Comparative urban analysis and assumptions about causality

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<ul><li><p>Comparative urban analysis and assumptions about causality by C.G. Pickvance </p><p>The aim of this paper is to clarify the meaning of comparative urban analysis, to distinguish three approaches to it, and to argue for the importance of two of them which has not been recognized in the past. Although the examples are drawn from urban and regional studies the arguments made apply equally to comparative anslysis in other fields.' </p><p>The paper is divided into five parts. First we consider the uses of comparative studies, and distinguish between comparative research and comparative analysis. We then present some conflicting views about the execution of comparative analysis which reflect different theoretical positions and different ideas about underlying causal relations in society. Section I11 uses examples to introduce the three ap- proaches to comparative analysis. Two of these involve the idea of plural causation and the importance of this concept and its implications in urban and regional studies are stressed in the fourth section. We conclude by discussing the scope of comparative analysis in the light of the earlier arguments. </p><p>I </p><p>Throughout this paper we shall use the term comparative to refer to crossnational comparisons. This is a conventional but entirely arbitrary usage. Comparisons between cities, classes, genders, etc. are no less important, and the same arguments that will be advanced here can be applied to them, mutatis mutandis. </p><p>1) to become aware of diversity and overcome ethnocentricism, 2 ) to clarify one's theoretical interest in a subject, and 3) to undertake comparative analysis. </p><p>The uses of comparative studies </p><p>Three reasons can be distinguished for carrying out comparative studies: </p><p>This paper is a completely revised version of one first read at University College, London in 1980. It has benefited from commcnts made then and subsequently a t the University of Kent, University of Bristol (School of Advanccd Urban Studies), Institute of British Geographers Conference, Leicester 1981, the ESRC/CNRS Symposium on the Comparative Analysis of Arab and Muslim Cities a t Birkbeck College, London, 1984, and the Fifth Urban Change and Conflict Conference, University of Susscx, 1985 1 would also like to thank Nick Manning, Bryan Roberts and John Walton for their helpful comments. </p></li><li><p>C.G. Pickvance 163 </p><p>Firstly, comparative studies help one become aware of the diversity of social phenomena and overcome ethnocentric assumptions about what is normal. For example, in the housing field most British laypersons would assume that housing policy is concerned with the distribution of housing, e.g. the provision of consump- tion subsidies such as tax relief for owner occupiers, and housing benefits to tenants; that council housing is the normal form of non-market housing provision, and that employers have no role in housing provision. </p><p>However, exposure to the housing situation in other countries reveals that housing policy may be more about maximizing the production of new houses, than about consumption, as in the USA and Canada for example (Heidenheimer e f al., 1983). Likewise it turns out that Britian is unusual in the large role of councils in housing provision. All other advanced capitalist societies have a non-market housing sector but this usually consists of non-government bodies - largely depen- dent on government funding - like housing associations in Britain (Wynn, 1983). Finally, the French experience reveals a much greater role of employers in housing provision. All firms above a minimum size have to pay 0.9% (originally 1%) of their payroll as a tax for housing. They also have nomination rights in cases where these funds are subsequently used to build social housing (Pickvance, 1980, Appendix). In Britain, employers only have a formalized influence in the allocation of new town rented housing. </p><p>Awareness of this diversity produces a sort of culture shock. It makes one aware of new and unsuspected connections. (The implications of this for comparative analysis are dealt with later.) It also leads to a second reason for comparative studies: to clarify ones theoretical interest in a topic. The act of comparison forces one to consider what is essential and what is inessential among the observed differ- ences between, say, forms of housing provision in two countries. How one draws this line depends not on an inherent property of housing, but on ones theoretical interest in it. For example, discovery that council housing in Britain is unusual in being council-controlled makes one question whether this is its essential feature or whether (more likely) ones interest in it is as an example of non-market housing provision. I f so then it can be placed in the same category as US public housing or French social housing - and British housing association housing. This would reflect a theoretical judgement that what is most important is its (non-market) economic role and that the diversity of institutional forms can be abstracted from, i.e. ignored, for the purpose at hand. In these ways, awareness of diversity through comparative studies forces one to bring theoretical assumptions into the open. </p><p>Finally, comparative studies may be carried out in order to undertake compara- tive analysis. This may seem an obscure statement to make. Are not comparative studies or comparative research synonymous with comparative analysis? In my view, no. Indeed I would see terms like comparative research and comparative studies as misnomers. The fact that a study is based on data relating to two or more societies is no guarantee fhat it is a comparative one. Such data are a necessary but not sufficient condition of comparative analysis. It is quite possible to juxtapose </p></li><li><p>164 Comparative urban analysis and assumptions about causality </p><p>data from two societies, or as Walton says, give them serial treatment (1981,30). For example, Duncans (1981) discussion of the differences between Swedish and French housing is perfectly adequate to his objective of denying Castellss claims about the generalityof the French-based housing model (1977, 156, 158). But it involves only the serial treatment of the two countries, i.e. it goes as far as identi- fying their similarities and differences. A comparative analysis on the other hand goes beyond this and attempts to understand the two (or more) cases in terms of one or more models. It is for this reason that it is only analysis which can be termed comparative.2 The term comparative research is therefore an illegitimate one. </p><p>To clarify the meaning of comparative analysis let us return to the observation of diversity in housing provision as mentioned above. At first sight it would appear to mean that no single explanatory model3 is applicable, that different processes are at work in each country. More formally this amounts to saying that differences between countries in the value of the dependent variable (whose variation we are trying to explain) cannot be explained within a single explanatory model. </p><p>But hopefully the absurdity of this proposition is self-evident. It amounts to saying that when two countries both have 60% owner occupation the same model applies, but if one rises to 70% and the other remains at 60%, different models are necessary. In fact, of course, explanatory models can explain variation in the phenomenon of interest provided it takes certain forms. Let us consider, for example, Harloes argument that owner occupation, at least vis-u-vis the mass production of housing, only emerges when substantial proportions of the potential consumers have long-term stable earnings (1981a, 30). Clearly this proposition is capable of explaining differences between countries at one point in time, and within one country over time, It leads us to expect countries to show a diversity of levels of owner occupation (Y), in conformity with the proportions of their population with long-term stable earnings (X), or Y = fi (X), where fi is a function. Before we can establish whether crossnational data conform to this model or not, its terms would have to be operationalized and the shape of the function linking earnings and owner occupation specified, e.g. is it linear, and if so with what shape, is it curvilinear (U-shaped, tapering, J-shaped, etc.)