Strategies of causal inference in small-N analysis

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188 Scopus citations


Much debate concerning small-N analysis has centered on the question of whether this research tradition has powerful tools for assessing causality. Yet, recent contributions make it clear that scholars are not in consensus with regard to the more basic issue of which procedures and underlying logic are in fact used in small-N causal assessment. Focusing on the field of comparative-historical analysis, this article attempts to clarify these procedures and logic. Methods associated with three major strategies of small-N causal inference are examined: nominal comparison, ordinal comparison, and within-case analysis. The article argues that the use of these three strategies within particular small-N studies has led scholars to reach radically divergent conclusions about the logic of causal analysis in small-N research. One implication of this argument is that methodologists must sort out the interrelationship between strategies of causal inference before arriving at conclusions about the overall strengths and limitations of small-N analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-424
Number of pages38
JournalSociological Methods and Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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