January, 2020

Qualitative research methods for institutional analysis

  • David Skarbek

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How can economists use qualitative evidence – such as archival materials, interviews, and ethnography – to study institutions? While applied economists typically rely on quantitative evidence and statistical estimation, many important aspects of institutions and institutional change appear in the form of qualitative evidence. This raises the question if, and how, social scientists trained in quantitative methods can exploit and analyze this evidence. This paper discusses two qualitative research methods that are both commonly used outside of economics: comparative case studies and process tracing. Drawing on existing research about crime and political revolutions, it discusses these two methods and how to implement them to improve institutional analysis.