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 17: ‘Fit For Purpose?’ Qualitative Methods in Comparative Social Policy

Steen Mangen


Steen Mangen Each person can only claim one aspect of our character as part of his knowledge. To everyone we turn a different face of the prism. (Lawrence Durrell, Justine, London, Faber & Faber, 1968, page 105) As the chapter demonstrates, in the last decade qualitative methods have increasingly contributed to clarification of both theoretical concerns and social policy and planning agenda in cross-national settings. This review will examine research that crosses cultures and languages,1 or in the case of single countries, investigations undertaken by a non-native. Among the issues to be addressed are the link between methods and theory, management of multinational teams, problems of language, sampling, selection of methods and the processing of data. The focus will largely be research within the European Union: apart from limitations of space, this choice is defended on the grounds that, in the period under consideration, there has been a substantial growth in the comparative enterprise in this region in all aspects: such as model building, hypothesis generation, more refined integration of qualitative and quantitative methods – an acceleration of the effort noted by Øyen (1990) in the 1970s and 1980s. This activity has been prosecuted under the direct or indirect stimulus of the construction of the European Union in line with the promotion of the convergence objective, prompting the search for ‘lesson learning’ based on more holistic evaluations that respect differences of culture, context and power (Mabbett and Bolderson, 1999). Beyond the EU imperative, comparative qualitative research in this region...

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