With Rethinking Comparison: Innovative Methods for Qualitative Political Inquiry (Cambridge University Press, 2021) Erica S. Simmons and Nicholas Rush Smith issue a call for qualitative political scientists to go beyond the controlled comparisons so dear to them, and rethink what it is that they compare and why. The call is both earnest and compelling. The book is persuasive not just in its efforts to show that the what and why of comparison ought not be limited to the “Millian paradigm”—even as its editors are at pains to express their appreciation for the paradigm’s logics. Over twelve chapters, an impressive roll-call of contributors together explicate and demonstrate how the practice of comparison can be systematically broadened and creatively adapted to ensure qualitative political science’s enduring relevance, even as its potential objects of inquiry proliferate and diversify. Chapters include one on two ways to compare by Frederic Schaffer, whose Elucidating Social Science Concepts featured on New Books in Interpretive Political and Social Science in 2020, and another by series host, Nick Cheesman. Other contributors include Jason Seawright, Joe Soss, and Thea Riofrancos, whose Resource Radicals received the Charles Taylor Book Award in 2021. The book closes via an epilogue with Lisa Wedeen, who spoke about her Authoritarian Apprehensions in an episode that year.
Rethinking comparison is not without risk. But a political science without risk-takers would be an inert discipline. Fortunately, with the likes of Simmons and Smith exciting debate about what, why and how we compare, the discipline is sure to remain lively, and relevant.
Nick Cheesman is associate professor in the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University. He is a committee member of the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods group of the American Political Science Association and co-convenes the Interpretation, Method, Critique network at the ANU.
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