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How should economists analyze institutions? Comments on David Skarbek, ‘Qualitative research methods for institutional analysis’

Mary M. Shirley

Journal of Institutional Economics, 2020, vol. 16, issue 4, 429-431

Abstract: David Skarbek argues that qualitative research methods can analyze institutions by exploiting complex evidence not accessible through quantitative methods. He suggests that well-done case studies and process tracing can meet some of the same tests of inference as statistical methods. Although Skarbek's critique and proposals mirror those of many other authors, including Ronald Coase, he nonetheless makes an important contribution. The brief, cogent, and instructive way he presents his advice and his defense of qualitative methods as a complement to mainstream methods rather than a confrontation, may be more persuasive than more confrontational arguments. As ‘datafication’ is quickly turning qualitative observations into quantitative data analyzed through machine learning, Skarbek's excellent advice on how to understand what is happening under different institutional settings could not be timelier.

Date: 2020
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