What is Comparative Sociology

Comparative Sociology is usually inherent to the study of social phenomenon. One of the processes of sociological study is to compare one social entity with another. There may be the representative, the unique or the newly discovered social entity, but there is always going to be the attempt or the sucess in comparing that entity to others in order to find a place for it or to test its unique nature.

Emile Durkheim insisted that there was no such distinct field as comparative sociology because all sociology was comparative in nature. Where comparison becomes a specific goal or aspect of study, the comparison crosses all sorts of social boundaries, particularly between nations, forms of government or economies.

But comparative Sociology extends to such differences as economic standing, ethnicity, nationality, region, habitat, climate zone and so on.

Since the late 1980s, a formalized definition and manifesto for Comparative Sociology referred to cross national study. (Kohn, 1987)

There were two areas of comparative study, the search for similarities and the search for differences. The functionalist method, particulary the Modernists and Structuralists seeked to identify the differences across societies in order to identify universality and by using various models or a priori theories.

The other approach is to identify the differences and variances between societies in light of historical contingencies.

A third approach is to treat each society as a set of multivariate entities and to analyze the differences. The actual identity of what is being analyzed is put under variable names, rather than allowing context to cloud actual or true explanation, or allowing the search for universality to cloud the discovery of explanation.  This approach is heavily dependent on massive and complex collections of data, then use of Boolean and other statistical analysis and logic to relate quantified social facts to the related historical contexts, pretexts or  results.

The third approach is a heavily quantitative and then statistical approach which is quite involved. There have been comparative studies in Urban Outcasts, the comparative economics of nations, the comparative societal factors across nations, and a host of other areas. One claim is that the majority of strictly defined comparative sociology is in cross national research.(Marshall, 1998). The name is “quantitative comparative sociology” in some cases.

The term “Comparative International Sociology” as well as the use of the word “international” in many forms of address and even in course titles and degree programs indicate that international focus is the predominant focus.

But comparative sociology, no matter what the focus will remain an integral component of Sociology as a science.

Gordon Marshall, “Comparative Sociology”, A Dictionary Of Sociology, 1998

A Graduate Program in International Comparative Sociology, University of Utah Sociology Department