Opening the black box - A call for transparency in comparative research. The case of the RELOCAL project.

Authors: Sabine Weck*, ILS - Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development, Dortmund/Germany
Topics: Qualitative Research
Keywords: Comparative studies, methodology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Proteus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The last years have seen quite a vivid debate on the epistemological/ontological foundations of comparative studies (Ward, 2010). We argue for the value of comparative studies, and at the same time the need for transparency and critical reflection as regards the conceptual foundations and the empirical processes of comparative endeavours. The paper is a report from work-in-progress. We present the conceptual set-up of an internationally comparative study (EU-H2020 project RELOCAL), which deals with the future role for localities, places and communities in contributing to social justice and cohesion in Europe. Based on literature review and a discussion how a selected range of thematically relevant comparative studies have defined their conceptual framework, we define ‘minimum standards’ as regards transparency in the comparative process - from the conceptualization to the reflection of outcomes - which remains a ‘black box’ in many research studies. We argue with Nijman (2007: 3) that at the very least “conceptual frameworks and comparative methodologies must be explicated and argued“. Researchers should thus be more explicit about the positioning of their study in current debates on comparative urban research; explain their framework and underlying hypothesis; be explicit about what exactly is being compared and how they have dealt with well-known methodological pitfalls of comparative research; be transparent about the selection and justify the choice of case studies; and, last not least, be critical and reflective about how decisions taken in this process influence the outcomes of research.

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