systematic in building on work that has already been done, in particular in relation to causal explanation, and not to reinvent wheels.
In short, contextualized comparisons can offer causal explanation, and can thus contribute to the ‘scientific’ goals of the field. This is where there is a link to more quantitative and hypothesis-driven stream of research. Following Kaufman, the issue is that this stream became defined, particularly in the US, as the only way to build scientific analysis. More institutionally oriented approaches can also do so, but they need to pursue their links with disciplines such as sociology if they are to establish the ‘scientific’ validity of what they do. Consider an example. The links between human resource management and organizational performance have been a central recent concern, with much research being firmly in the quantitative mould. A major review has identified substantial issues of theory and evidence, and it calls for ‘big science’ comprising large-scale surveys and the collection of detailed data using sophisticated instruments (Wall and Wood, 2005). Much of the argument is persuasive, but no space is left for contextualized inquiry. Yet the relationships between HRM and performance would seem, from the evidence reviewed, to be complex and variable. Detailed inquiry into the meanings of HRM practices and how they work surely remains a crucial complement to big science. It can, indeed, be part of big science, rather than an adjunct. If it can offer rich and causally plausible accounts, it can say at least as much about the relevant questions as can quantitative studies. Indeed, on Wall and Wood’s own analysis, a mass of quantitative studies offers at best patchy evidence, and new methods are needed. Such methods embrace contextualized analysis.
Some clear developments, together with prospects for future advance, can be discerned in such analysis. It remains the case, however, that IR is a far from unified field and that there remain substantial challenges to its intellectual development. Whether or not its past doubts about theoretical engagement have been overcome is highly uncertain. Yet pursuing such engagement may be one route to restore its institutionalist tradition and to show that it has insights to offer to mainstream social science. It may also, as a result, have stronger things to say about ‘practice’, an issue that will be taken up elsewhere.
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