Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA)

Course summary

This hands-on course gives you the methodological tools to refine your use of set-theoretic methods, in particular Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), in your own substantive research. Beyond the correct implementation of QCA, special focus will be laid on combining QCA with other tools for descriptive and causal inference. The course is designed for participants who are already applying QCA, and want to bring their research to the next level. The course requires active participation.

QCA uses the notion of sets, set membership scores, set relations, and Boolean algebra to detect patterns in the data at the cross-case level. These patterns are interpreted in terms of necessary or sufficient conditions for the outcome of interest. In this workshop, we discuss strategies to strengthen the inferences drawn based on results generated with QCA. Such strengthening requires making use of additional tools, in combination with QCA.

Discussions during the morning sessions will focus on the tools for enhancing the inferences drawn based on QCA: Set-Theoretic Theory Evaluation; Set-Theoretic Robustness Tests; the inclusion of time and temporality; and, the combination of QCA with within-case analyses in the framework of Set-Theoretic Multi-Method Research (SMMR).

Format and activities

The workshop will be intense and requires the participants to be fully engaged throughout. The indicative timetable is 9.00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00 approximately..

The workshop will include various types of activities. Morning sessions will involve lectures and discussions about key methodological issues, in particular the tools for strengthening descriptive and causal inference. In the afternoons, we will discuss aspects of participants' projects. Here the focus will be on the question how the inferences drawn can be enhanced, using the tools introduced during the morning sessions.

Prerequisite Knowledge

You must be using QCA in your current research project (PhD, postdoc or other research), and be advanced enough in your project that you have at least some initial findings generated with QCA that we can use as a starting point for suggestions for improvement. Having some preliminary QCA results implies that you already have most or all of your data collected. You should bring this with you to the course so that we can immediately implement suggestions for improvement.

Knowledge of the R software environment, in general, and the QCA-relevant packages (QCA and SetMethods) is not strictly required, yet highly beneficial. Most of the advanced tools that we are going to discuss can only be applied via R.

You should be in good command of the basics of QCA. Ideally, beyond this you already know about some, or all, of the advanced tools that we are going to discuss in the course. You have acquired this knowledge either via an advanced QCA course that you have taken, or by having read the recent literature on these tools (conveniently presented in condensed form in Oana/Schneider/Thomann (2021).

Preparatory work

The participants will receive a number of preparatory readings that they will be asked to have done before the workshop starts. Submission before the course of a full-blown QCA, including information on case selection, condition selection, calibration decisions, raw and calibrated data, truth table minimization, and brief interpretation of the results (by October 10th to the relevant folder in the Google Drive site (more information to be provided)).

About the instructor

Carsten Q. Schneider is Pro-Rector for External Relations and Professor of Political Science at Central European University (CEU). His research and teaching interests focus on the study of political regime change processes in different world regions and on comparative social science methodology, especially set‐theoretic methods. He is co‐author of Set‐Theoretic Methods for the Social Sciences (2012), of Qualitative Comparative Analysis Using R: A Beginner’s Guide (2022), and author of Set-Theoretic Multi-Method Research: A Guide to Combining QCA and Case Studies (forthcoming), all published with Cambridge University Press. Over the past years, Schneider has taught QCA at ECPR, GSERM, and IPSA summer and winter schools, held short courses on QCA at IQMR and the APSA annual meeting, and delivered numerous workshops and seminars on set-theoretic methods throughout the world.

Indicative readings

  • Oana, I.-E., Schneider, C. Q., & Thomann, E. (2021). Qualitative Comparative Analysis Using R: A Beginner’s Guide. Cambridge University Press.
  • Schneider, C. Q. (2022). Set-Theoretic Multi-Method Research: A Guide to Combining QCA and Case Studies. Cambridge University Press.