Typologies: Forming Concepts and Creating Categorical Variables
Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008
22 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2016
Date Written: 2008
Typologies — understood as organized systems of types — make a fundamental contribution to concept formation and to the construction of categorical variables. Although some scholars might see typologies as part of the qualitative tradition of research, in fact they are also employed by quantitative analysts. This chapter provides an overview of these multiple contributions and presents numerous examples from diverse subfields of political science. Given our concern with the role of typologies in conceptualization and measurement, the discussion here necessarily focuses on “descriptive” typologies. In such typologies, the cells correspond to specific types or instances of a broader concept, and the components or dimensions of the concept correspond to the rows and columns. These can be contrasted with “explanatory” typologies, in which the cells correspond to hypothesized outcomes, and the rows and columns are explanatory variables. Both descriptive and explanatory typologies can be used to classify cases. This distinction between descriptive and explanatory typologies is by no means intended to suggest that descriptive typologies — as with any other form of measurement — are not connected with the formulation and testing of explanatory claims. The contrasting types contained in a particular typology may be the outcome to be explained in a given study, or they may be an explanation that is being formulated and evaluated by the researchers. The discussion proceeds as follows. We offer a framework for working with multidimensional typologies, reviewing the building blocks of typologies and showing how the cell types serve to form categorical variables. We then consider the role of typologies in concept formation, the source of the concepts and terms in the cells of the typology, and the role of ideal types. Finally, we examine the contribution of typologies to mapping empirical and theoretical change and to structuring comparison in empirical analysis — with this latter contribution including their role in quantitative as well as qualitative research. We conclude by suggesting norms for the careful use of typologies.
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