Qualitative Comparative Analysis: Research Design and Application

Lecturer: Patrick A. Mello.

Week 2 (23 - 27 August 2021).

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 building blocks 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, before summarizing the method’s key characteristics. This is followed by sessions on causation, causal complexity, and research design, to provide a foundation 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 session on set-theoretic analysis puts all of the elements together and shows how empirical data is analyzed and interpreted with QCA. Finally, the workshop closes with sessions on advanced topics, which can be tailored based on participants’ background and research interests. Potential topics include multi-method research design, QCA variants, addressing critiques, and recent developments.

The workshop sessions are complemented by illustrations and exercises, using the R Software environment and relevant R Packages. Reading material from the QCA textbook (Mello, forthcoming) will be made available to the course participants.


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.


Duşa, Adrian. (2018) QCA with R. A Comprehensive Resource. Cham: Springer.

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

Oana, Ioana-Elena, Carsten Q. Schneider, and Eva Thomann (forthcoming) Qualitative Comparative Analysis Using R: A Beginner’s Guide. New York: Cambridge University Press

Ragin, Charles C. (1987) The Comparative Method. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ragin, Charles C. (2008) Redesigning Social Inquiry: Fuzzy Sets and Beyond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rihoux, Benoît and Charles C. Ragin, eds. (2009) Configurational Comparative Methods. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and Related Techniques. Thousand Oaks and London: Sage.

Schneider, Carsten Q. and Claudius Wagemann (2012) Set-Theoretic Methods for the Social Sciences: A Guide to Qualitative Comparative Analysis. New York: Cambridge University Press.


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