Qualitative Methods and Transparency in Political Science

There’s an interesting Forum on qualitative methods and transparency in the current issue of Security Studies. It is worth reading each of the contributions. I read with special interest Jack Snyder’s reflections on “active citation,” which Andrew Moravcsik advocates as a way to enhance transparency in qualitative and historical research.

Among other points, Snyder observes that there is rarely such a thing as “smoking gun” evidence, or evidence that “speaks for itself,” and gives the example of a document that he and someone else used as evidence of two entirely different interpretations of Russian actions near the Austrian border in 1912. His point—that we can interpret evidence differently based on the theoretical and conceptual priors we start with—seems right to me. I can’t help but wonder what a historian working in the field of historiography and historical methods would think about this symposium, or about how the contributors describe how to use history as data or evidence.

I also am surprised that we don’t see more discussion of Lustick (1996) on historiography and historical monographs as evidence. Where I do find Lustick mentioned, by Moravcsik (p. 677), I find it hard to follow how his argument is being invoked in the context in which it is cited—which is either ironic, or meta, or both.