Qualitative Comparative Analysis: Research Design and Application

Instructor: Patrick A. Mello

Modality: In presence

Week 2: 22 - 26 August, 2022


Workshop contents and objectives

This workshop gives a thorough introduction to the method of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), with an emphasis on research design and practical application. Since its inception (Ragin 1987), QCA has gained recognition among social scientists as a case-based research method that is ideally suited to capture causal complexity. This essentially describes a situation where an outcome results from multiple pathways and different combinations of conditions. Moreover, QCA entails a rigorous and systematic comparison of selected cases and their configurations through Boolean logic and a software-based analytical protocol.

Throughout this workshop, participants will be introduced to the foundations and advanced functions of QCA, while the course structure follows an ideal-typical research process. The introduction opens with empirical illustrations to show how and for what purposes QCA is being used in various areas of the social sciences, before summarizing the method’s key characteristics. This is followed by concise sessions on causation, causal complexity, and research design, to provide a basis for thinking about empirical applications. The ensuing sessions engage with the use of QCA as an analytical approach, starting with set theory and concepts like necessary and sufficient conditions, Boolean algebra, truth tables, and fuzzy sets. In calibrating sets, we look into approaches to transform empirical raw data into crisp and fuzzy sets. Next, the course examines various measures of fit that help in evaluating QCA results. The sessions on set-theoretic analysis put all the elements together and show how empirical data is analyzed and interpreted with QCA. Towards the end of the workshop, we will look into advanced topics, which can be tailored based on participants’ background and research interests. Potential topics include multi-method research design, QCA variants, robustness tests in QCA, addressing critiques, and recent developments.

The workshop sessions are complemented by illustrations and exercises, using the R Software environment and relevant R Packages.


Course participants are not expected to have any previous knowledge of QCA or the R software environment and its relevant packages. Participants will receive preparatory instructions ahead of the summer school, so that they can install the relevant software and familiarize themselves with the environment of R and RStudio. For those new to R, it is recommended to take part in the summer school’s preparatory course on R, which takes place before the start of the workshop.

Course Reading

Mello, Patrick A. (2021) Qualitative Comparative Analysis: An Introduction to Research Design and Application. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

The course structure follows the outline of the textbook (Mello 2021). Individual sessions will be complemented with additional readings, entailed in the detailed syllabus that participants will receive ahead of the summer school. To cover the dynamic development of the literature on QCA and related approaches, the syllabus will also include an updated list of recommended readings.