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The Sweet Spot in Comparative Area Studies: Embracing Causal Complexity through the Identification of Both Systematic and Unsystematic Variables and Mechanisms

Brookes, Marissa

The tremendous value of Comparative Area Studies (CAS) is difficult to overstate, as CAS scholars appear to accomplish the impossible: reaching broad-ranging conclusions from cross-case comparisons spanning two or more geographic regions, while still incorporating the sort of deep and detailed knowledge of people and places that is the hallmark of classic area studies. CAS researchers not only showcase the approach’s great strengths; they also encourage more work along these lines, since CAS contributions comprise only around 15 percent of recent works in comparative politics (Ahram, Köllner, and Sil 2018, 17). With this encouragement comes some welcome advice, including a push for more precisely conceptualized variables so that they are portable across contexts, admonitions against the assumption that geographic proximity defines the full population of cases to which one’s theory applies, and a reminder that idiosyncratic factors are no less important than systematic conditions when it comes to causal explanation.  

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