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Jean-Pascal Daloz

This chapter engages the cultural realm of meaning with the study of comparative politics. Taking the departure from a criticism of several schools of thought in comparative politics within both the universalist and relativist paradigms, the chapter introduces an inductive methodology based on the thick description of locally meaningful codes within their historical and socio-cultural context. It argues that the interpretation of meaning constitutes a new form of scientific reasoning likely to offer comparative insights and not, as is frequently believed, simply add contextual knowledge. Drawing on different interpretations of meanings of political representation in Scandinavia, Nigeria and France, this chapter shows how representation is lived, performed, and understood within culturally rich local contexts.

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Jean-Pascal Daloz

Daloz' chapter is constructed around his research on the sociology of elite distinction. He notes that sociology has remained a discipline with strong rivalries between more or less conventional schools of thought. Comparative explorations can, as a result, be understood in terms of an extended playground for these schools of thought. He too notes that any comparative work entails serious risks of ethnocentrism, over-generalisation, undue extrapolation, rigid assumptions, and dubious deductive reasoning. Daloz shows how it is possible to avoid these challenges by advocating an eclectic inductive methodology, in which appealing to the authority of conventional models of interpreting differences between societies can only make sense in a particular context without giving a priori explanatory precedence to any of them. This requires sufficient open-mindedness to be able to recognise those cases for which new theorising, or at least a revision of existing theories, is required. Daloz takes a cautious stance toward explanatory concepts with a universalistic ring and toward the grand theories that rely on them, and encourages comparative studies that are attentive to local perceptions. The comparatist, one might say, should as a result permanently work in a 'spirit of conceptual tentativeness': the researcher needs to avoid normative preconditions as much as possible and be willing to replace the original conceptual and comparative framework with a better-suited one. Comparative analysis thus not only leads to a better recognition of convergent trends and processes but also of dissimilar scenarios, and even occasional pairs of cases that constitute almost complete reversals of one another.