Comment: The Usefulness of QCA Under Realist Assumptions

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Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) opens up two new forms of knowledge: (1) knowing about alternative pathways to one outcome (equifinality) and (2) perceiving nuances of necessary cause and sufficient cause. Several misunderstandings of QCA occur in the article by Lucas and Szatrowski (this volume, p. 1). First, there are minor problems with expressions. Second, there are differences between their philosophy of science (arguments 1, 2, and 3 below) and a realist approach. Third, they misinterpret what was meant by sufficient and necessary cause (arguments 4 and 5 below). The minor problems with expressions arise in sections 2.2 and 3. In section 2.2, the authors define consistency, but here they miss out on two key points. First, they neglect to say that this particular measure of consistency is a measure of sufficiency of cause, not of necessary cause. Second, they ignore the way that the consistency level exists for each possible configuration of characteristics. A configuration can be shown in one row of a truth table, with n1 = 28, n2 = 17 within a larger sample of 155, and so on (see Byrne 2009:262). Using QCA’s definition of “consistency,â€� we can discern more about the pattern of causality than one might initially expect. This learning is possible whether N overall is 155, or just 39, or thousands of cases. The essential task is to simplify and rank the list of configurations (Ragin 2001, 2006).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-107
Number of pages6
JournalSociological Methodology
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


  • QCA, epistemology, realism, configuration, causality, qualitative comparative analysis, fuzzy set


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