Set-Theoretic Comparative Methods: Raising Some Question - and Asking Where We Go from Here
Posted: 6 Mar 2017
Date Written: 2014
Analysts who developed the set-theoretic comparative method (STCM) have formulated valuable goals for researchers who work in the qualitative and multi-method tradition. This method includes above all Charles Ragin’s Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), along with further systematization of the set-theoretic framework by other authors. These colleagues are outstanding scholars and intellectual leaders in the field of methodology, and their advocacy of these goals is a major contribution.
However, the analytic tools employed by STCM have in many ways become an obstacle to achieving these goals. For example, the system of fuzzy-set scoring appears to be problematic, poorly matched to a standard understanding of conceptual structure, and perhaps unnecessary in its present form. Computer simulations suggest that findings suffer from serious problems of stability and validity; and the cumulative weight of simulation results raises major concerns about STCM’s algorithms.
Questions also arise about the cumbersome formulation of findings in what is often a remarkably large number of causal paths. Relatedly, some scholars question STCM’s rejection of the parsimonious findings, in the form of “net effects,” routinely reported in other methodological traditions. Regarding applications, readily available software has encouraged publication of dozens of articles that appear to abandon key foundations of the method and rely far too heavily on these algorithms. Finally, STCM appears inattentive to the major, recent rethinking of standards and procedures for causal inference from observational data.
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