American Sociological Association

Qualitative Comparative Analysis in Critical Perspective

Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) appears to offer a systematic means for case-oriented analysis. The method not only offers to provide a standardized procedure for qualitative research but also serves, to some, as an instantiation of deterministic methods. Others, however, contest QCA because of its deterministic lineage. Multiple other issues surrounding QCA, such as its response to measurement error and its ability to ascertain asymmetric causality, are also matters of interest. Existing research has demonstrated the use of QCA on real data, but such data do not allow one to establish the method’s efficacy, because the true causes of real social phenomena are always contestable. In response, the authors analyze several simulated data sets for which true causal processes are known. They find that QCA finds the correct causal story only 3 times across 70 different solutions, and even these rare successes, on closer examination, actually reveal additional fundamental problems with the method. Further epistemological analyses of the results find key problems with QCA’s stated epistemology, and results indicate that QCA fails even when its stated epistemological claims are ontologically accurate. Thus, the authors conclude that analysts should reject both QCA and its epistemological justifications in favor of existing effective methods and epistemologies for qualitative research.


Samuel R. Lucas and Alisa Szatrowski





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