Christian Brzinsky-Fay and Ulrich Kohler: New Developments in Sequence Analysis, Sociological Methods Research 2010 38: 359-364.
Sequence analysis was originally invented by biologists with the aim of comparing DNA sequences in order to find out to what extent two DNA strands are homologous to each other or, in other words, to determine the distance between them (Kruskal 1983). The established degree of similarity then allows for conclusions about a common ancestor of twoDNA strands. The initial utilization of sequence analysis in sociology was made in the 1980s, with Andrew Abbott’s work on musicians’ careers and ritual dances (Abbott 1983; Abbott and Forrest 1986). Here, sequence analysis was seen as a more qualitative tool in the context of historical, narrative sociology. Due to the limited capacity of computers, analysis was restricted to only a few caseswith short sequences. With increasing technological development in the 1990s, researchers began to focus on individual sequences, such as class careers (Halpin and Chan 1998), employment biographies (Abbott andHrycak 1990; Blair-Loy 1999; Pollock, Antcliff, and Ralphs 2002), family histories (Elzinga and Liefbroer 2007), school-to-work transitions (Scherer2001; Schoon et al. 2001; McVicar and Anyadike-Danes 2002; Brzinsky-Fay 2007), and life-course trajectories (Billari and Piccarreta 2005; Wigginset al. 2007; Martin, Schoon, and Ross 2008). The technical situation improved further with both increasing processor speed and wider availability of software implementations, such as the various implementations of sequence analysis in the Stata package, which enabled more researchers from different disciplines to compare sequences of large numbers of individuals, finding out similarities, quantifying certain characteristics, or grouping them into ideal types. The increasing number of applications also led to a deepened discussion about the potential and limitations of sequence analysis methods. In recent years, a noteworthy number of researchers have worked on enhancements and refinements of the method (Gauthier et al. 2009; Hollister 2009), some of which are presented in this special issue.