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Céline C. Cocq and Ora Szekely

This chapter illustrates comparative analysis, which is simply defined as comparing and contrasting two or more phenomena in order to better understand them. Comparative analysis plays an important role in both academic and policy-related circles and can be useful in many different ways. While in the hard sciences it is possible to conduct experiments under controlled laboratory conditions, this is often impossible in social science. Social scientists must therefore find other ways of isolating and testing the impact of variables and understanding the relationships between them. Accordingly, the goal of comparative analysis is the comparison of phenomena — whether that means comparison within individual cases, among a small group of cases, or the analysis of large amounts of data — to identify key independent variable(s) and establish what link, if any, exists between them and the dependent variable(s). Comparative analysis can also be useful in establishing the nature of that relationship, assessing whether it is necessary, sufficient, or both. Moreover, cross-case comparison allows social scientists to build broad theories that are applicable in different contexts.