Comparative Approach

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2.1 Introduction

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 initially appear to be either very similar or different on the surface are often seen very differently when a more detailed, and in-depth, analysis is conducted. For example, at first sight a public house and a supermarket may appear to be totally different types of business operation with nothing at all in common. However, a more considered analysis of these two types of business may begin to indicate that they have more similarities than such a superficial analysis would suggest. Both have public and private areas, or a front and back of house, are involved in the retail sale of products to the customer, and regarded as ‘service’ businesses exhibiting direct service staff contact with the customer. In view of this you can see that it may be possible to undertake a valid comparative analysis of some aspects of public house and supermarket operations.

Positive and negative approaches to comparative study

The positive approach (see Figure 1.4) is suggesting that where a common outcome occurs within different contexts we would be interested in establishing the common reasons for this. In other words, the common, or generic, factors that create the same outcome.

In the negative approach we are dealing with different, or divergent, outcomes but are still seeking to identify those factors which appear to be common to these outcomes (see Figure 1.5). However, what we are more interested in here is not just identifying the common factors connected with different out- comes, but the level of ‘performance’ associated with these factors and the varying outcomes.

The key points to remember from this chapter may be summa- rized as follows:

1 The comparative approach to studying hospitality activities is one that can be applied to a very wide range of issues or questions, from individuals to international comparisons.

2 Comparative studies invariably try to identify and...
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