? Assuming this were done, there are three possibilities, each of which corresponds to a type of comparative analysis. </p><p> This point is clearly made by Zelditch who states that any explanatory generalizing research involves comparison (1971, 27!). It is the act of analysis in which one seeks the causes of a phenomenon which involves comparison. Thus even an analysis of a single case involves com- parison since one compares the observed situation with an imagined situation in which the suspected explanatory factorls) are absent (Smelser, 1976, 160-62). Comparative analysis, as discussed here, assumes that data are gathered in two situations. I make no apology for using the term model. It has recently become popular to decry notions like models. levels, abstraction, etc. on the grounds that they involve simplication and artificial separations. Since the complex totality of social reality is not graspable directly, simplifying and necessarily artificial concepts and models are unavoidable. though argument over particular concepts is always possible. Those, like some realists, who claim to be able to d o without them. have never revealed to what they owe their privileged access to the totality. </p></li><li><p>CG. Pickvance 165 </p><p>Firstly the data might turn out to be exactly as postulated by the model. The result would be a (two-variable) single model, Y = fi(X) which applied to all countries: the rationale would be that owner occupation spreads as effective consumer demands expands. This is referred to below as comparative analysis using a single model. Secondly it might turn out that the relationship between earnings and owner occupation took different forms in societies with different levels of industrialization, e.g. Y = fz ( X ) and Y =fa Q This would amount to a reformulation of the original model provided that the difference between f~ and f3 was interpretable within the same market rationale. The two relationships could be rewritten as a single model Y = f, (ZJ), where I is industrialization level. What is distinctive compared to the first case is that we have had to add a societal characteristic, I , into the initial model. This case is referred to below as comparative analysis using linked submodels, (I describe fi and f3 as submodels because they share the same rationale, i.e. owner occupation is related to stable earnings in some form). </p><p>A third possibility is that in two groups of societies the level of owner occupation depends on quite different variables. For example that in advanced capitalist societies it depends on the level of stable earnings, Y = f~ (X) , but in state socialist societies it depends negatively on the scale of state house building (Z), Y =fa (2). The latter case would represent a difference of rationale with the extent of owner occupation reflecting the scale of state socialist housing production (gradually dis- placing owner occupied prewar housing) rather than any market rationality. The social process here is fundamentally different from the first two cases. This case is referred to as comparative analysis using diverse models. </p><p>Thus it can be seen that diversity at the level of phenomena may be compatible with a single model or with linked submodels, or may require two (or more) distinct models to be formulated? All three cases will be illustrated in Section 111. </p><p>What do these three approaches to comparative analysis have in common? The defining characteristic of comparative analysis, as understood here, is that it allows the investigation of influences on the phenomenon or relation of interest which are given or constant for one society at one point in time by studying cases in which they vary. Its success depends on the range of variation naturally occurring in the societal features in question - given that experimentation is excluded. Some variation in societal features can be observed by studying one country over time, e.g. presence and absence of democratic political systems, or changing position in the world economy. But the range over which these features have varied may be narrow, and the covariation between them makes it difficult to separate out their </p><p>The three approaches distinguished here are quite different from those identified by Skocpol and Soniers ( 1 980). All three belong to their category of macrocausal analysis. (lheir contrasturiented category is a form of serial treatment - it does not involve comparative analysis. And their parallel comparative category has some resemblance to my single model approach but is concerned to illustrate the theory rather than expose it to test and refinement.) Comparative analysis may be searching for societal influences on a phenomenon such as owner occupation, or a relationship such as that between income and owner occupation (Irtcworski and Teune, 1970, 39-46). </p></li><li><p>166 Comparative urban analysis and assumptions about causality </p><p>independent effects. (For this latter reason some writers advocate the study of the influence of syndromes of social characteristics on the phenomena or relationship of interest.) </p><p>The advantage of crossnational comparisons is that they allow a wider range of variation to be observed in the societal characteristics of interest, and avoid some of the covariation found in single societies. But the risks are twofold. Firstly the phenomenon or relationship may have a quite different meaning in another society. This raises the question of cross-societal equivalence of concepts which is not discussed here (see Smelser, 1976). Secondly, our lesser familiarity with other societies makes it more hkely that some feature unknown to us has an important causal influence on the phenomenon or relationship of interest. The literature on comparative analysis sets out two solutions to this problem. One is t o make a random choice from among societies showing great diversity of societal features in an effort to randomize the effect of unknown societal features. This allows confi- dence limits to be attached to the conclusions reached. This approach is favoured in crossnational attitude or behavioural studies. A more common approach in urban and regional studies is to restrict the societies included to those with certain similari- ties ( e g advanced capitalist, high real income, with democratic political systems). This is the approach advocated by Walton (1973) and termed standarized case comparison. The advantage is that while enabling one to study the phenomenon of interest in the presence of diverse societal conditions the likelihood of unknown conditions is reduced. These two approaches have been labelled the most different systems and most similar systems approaches...</p></li></ul>


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