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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Jonathan Wistow

Cairns, J., Wistow, J. & Bambra, C. (2017). Making the case for qualitative comparative analysis in geographical research: a case study of health resilience. Area 49(3): 369-376.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper critically discusses the utility of using qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) in geographical research following the ‘complexity turn’. Although QCA methodology has increasingly been applied in other social science disciplines, it is not widely used by geographers. The major benefit of QCA is that it can handle complexity by exploring different pathways that generate the same outcome, which applies to much spatial research. Significantly, QCA is case – rather than variable – oriented, which is hugely important when considering the significance of context. In this paper we illustrate how QCA can be applied in the discipline of geography through a case study of area-level health resilience. We argue that QCA can be usefully applied to such geographical questions as it aids our understanding of the complex processes that lead to spatial variations in health. Moreover, QCA enables geographical research to bridge the quantitative–qualitative divide. We conclude that QCA has great potential for exploring the complex, spatial factors that influence area-level health resilience by being context-sensitive and case-oriented. We make the case for applying this methodology in future geographical research.