Conceptual 'Stretching' Revisited: Adapting Categories in Comparative Analysis

American Political Science Review, Vol. 87, No. 4, pp. 845-855, December 1993

12 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2011

See all articles by David Collier

David Collier

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Political Science

James E. Mahon

Williams College

Date Written: December 1, 1993

Abstract

When scholars extend their models and hypotheses to encompass additional cases, they commonly need to adapt their analytic categories to fit the new contexts. Giovanni Sartori's work on conceptual "traveling" and conceptual "stretching" provides helpful guidance in addressing this fundamental task of comparative analysis. Yet Sartori's framework draws upon what may be called classical categorization, which views the relation among categories in terms of a taxonomic hierarchy, with each category having clear boundaries and defining properties shared by all members. We examine the challenge to this framework presented by two types of nonclassical categories: family resemblances and radial categories. With such categories, the overly strict application of a classical framework can lead to abandoning to category prematurely or to modifying it inappropriately. We discuss solutions to these problems, using examples of how scholars have adapted their categories in comparative research on democracy and authoritarianism.

Suggested Citation

Collier, David and Mahon, James Edward, Conceptual 'Stretching' Revisited: Adapting Categories in Comparative Analysis (December 1, 1993). American Political Science Review, Vol. 87, No. 4, pp. 845-855, December 1993. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1747306

David Collier (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Political Science ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

James Edward Mahon

Williams College ( email )

Williamstown, MA 01267
United States

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