‘Thick Description’ and Qualitative Research Analysis

In Chapter 8 of Bryman, Beel, and Teevan, the authors discuss qualitative research methods and how to do qualitative research. In a subsection entitled Alternative Criteria for Evaluating Qualitative Research, the authors reference Lincoln and Guba’s thoughts on how to assess the reliability, validity, and objectivity of qualitative research. Lincoln and Guba argue that these well-known criteria (which developed from the need to evaluate quantitative research) do not transfer well to qualitative research. Instead, they argue for evaluative criteria such as credibility, transferability, and objectivity.

Saharan Caravan Routes
Saharan Caravan Routes–The dotted red lines in the above map are caravan routes connecting the various countries of North Africa including Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Mali, Niger and Chad. Many of the main desert pistes and tracks of today were originally camel caravan routes. (What do the green, yellow, and brown represent?)

Transferability is the extent to which qualitative research ‘holds in some other context’ (the quants reading this will immediately realize that this is analogous to the concept of the ‘generalizability of results’ in the quantitative realm). The authors argue that whether qualitative research fulfills this criterion is not a theoretical, but an empirical issue. Moreover, they argue that rather than worrying about transferability, qualitative researchers should produce ‘thick descriptions’ of phenomena. The term thick description is most closely associated with the anthropologist Clifford Geertz (and his work in Bali). Thick description can be defined as:

the detailed accounts of a social setting or people’s experiences that can form the basis for general statements about a culture and its significance (meaning) in people’s lives.

Compare this account (thick description) by Geertz of the caravan trades in Morocco at the turn of the 20th century to how a quantitative researcher may explain the same institution:

In the narrow sense, a zettata (from the Berber TAZETTAT, ‘a small piece of cloth’) is a passage toll, a sum paid to a local power…for protection when crossing localities where he is such a power. But in fact it is, or more properly was, rather more than a mere payment. It was part of a whole complex of moral rituals, customs with the force of law and the weight of sanctity—centering around the guest-host, client-patron, petitioner-petitioned, exile-protector, suppliant-divinity relations—all of which are somehow of a package in rural Morocco. Entering the tribal world physically, the outreaching trader (or at least his agents) had also to enter it culturally.

Despite the vast variety of particular forms through which they manifest themselves, the characteristics of protection in tbe Berber societies of the High and Middle Atlas are clear and constant. Protection is personal, unqualified, explicit, and conceived of as the dressing of one man in the reputation of another. The reputation may be political, moral, spiritual, or even idiosyncratic, or, often enough, all four at once. But the essential transaction is that a man who counts ‘stands up and says’ (quam wa qal, as the classical tag bas it) to those to whom he counts: ‘this man is mine; harm him and you insult me; insult me and you will answer for it.’ Benediction (the famous baraka),hospitality, sanctuary, and safe passage are alike in this: they rest on the perhaps somewhat paradoxical notion that though personal identity is radically individual in both its roots and its expressions, it is not incapable of being stamped onto tbe self of someone else. (Quoted in North (1991) Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5:1 p. 104.

What is the link between Globalization and Poverty?

In my previous post, I noted that the narrator of the Globalization is Good documentary claimed that there was a strong correlation between how globalized a country is and poverty. Specifically, those countries that are globalized are likely to have less poverty. How does this claim stand up to empirical scrutiny? Well, one answer comes from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“The evidence strongly suggests that export growth and incoming foreign investment have reduced poverty everywhere from Mexico to India to Poland. Yet at the same time currency crises can cripple the poor.”

Does globalization, as its advocates maintain, help spread the wealth? Or, as its critics charge, does globalization hurt the poor? In a new book titled Globalization and Poverty, edited by NBER Research Associate Ann Harrison, 15 economists consider these and other questions. In Globalization and Poverty (NBER Working Paper No. 12347), Harrison summarizes many of the findings in the book. Her central conclusion is that the poor will indeed benefit from globalization if the appropriate complementary policies and institutions are in place.

