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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Comparative Analysis of Social and Public Policy (PGSP11104)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course introduces students to the main methodological approaches in comparative policy analysis. Its aims are to give students an understanding of key issues involved in comparative social research and to develop their analytical skills in systematic comparison that may add rigour to their research and help achieve valid and well-founded generalizations and evaluations of social and public policy developments in national and international context.
Course description 1. Course description

a. Academic description

The course introduces students to main approaches in comparative policy analysis. It aims to give students an understanding of key issues involved in comparative policy research, of the role of comparisons in policy debates and to develop their analytical skills in systematic cross-national comparison, adding rigour to the research process.

b. Outline content

The course starts by considering why comparisons are central in the social sciences generally and policy related social science in particular. What are comparisons for; what can be compared and what kind of comparisons are there? We also discuss whether comparisons may provide a basis for better policy making.
Modern policy making often includes references to other countries which, arguably, do better or worse in certain areas of public policy. But how do we know whether this is actually the case? Which empirical indicators are used for constructing league tables and benchmarking? Who is using country league tables for which purpose? We will explore how policy indicators might be designed as part of ¿policy packages¿. We will also discuss ways in which country rankings, benchmarking and league tables are put to use in the policy arena.
Moving on to methodological aspects of the course, we start by considering typologies and why typologies may be used in social science. What techniques can we use to construct and test typologies? We then consider problems of conceptualisation and address issues of functional and linguistic equivalence in comparative research.
What is the logic of comparative analysis as a method? We will discuss Mill's methods of difference and agreement; necessary and sufficient conditions; case (country) selection and the constitution of cases, as well as the issue of causality in comparative social research more generally.
Two sessions are devoted to quantitative and qualitative aspects of comparative research. We contrast macrosocial and micro-social data, within-country analysis and cross-country comparisons. We reflect on regression analysis with small and large samples and associated problems/opportunities as well as the question of validity in cross-country comparisons and how one might investigate cross-cultural comparability using statistical techniques.

¿Qualitative comparative analysis¿ (QCA) is a formalised approach which particularly useful when studying a small to medium number of cases. The underlying logic of QCA will be presented and its basic assumptions will be compared with that of quantitative analytical techniques. The methodology will be illustrated with some examples of comparative welfare state research.
In the remainder of the course we ask the somewhat counterintuitive question: ¿can we compare countries (cases) by looking at one country (case) alone?¿ We consider the various possible rationales for a single-country study, and look at the different ways that such single-country analyses might contribute to a cross-national comparative research programme. The role of single country studies in relation to the generation, confirmation and falsification of hypotheses and theories is discussed, and strategies of strategic single-case selection are explored.

c. Student Learning experience

The course consists of 10 two-hour weekly sessions. From week 2 onwards, sessions will be divided in an interactive lecture input and group/class discussions. For the latter students are expected to have read and prepared relevant readings each week.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  53
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) The assessment consists of two assignments: a critical review (1,500 words); 25% of the mark; a course paper (3,000 words); 75% of the mark.
Feedback Students who are unsure about how to write essays may want to submit a voluntary 'formative; non-assessed essay of max 1500 words on the topic which is to be submitted to the course organizer by the end of week 3. Feedback will be provided by week 6. The essay will not be marked and is not part of the grade achieved for the course.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. ¿ have a good understanding of the role of comparisons in policy debates and policy formulation
  2. ¿ know about comparative approaches and problems of inference from data
  3. ¿ know about conceptual, theoretical and empirical aspects of comparative research
  4. ¿ have a good knowledge about comparative data sources and their limitations
  5. ¿ have explored substantive social and public policy areas from a comparative perspective
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Additional Class Delivery Information Mode of delivery
The course will run as a series of ten two-hour weekly lecture and seminar sessions. Each week, students will learn a different aspect of comparative method, aided by group discussion based on one or two selected texts. Students are expected to have read and prepared these readings prior to each session. The final session will be organised as a panel where staff members discuss their comparative approaches and practical experiences with conducting empirical comparative research.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Jochen Clasen
Tel: (0131 6)50 9922
Course secretaryMiss Jemma Auns
Tel: (0131 6) 50 24 56
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