Qualitative Work and the Testing and Development of Theory: Lessons from a Study Combining Cross-Case and Within-Case Analysis via Ragin's QCA
Charles RAGIN's work, especially his development of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), offers social scientists a way of bringing together the strengths of the qualitative and quantitative traditions. QCA takes a case-based rather than a variable-based analytic approach to cross-case analysis. One problem that arises in attempting to use QCA to explore causation in larger datasets, especially survey datasets, is that the detailed case knowledge available to those working in the qualitative tradition is usually unavailable. In the same way therefore that it can be difficult to establish causation from correlational analyses, the derivation of causal claims from QCA analyses can also be problematic. We discuss these problems in detail and then argue that they can be addressed by using QCA to identify particular types of cases for detailed within-case analysis focusing on causal processes. More specifically, we show how such in-depth, within-case analysis can identify factors that can be used to improve QCA models, including those used to select these cases for analysis. We illustrate this particular mode of combining methods by drawing on our work on educational transitions in Germany, drawing on both the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) dataset and 43 individual interviews with German 17-year olds.