Harrison first notes that most of the evidence on the links between globalization and poverty is indirect. To be sure, as developing countries have become increasingly integrated into the world trading system over the past 20 years, world poverty rates have steadily fallen. Yet little evidence exists to show a clear-cut cause-and-effect relationship between these two phenomena.

Many of the studies in Globalization and Poverty in fact suggest that globalization has been associated with rising inequality, and that the poor do not always share in the gains from trade. Other themes emerge from the book. One is that the poor in countries with an abundance of unskilled labor do not always gain from trade reform. Another is that the poor are more likely to share in the gains from globalization when workers enjoy maximum mobility, especially from contracting economic sectors into expanding sectors (India and Colombia). Gains likewise arise when poor farmers have access to credit and technical know-how (Zambia), when poor farmers have such social safety nets as income support (Mexico) and when food aid is well targeted (Ethiopia).

The evidence strongly suggests that export growth and incoming foreign investment have reduced poverty everywhere from Mexico to India to Poland. Yet at the same time currency crises can cripple the poor. In Indonesia, poverty rates increased by at least 50 percent after the 1997 currency crisis in that country, and the poor in Mexico have yet to recover from the pummeling of the peso in 1995.

Without doubt, Harrison asserts, globalization produces both winners and losers among the poor. In Mexico, for example, small and medium corn growers saw their incomes halved in the 1990s, while larger corn growers prospered. In other countries, poor workers in exporting sectors or in sectors with foreign investment gained from trade and investment reforms, while poverty rates increased in previously protected areas that were exposed to import competition. Even within a country, a trade reform may hurt rural agricultural producers and benefit rural or urban consumers of those farmers’ products.

The relationship between globalization and poverty is complex, Harrison acknowledges, yet she says that a number of persuasive conclusions may be drawn from the studies in Globalization and Poverty. One conclusion is that the relationship depends not just on trade or financial globalization but on the interaction of globalization with the rest of the economic environment: investments in human capital and infrastructure, promotion of credit and technical assistance to farmers, worthy institutions and governance, and macroeconomic stability, including flexible exchange rates. The existence of such conditions, Harrison writes, is emerging as a critical theme for multilateral institutions like the World Bank.

Theories of Ethnic Identity Formation and Ethnic Violence & Ivory Coast

In IS 309 this evening, we assessed the strengths and weaknesses of three competing theories of ethnic identity (and ethnic violence)–constructivism, primordialism, and instrumentalism. We read the following:

  • Fearon, James D. and David D. Laitin. 2000. Review: Violence and the Social Construction of
    Ethnic Identity,” International Organization, 54:4, pp. 845-877
  • Harvey, Frank P. 2000. Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans:
    Opportunities and Constraints for Theory and Policy,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 33:1,
    pp. 37-65
  • Collett, Moya. 2006. Ivoirian identity constructions: ethnicity and nationalism in the prelude to
    civil war,” Nations and Nationalism, 12(4), 613-629
  • Kaplan, Robert. D. 1993. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through history Part I and One Chapter from each of Parts II, III, and IV.
  • Hechter, Michael. 1995. Explaining Nationalist Violence,” Nations and Nationalism, Vol 1(1), 53-68.
  • We then viewed a video on the breakdown of political life in the Ivory Coast and the descent of that once relatively prosperous west African state into civil war. The civil war was characterised as a battle between the “Muslim-populated north and the Christian-dominated south.” How accurate is this characterisation of the ethnic character of Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war?


    For information about the current political situation, in the wake of the refusal of former(?) President Laurent Gbagbo to acknowledge having lost power in elections held several weeks ago, watch these.

    The Age of Global (In)equality?

    Many of the readings from Chapter 9 of O’Neil’s Essential Readings address the issue of global divergence/convergence in economic growth and/or inequality over the last few decades (and even further back than that–i.e., the Pritchett reading). The question comes down to whether there has been more or less inequality over time. Which is it? Well, the answer depends to a large extent on how one chooses to measure inequality. I’ll begin my response to this by quoting a student’s e-mail I received earlier today:

    Hello, below is a link to a video showing one aspect or area of convergence.

