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Cross-National Comparative Studies in Social Sciences: Methodology, History of Development, State of the Art and Recent Trends

русская версия

Опубликовано на портале: 13-12-2011
Мир России. 2011.  Т. 20. № 3. С. 125-154. 
Тематический раздел:
Cross-national comparative social surveys help to address key academic and practical purposes – test the universality of social theories, the empirical basis for new explanatory models and theories, measure the effectiveness of macro-social government and international social programs, and study public opinion on global politics and global issues. Comparative surveys are also of high public importance because they allow each society to look at itself from the outside, understand the similarity and difference of certain nations compared to other countries and cultures, analyze and forecast the direction and speed of development of particular society in different aspects of its social life. We suggest a definition of cross-national comparative social survey as an empirical project based on mass survey data (general population or large sub-group of population) and designed with primary explicit purpose of comparing two or more social units (countries, nations, cultures) by particular criteria at some given moment in time. Cross-national comparative surveys have sprouted in the post-war years of the last century, when organizational infrastructure and necessary level of methodological knowledge became available and when public need for such surveys grew rapidly in order to solve the tasks of constructing new relations between nations in peace time, recovering and broadening of international cooperation, formation of international organizations. First comparative social surveys were initiated by American scholars (Cantril, Almond, S. Verba, N. Nai, etc.), however, the centre later shifted to European countries. Since the mid 1960s the Soviet Union took part in several cross-national comparative surveys, among them ‘International comparative survey of time budgets’, ‘Automatization and industrial workers’ and later, in the 1970s, initiated some comparative projects in Eastern Europe (among them such surveys as ‘Impact of high education on supporting and developing social structures of socialists societies’, ‘Convergence of working class and engineering-technical intelligentsia of socialist countries’, ‘Life course of youth in socialists societies’). Since the end of the 1980s the Department of Methodological research (headed by V. Andreenkov) at the Institute of Sociology (USSR Academy of Sciences) became the centre of methodological development and gradual introduction of this new research method in Russia – mass surveys with face-to-face or personal interviews on randomly selected samples. It has also initiated and participated in different comparative surveys including the surveys of public opinion on foreign policy issues, relations between countries and global issues, but also large cross-national trend comparative academic surveys (World Value Survey in particular). Currently Russia is a member of all large-scale trend comparative social surveys such as European Social Survey (ESS), ISSP and World Value Survey and many other regional and global comparative projects. One of the basic features of cross-national comparative surveys and their main function is the multicontextual content and design. In addition to three main methodological challenges for mass surveys – sample design and construction, measurement issues and the coverage issue – comparative surveys hold one more methodological challenge – the need for the equivalency of the data, i.e. a comparability problem. High level of comparability could be obtained only if surveys are equivalent at least to some degree on few basic parameters – conceptual, linguistic (translation), sampling, data collection mode and performance, data processing and documentation. In the recent two decades comparative surveys tend to grow in number of included units (countries), employ more complicated survey design – not only cross-national, but also cross-sectional or even longitudinal. Another trend is the increase of understanding and the implementation of equivalency principles on different stages of the survey – not only on conceptual and instrument design, but also in sampling, data processing and data presentation, the inclusion of international and interdisciplinary efforts and expertise on all stages of the project. Comparative surveys are moving toward the introduction of more democratic methods in the organization of the project (from financing to conceptual design), higher standards of data quality; new approaches to the questionnaire design for different national and cultural contexts, inclusion of translation in questionnaire design stage; broader usages and more requirements for probability random samples; more complicated approach to data collect mode (from single mode to mix-modes); more attention and the improvement of the quality of documentation; more attention to transparency of survey on all stages – from generation of ideas and theoretical background to all details of data collection and more democratic data access; establishing cross-national survey infrastructure.
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