A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy
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A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy

Edited by Patricia Kennett

The current context of social policy is one in which many of the old certainties of the past have been eroded. The predominantly inward-looking, domestic preoccupation of social policy has made way for a more integrated, international and outward approach to analysis which looks beyond the boundaries of the state. It is in this context that this Handbook brings together the work of key commentators in the field of comparative analysis in order to provide comprehensive coverage of contemporary debates and issues in cross-national social policy research.
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Chapter 14: Crossing Cultural Boundaries

Linda Hantrais


Linda Hantrais Cooperation in the social sciences between researchers from different cultural backgrounds is never straightforward or unproblematic. The difficulties of crossing cultural boundaries are accentuated when language barriers also have to be overcome. The European Research Area, launched in 2000, affords a particularly fertile terrain in which to analyse the comparative research process, due to the great diversity of economic, political and socio-cultural contexts contained within its borders. These differences are reflected in research traditions, which, in turn, impact on working methods. Whereas the natural sciences are dealing with concepts and language that are common, if not universal, the object of study for social scientists is socially constructed. Concepts therefore need to be located and understood within the national, regional, local and disciplinary contexts that produce them, and within which policy is formulated and implemented. This chapter focuses on the ways in which the cultural and linguistic knowledge and experience of researchers impact on their approaches to comparative studies that cross national boundaries. It examines disciplinary traditions, theoretical and methodological issues, the choice of countries for comparison, as well as the practicalities of working in international teams. Attention is also devoted to the ways in which the research process and its outcomes are monitored and evaluated, involving an appraisal of the linkages made between research and policy. Understanding research cultures Within the Western world, differences have been identified at the epistemological level between three dominant ‘intellectual styles’ of research: Saxonic, Teutonic and Gallic. Although his depiction...

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