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Analytic induction refers to a systematic examination of similarities between various social phenomena in order to develop concepts or ideas. Social scientists doing social research use analytic induction to search for those similarities in broad categories and then develop subcategories. For example, social scientist may examine the category of 'marijuana users' and then develop subcategories for 'uses marijuana for pleasure' and 'uses marijuana for health reasons'. If no relevant similarities can be identified, then either the data needs to be reevaluated and the definition of similarities changed, or the category is too wide and heterogeneous and should be narrowed down. (Ragin 1994)

In the earlier sociological papers (from 1940s and 1950s) this term could also be used to mean the search for "universals" in social life, where "universal" meant an invariant, complete, positivistic propriety (i.e. "all black males between 35 and 40 vote for Democrats"). (Ragin 1994)

This principle was formulated in 1934 by Florian Znaniecki. He formulated it to identify universal propositions and causal laws. He contrasted it with enumerative research, which provided mere correlations and could not account for exceptions in statistical relationships. This procedure was refined by Alfred Lindesmith (1947) and Donald Cressey (1950) in their respective studies of opiate addiction and embezzlers, and was used by Howard S. Becker (1963) in his study of marijuana users. (Taylor & Bogdan 1998) Eventually it became one of the classic research methods in ethnography.

Znaniecki wrote that this procedure, known to natural sciences (if never named so) involves "inducing laws from a deep analysis of experimentally isolated instances" and can be contrasted with defining and using terms in advance of research. Therefore it is a method involving inductive reasoning (rather than deductive). Analytic induction allows for modification of social concepts and their relationships throughout the process of doing research, with the goal of most accurately representing the reality of the situation.[1]

Further reading

  • Robinson (1951), American Sociological Review, Vol 16, no 6, pgs 812-818 Znaniecki, F. (1934). The method of sociology.]


  • Charles C. Ragin, Constructing Social Research: The Unity and Diversity of Method, Pine Forge Press, 1994, ISBN 0-8039-9021-9
  • Steven J. Taylor, Robert Bogdan, Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods, John Wiley & Sons, 1998, ISBN 0-471-16868-8

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