    I don’t know if I agree that countries are converging in regards to wealth and health; after all, Africa still seems very far behind.  I general, yes, countries today are healthier (longer life spans) and wealthier (not looking at inequality) than they were 200 years ago…

    …For our purposes, what is the meaning of convergence and divergence?  From Pritchett, he seems to be measuring growth in terms of GDP and concluding that there is divergence between developed and developing nations (i.e. the levels of growth are not coming together, but separating).  What about China and India, who experienced faster or “larger growth” than some developed nations in the 80’s to mid 90’s?  Then with Milanovic, he is talking about inequality – how it is decreasing at the world level (when Indian and China are included) and this shows convergence.  To me, O’Neil seems to be trying to present two sides of an issue; however, I see two separate issues.  One is divergence in economic growth and the other is convergence in equality. I suppose that China’s and India’s economic growth can explain or at least correlate to lower inequality at the world level, but is that the correct way of interpreting Milanovic?  Is he saying that there’s a convergence of equality (or lower inequality gap worldwide), because countries (when including China and India) are converging in regards to economic growth?

    Thank you.

    This student is essentially correct in his reading of the respective arguments. As I mentioned earlier, which view one takes on the question of the recent direction of inequality convergence/divergence depends upon how one chooses to measure inequality. To put it differently, it depends upon whether your unit-of-analysis is the country or the individual. A Gini Index score that is calculated on the basis of mean levels of national income (or wealth) may not be the same as one calculated on the basis of comparing the wealth of individuals worldwide. In fact, Milanovic tells us that the values are indeed different, and the difference is due mainly to what has happened in China and India over the last two decades or so.


    Accessing online journal articles from off-campus

    Hello Students:

    Some of you have e-mailed inquiring about how to access the subscription-only online journals from off-campus. With the roll-out of the library’s new “fast search” feature, it’s now as easy as 1-2-3…4-5!

    Here’s what you do:

    1) Go to the library’s website http://www.lib.sfu.ca/ and check that the “Fast Search” has been selected in the search area (it should be the default).

    2) Type the name of the article you’re seeking in the appropriate place (see pic below) and click “Search.”

    3) A new browser window will open. If you see the name of the article, click the appropriate link (inside the orange rectangle in the picture below):

    Continue reading “Accessing online journal articles from off-campus”

    IS 302–Reading Questions for Freedom’s Battle (Bass)

    The readings for this Friday’s seminar come exclusively from Gary Bass’s recent book Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention. Here are some of the questions that will orient class discussion

    1. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Humanitarian interventions of the 19th century were less humanitarian than imperialistic. Great powers simply cloaked what amounted to self-interested military intervention in the garb of humanitarianism, when these interventions were nothing of the sort. Explain.
    2. Is the realist worldview tenable, given what you know about some of the humanitarian interventionS of the 19th century?
    3. What was the effect of media–the so-called CNN effect–on the humanitarian impulses during the 19th century?
    4. What does Bass mean by an “imagined humanity?” Continue reading “IS 302–Reading Questions for Freedom’s Battle (Bass)”

    Reading Questions on Political Culture

    Here are questions for the three assigned readings. (Note that I have uploaded a video on Blackboard that explains how to interpret the numerical results from regression analysis.)

    Please come to class prepared to answer the following questions:

    General Questions

    After having read the three required articles, what is your assessment of the concept political culture? Is there evidence that national political cultures exist? Do you have reason to believe that political culture is a concept that can be adequately defined? Can we use the concept political culture to account for cross-national patterns in various political phenomena? How does each of the
    authors use the concept political culture and what is their assessment of its utility as an explanatory mechanism in comparative politics?

    Inglehart, Ronald–“The Renaissance of Political Culture”

    • What is the significance of Figure 1 n p. 1206?
    • Is there a correlation between life satisfaction and level of economic development [see Figure 2]? Explain.
    • Why does Inglehart analyze the phenomena i) life satisfaction, and ii) interpersonal trust?
    • What is the logic underlying the relationship between culture and economic development as outlined in Weber’s “the Protestant Ethic?”
    • The relative growth rates of Protestant as against non-Protestant countries in the 1970s and 1980s seems to undermine Weber’s “Protestant ethnic” argument. How does Inglehart reconcile the argument with the empirical evidence?
    • What is post-materialism and what is the relationship bebetween post-materialist values and economic growth?

