Social Science and Public Policy

Richard Freeman

Critical Comparison

This paper reflects on the design and organization of cross-national comparative research in social and public policy, based in our own experience of leading and taking part in projects of this kind. We acknowledge recent criticism of comparison conceived as the measurement of similarity and difference between discrete national units, and note the political as well as methodological difficulties such work entails. We describe our attempts to overcome them, calling for both (1) a critical theory of comparison and (2) a critical practice of comparison. We outline ways of working based on the collective interrogation of case studies, and conclude by formalising an approach to comparison conceived not as cross-national experiment but as international encounter.
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