is necessary to limit the space domain, i.e., instead of looking at all of Latin America, should be limited to a subregion - Central America, Southern cone, etc.; secondly, it is necessary to focus not on macrotheories and middle range theories; third, to practice analytical eclecticism, to include in the analysis of cultural variables together with economic, institutional and other; fourth, in order to avoid regional provincialism its need to link regional study to global challenges and trends.

A global comparison. Although the interest in global comparisons based on large amount of empirical data and the static material in the 1990 s declined, but still they constitute a separate species comparisons and. Feature of global studies is that as the unit of analysis here is taken the entire political system, its established characteristics. The ability to conduct global studies emerged in the 1960 s in connection with the development of comparative statistics. The "third wave" of democratization once again forced to pay attention to global comparative analysis. Currently, Russian scientists are working on a large project, "Political Atlas of modernity".

Cross - temporal comparison. Increasing importance in comparative studies is beginning to be given to time as an operational variable. Time is included in the comparison to overcome the static character and reach the dynamic level. One of the traditional types of cross-temporal comparison is defined as a synchronic comparison. This strategy involves comparing the same country or different countries at different historical times.  For  example, examine political dynamics of modern Africa and medieval Europe, Weimar Germany and the Federal Republic of Germany, various revolutions, etc. the inclusion of the time variable gives rise to a number of methodological problems, but they can be resolved. Stefano Bartolini suggested methods  for  their  solution, putting to use the two methodological traditions: a comparative study in space and in time.

There are a number of original approaches to the classification of the comparative study [4]. For example, American political scientist G. Peters distinguishes such types of comparative studies: a comparative study of one country; the comparative analysis of similar processes and institutions of a group of countries; comparison of the typologies and classifications of the countries and groups of countries, and the internal structure of their political systems; static or descriptive data analysis of groups of countries United by geography or on the basis of similarity of paths of development, where they are subjected to testing of the hypothesis based on analysis of the relationship variables is taken from the group of samples; static analysis of all countries, which is based on an attempt to highlight the model or relationships in the political systems of all types.

In conclusion, it should be said that a comparative political method allows setting what is the similarity, to identify common features or to show how political objects are different. However, comparative policy analysis allows: to develop a verifiable system of knowledge about the policy; to assess the political experience,  institutions, behavior and communications processes; predicting events, trends and consequences.



  1. Новейший социологический словарь. – Минск: Книжный дом, – С. 554-555.
  2. Иванов С.П. Сравнительная политология. – СПб., – С. 72.
  3. Алексеев И.В. Сравнительный метод. – М., –С. 79.
  4. См.: Әбсаттаров Р.Б. Саясаттану негіздері. 2-том. – Алматы: Қарасай, –174-178 бб.

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