    Continue reading “Reading Questions on Political Culture”

    War and the Process of State-making

    As we discussed in class on Thursday, there is a close relationship between the war, the state, and state-making.  Thus, violence is at the root of the idea of the modern state, as Weber’s famous definition of the state aptly demonstrates.  Norbert Elias suggested that the state-formation process in Europe was “an elimination contest.”  In addition, Charles Tilly famously wrote* “war made the state and the state made war.”  In a much-read paper** on the topic, Tilly wrote:

    What distinguished the violence produced by states from the violence delivered by anyone else? In the long run, enough to make the division between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” force credible. Eventually, the personnel of states purveyed violence on a larger scale, more effectively, more efficiently, with wider assent from their subject populations, and with readier collaboration from neighboring authorities than did the personnel of other organizations.  But it took a long time for that series of distinctions to become established. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, the practice of using it routinely to accomplish their ends, or both at once. The continuum ran from bandits and pirates to kings via tax collectors, regional power holders, and professional soldiers.

    The uncertain, elastic line between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” violence appeared in the upper reaches of power. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, its actual employment, or both at once. The long love-hate affair between aspiring state makers and pirates or bandits illustrates the division. “Behind piracy on the seas acted cities and city-states,” writes Fernand Braudel of the sixteenth century. “Behind banditry, that terrestrial piracy, appeared the continual aid of lords.”‘ In times of war, indeed, the managers of full-fledged states often commissioned privateers, hired sometime bandits to raid their enemies, and encouraged their regular troops to take booty. In royal service, soldiers and sailors were often expected to provide for themselves by preying on the civilian population: commandeering, raping, looting, taking prizes. When demobilized, they commonly continued the same practices, but without the same royal protection; demobilized ships became pirate vessels, demobilized troops bandits.

    It also worked the other way: A king’s best source of armed supporters was sometimes the world of outlaws. Robin Hood’s conversion to royal archer may be a myth, but the myth records a practice. The distinctions between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” users of violence came clear only very slowly, in the process during which the state’s armed forces became relatively unified and permanent.

    The process of legitimation of state violence came, as Tilly argues above, slowly.  What, according to Weber, are the different types of legitimacy that attended to this process?

    *Charles Tilly, “Reflections on the History of European State-Making,” in Charles Tilly, ed.,  The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1975), p. 42.

    **Tilly, Charles. “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, ” in Evans, Rueschemeyer and Skocpol, ed., Brining the State Back in (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p.172-173.

    ***Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process  (Oxford: Blackwell), 1993.

    Islam, Religious Attitudes, and Democracy

    There is a lot of ink being spilled on the question of the compatibility of Islam with democracy. Here is a link to a paper by Mark Tessler, published in the journal, Comparative Politics, in 2002.

    “Islam and Democracy in the Middle East: The Impact of Religious Orientations on Attitudes Toward Democracy in Four Arab Countries,” Comparative Politics, Vol. 34 (April 2002): 337-354.

    If you are on campus, here is a direct link to a pdf version of the article.

    From the Abstract:

    Continue reading “Islam, Religious Attitudes, and Democracy”

    Winter 2008 issue of Orbis dedicated to “Assessing Democratic Transitions”

    Just a note to remind me that the Winter 2008 issue of Orbis has a symposium on entitled “Assessing Democratic Transitions Today.” Here is the partial table of contents:

    Introduction Adrian A. Basora
    Must Democracy Continue to Retreat in Postcommunist Europe and Eurasia? Adrian A. Basora
    The Tasks of Democratic Transition and Transferability Valerie Bunce
    Ukraine: Lessons Learned from Other Post-Communist Transitions Mykola Riabchuk
    Central Asia: U.S. Bases and Democratization Alexander Cooley
    East and South East Asia: Lessons from Democratic Transitions Tom Ginsburg
    Can Outsiders Bring Democracy to Post-Conflict States? John R. Schmidt