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Finding structure in diversity: A stepwise small-n/medium-n qualitative comparative analysis approach for water resources management research

Peter P. Mollinga
Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London, London, UK; pm35@soas.ac.uk

Daphne Gondhalekar
Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany; daphneg@uni-bonn.de

ABSTRACT: Drawing particularly on recent debates on, and development of, comparative methods in the field of comparative politics, the paper argues that stepwise small-N/medium-N qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) is a particularly suitable methodological approach for water resources studies because it can make use of the rich but fragmented water resources studies literature for accumulation of knowledge and development of theory. It is suggested that taking an explicit critical realist ontological and epistemological stance allows expansion of the scope of stepwise small-N/medium-N QCA beyond what is claimed for it in Ragin’s 'configurational comparative methods (CCM)' perspective for analysing the complexity of causality as 'multiple conjunctural causation'. In addition to explanation of certain sets of 'outcomes' as in CCM’s combinatorial, set-theoretic approach, embedding stepwise small-N/medium-N QCA in a critical realist ontology allows the method to contribute to development of theory on (qualitative differences between) the structures in society that shape water resources use, management and governance.

KEYWORDS: water resources, comparative method, critical realism