The nature of the comparative approach
At a basic level the comparative approach is simply one of making comparisons, something we do constantly in our everyday lives.
Thinking, and learning, by making comparisons is a very natural and intuitive process for us. We use comparisons extensively in our daily thinking and interactions with people and various objects.
However, making comparisons is not necessarily easy or without its pitfalls. Any comparison may be appropriate and valid, or it may not. A comparison made between things that have some similarity to each other is more likely to be appropriate and valid than one trying to compare things that are totally different. Indeed, everyday expressions such as ‘they are as different as apples and pears, or chalk and cheese’ imply that it is very difficult to make useful comparisons between things that do not have any common features or characteristics. Therefore, this provides our first clue to what may be regarded as a useful and valid comparison, and what may not.
It is the exploration of these similarities and differences that makes the comparative approach so interesting. This now raises the issue of the extent to which the things are the same or different. For example, we might ask questions such as: is the process of producing food for a hotel restaurant the same as it is in school canteen or a burger restaurant? Are there any differences in the reservation systems used by hotels, airlines, or leisure centres? Do employment practices differ between contract catering and restaurant companies? In seeking to explore questions such as these we begin to adopt a comparative approach to study. However, we must be careful to do this in a meaningful and valid way.
To achieve this it is important that we do not fall into the trap of making surface or superficial comparisons. Things that may...