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Enhancing Sensitivity Diagnostics for Qualitative Comparative Analysis: A Combinatorial Approach

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2017

Alrik Thiem*
Department of Philosophy, University of Geneva, Rue de Candolle 2/Bât. Landolt, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland
Reto Spöhel
Department of Engineering and Information Technology, Bern University of Applied Sciences, Pestalozzistrasse 20, 3400 Burgdorf, Switzerland, e-mail:
Adrian Duşa
Department of Sociology, University of Bucharest, Soseaua Panduri 90, 050663 Bucharest, Romania, e-mail:
e-mail: (corresponding author)


Sensitivity diagnostics has recently been put high on the agenda of methodological research into Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA). Existing studies in this area rely on the technique of exhaustive enumeration, and the majority of works examine the reactivity of QCA either only to alterations in discretionary parameter values or only to data quality. In this article, we introduce the technique of combinatorial computation for evaluating the interaction effects between two problems afflicting data quality and two discretionary parameters on the stability of QCA reference solutions. In this connection, we challenge a hitherto unstated assumption intrinsic to exhaustive enumeration, show that combinatorial computation permits the formulation of general laws of sensitivity in QCA, and demonstrate that our technique is most efficient.

Copyright © The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology 

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Authors' note: Supplementary materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis Web site (Thiem, Spöhel, and Dus'a 2015). Previous versions of this article have been presented at the 1st and 2nd International QCA Expert Workshops, ETH Zurich, Switzerland. We thank Michael Baumgartner, Christian Rupietta, the participants at the aforementioned workshops, the editors of Political Analysis, and the three reviewers for their helpful comments.


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