PP5151: Comparative case study method
Instructor: Dr Ng Kok Hoe
Session: 2015/16 Semester 1
Classes: Friday 9am–12pm, Room SR3-5
Office hours: Friday 2–4pm, Li Ka Shing Building #02-16
This is a research methods course on the comparative case study method. Case studies are widely used in public policy analysis. But what assumptions do we rely on when we draw general lessons from specific policy events? What is the point of comparing cases and when is it valid to compare apples and oranges? This course examines what the systematic, close study of carefully chosen cases can teach us about political and policy processes. It considers the theoretical features and challenges of the comparative case study method, introduces the process and techniques of case study research, and provides opportunities to discuss and critique published case studies in social policy areas. Students will be able to apply these lessons to an individual case study project that they will complete over the course of the semester.
This course will enable students to:
· Locate the case study method within the general repertoire of social science research and describe the conceptual challenges it presents
· Explain the purpose, logic, and process of comparative case studies
· Recognise common data collection and analysis strategies for case study research and relate them to research objectives and design
· Produce a simple, original, comparative case study focusing on a social policy issue
· Assess the quality of published case studies using explicit theoretical and methodological standards
Each week, class hours will be divided between:
· An introductory lecture outlining the main ideas in the readings
· A seminar led by a different student each week consisting of a presentation summarising a pair of sample case studies, a group discussion of the week’s seminar question, followed by a summation of the session by the seminar leader
· As every student will be working on an individual case study project throughout the course, time will be set aside each week for students to report on their progress and discuss any problems they encounter. This allows students to receive feedback on their work and for the class as a whole to appreciate some of the conceptual and practical challenges of implementing case study research.
There is no exam for this course. Assessment is based on:
|Student-led seminar (10%)
||A seminar focusing on two sample case studies and the
week’s seminar question, roster to be organised in Week 1
|Short essay (15%)
||A written response to any seminar question from Weeks 2 to 4, 1500 words maximum, due Monday 5pm, Week 6
|Project proposal (15%)
||A proposal for the case study project, setting out the decisions and rationale in relation to the theoretical challenges raised in topics 1–4 and the methodological tasks covered in Weeks 7 and 8, 1500 words maximum, due Monday 5pm, Week 9
|Case study project (40%)
||An individual research paper on an approved topic making use of the comparative case study method, 4000 words maximum, due Friday 5pm, Week 13
|Case study presentation (10%)
||A presentation of the case study project findings
|Class participation (10%)
||Awarded for participation in class discussions that reflects preparation and engagement, and for giving feedback to presenters
The assignments are designed to support a cumulative learning process. Material prepared for the seminar will fit into either the short essay or project proposal. The proposal, in turn, forms the methods section of the case study project report. Upon completion of the project, the case study presentation will be straightforward. For all written work, full formal referencing is expected. Apart from content, the grades will also take into account the accuracy and clarity
of expression, and overall presentation. The word limits apply strictly – they include tables, figures, and footnotes, but not references. No deadline extensions are possible. Papers that are too long or submitted late will incur a grade penalty.
Week 1, 14-Aug-15 Shopping week
Week 2, 21-Aug-15 Social science research traditions
Week 3, 28-Aug-15 Case studies: Definitions and uses
Week 4, 4-Sep-15 Comparison, causation, and theory development
Week 5, 11-Sep-15 Explanatory theories of policy change I Week 6, 18-Sep-15 Explanatory theories of policy change II Week 7, 2-Oct-15 Study design and case selection
Week 8, 9-Oct-15 Data collection and analysis
Week 9, 16-Oct-15 Process-tracing
Week 10, 23-Oct-15 Interviews and archival work
Week 11, 30-Oct-15 Direct policy applications
Week 12, 6-Nov-15 (9am–12pm) Summary and case study project consultations
Week 13, 6-Nov-15 (2.30–5.30pm)* Case study presentations
*Please note that there is no class on 13-Nov-15 due to a faculty event.
Reading list and seminar questions
This course limits the readings to around four papers or chapters each week. The list has been kept short to ensure that it will be achievable. It is important for students to have completed the readings by the time they join the class every week, so that they can participate in discussions and contribute to the learning of the group. The lecture will not offer a summary of the readings.
As this is a research methods class, a series of case studies have also been selected to
illustrate how the theory, principles, and techniques of the comparative case study method are applied. Two case studies will be assigned for the seminar each week. Students should read at least one and reflect on how it manages the methodological issues raised in the readings. This also trains students to consume published case studies with theoretical awareness.
