Analytic Eclecticism, Nested Analysis

It sounds an awful lot like a cheap cliché, but I really am a believer in combining different analytical angles and empirical strategies to make a case. There are two dimensions to this: the eclectic utilization of concepts and mechanisms from different theoretical traditions, and the combination of different empirical methods such that one method builds upon and validates the other.

Analytic Eclecticism

Rudra Sil and Peter Katzenstein define analytic eclecticism as a

“intellectual stance that supports efforts to complement, engage, and selectively utilize theoretical constructs embedded in contending research traditions to build complex arguments that bear on substantive problems of interest to both scholars and practitioners.1

This conception - which strongly resonates with me - assumes a healthy division of labor between two social scientific camps (individual researchers can belong to both camps, even at the same time): first, there are the ‘normal scientists’ that work in established research paradigms which define their questions and push them towards ever more elaborated and nuanced theories and empirical results; second, there are the analytical eclecticists which, as it were, parasitically utilize the conceptual and empirical knowledge accumulated in the paradigmatic sciences to answer questions that are defined less by a research tradition than by practical concerns.

In other words, normal scientists ask questions that mainly make sense in light of certain theoretical paradigms. In doing so, they accumulate ever more detailed knowledge about how the social world works. Analytic eclecticists ask questions that immediately make sense for practitioners or lay people as well, and they provide answers by synthetically combining concepts, causal mechanisms, or even methods from competing theoretical paradigms.2

Nested Analysis

Evan Lieberman has proposed nested analysis as a mixed-method strategy for comparative and historical analyses as a way to

“assess the plausibility of observed statistical relationships between variables, to generate theoretical insights from outlier and other cases, and to develop better measurement strategies.34

This way of thinking about mixed method research remains highly relevant and serves as an encouragement to provide the best evidence available in order to answer a given question (which, alas, is often discouraged by the fast-moving realities of academic publishing). The methodological suggestions laid out in Lieberman’s articles provide a lodestar for the papers I would like to write but am not always able to.

  1. Sil, R. and Katzenstein, P.J. (2010) ‘Analytic Eclecticism in the Study of World Politics: Reconfiguring Problems and Mechanisms across Research Traditions’, Perspectives on Politics, 8(2), pp. 411–431. ↩︎

  2. In general, there should probably be more ‘normal scientists’ than analytic eclecticists but it sometimes feels like the career incentives in the social sciences have become overly skewed towards the former. ↩︎

  3. Lieberman, E.S. (2005) ‘Nested Analysis as a Mixed-Method Strategy for Comparative Research’, American Political Science Review, 99(3), pp. 435–452. ↩︎

  4. Lieberman, E.S. (2015) ‘Nested analysis: toward the integration of comparative-historical analysis with other social science methods’, in Mahoney, J. and Thelen, K.A. (eds.) Advances in comparative-historical analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, pp. 240–263. ↩︎

Timo Seidl
Timo Seidl
PhD Student

I am a PhD Student at the Department of Political and Social Science at the European University Institute matter.