There are two core texts for the course which are used across several weeks:
Gerring, J. (2007). Case study research: Principles and practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
George, A., & Bennett, A. (2004). Case studies and theory development in the social sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
I. CONCEPTS Week 2: Social science research traditions
Is the qualitative/quantitative divide in social science research perceived or real?
Qualitative and quantitative methods
Mahoney, J, & Goertz, G. (2006). A tale of two cultures: Contrasting quantitative and qualitative research. Political Analysis, 14(3), 227–49.
Mahoney, J. (2010). After KKV: The new methodology of qualitative research. World
Politics, 62(1), 120–47.
Hall, P. (2003). Aligning ontology and methodology in comparative research. In J. Mahoney,
& D. Rueschemeyer (eds.), Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences (pp. 373–
404). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ragin, CC. (1987). The distinctiveness of comparative social science. In The comparative method: Moving beyond qualitative and quantitative strategies (pp. 1–18). California: University of California Press.
Lieberman, ES. (2005). Nested analysis as a mixed-method strategy for comparative research. The American Political Science Review, 99(3), 435–52.
Week 3: Case studies: Definitions and uses
What are the distinctiveness and purpose of the case study method? George & Bennett. Chapter 1: Case studies and theory development. Gerring. Chapter 1: The conundrum of the case study.
Gerring. Chapter 2: What is a case study? The problem of definition.
Gerring. Chapter 3: What is a case study good for? Case study versus large-N cross-case analysis.
Ragin, CC. (1987). Case-oriented comparative methods. In The comparative method: Moving beyond qualitative and quantitative strategies (pp. 34–52). California: University of California Press.
Week 4: Comparison, causation, and theory development
Is it ever valid to extrapolate theory from the comparison of a few cases?
Comparative logic and causation
Gerring. Chapter 6: Internal validity: An experimental template.
George & Bennett. Chapter 8: Comparative methods: Controlled comparison and within-case analysis.
Rueschemeyer, D. (2003). Can one or a few cases yield theoretical gains? In J. Mahoney, & D. Rueschemeyer (eds.), Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences (pp. 305–36). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pitfalls of comparison: Classic critiques
Lieberson, S. (1991). Small N’s and big conclusions: An examination of the reasoning in comparative studies based on a small number of cases. Social Forces, 70(2), 307–20.
Fearon, J. (1991). Counterfactuals and hypothesis testing in political science. World
Politics, 43(2), 169–95.
II. THEORIES Week 5: Explanatory theories of policy change I What makes policy change difficult?
Major theoretical perspectives
Pierson, P. (2000). Increasing returns, path dependence, and the study of politics. The
American Political Science Review, 94(2), 251–67.
Thelen, K, & Steinmo, S. (1992). Historical institutionalism in comparative politics. In S. Steinmo, K. Thelen, & F. Longstreth (eds.), Structuring politics: Historical institutionalism in comparative analysis (pp. 1–32). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hall, PA. (1993). Policy paradigms, social learning, and the state: The case of economic policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics, 25(3), 275–96.
Blyth, M. (1997). “Any more bright ideas?” The ideational turn of comparative political economy. Comparative Politics, 29(2), 229–50.
Week 6: Explanatory theories of policy change II
What are the sources of policy change?
Mahoney, J, & Thelen, K. (2010). A theory of gradual institutional change. In J. Mahoney & K. Thelen (eds.), Explaining institutional change: Ambiguity, agency, and power (pp. 1–37). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schmidt, VA. (2001). The politics of economic adjustment in France and Britain: When does discourse matter? Journal of European Public Policy, 8(2), 247–64.
Pierson, P. (1996). The new politics of the welfare state. World Politics, 48(2), 143–79. Methodological application
Bennett, A, & Elman, C. (2006). Complex causal relations and case study methods: The example of path dependence. Political Analysis, 14, 250–67.
Lieberman, EV. (2001). Causal inference in historical institutional analysis: A specification of periodization strategies. Comparative Political Studies, 34(9), 1011–35.
III. PROCEDURE Week 7: Study design and case selection
How does case selection enable theoretical discovery?
George & Bennett. Chapter 3: The method of structured, focused comparison. George & Bennett. Chapter 4: Phase One, Designing case study research Gerring. Chapter 4: Preliminaries.
Gerring. Chapter 5: Techniques for choosing cases
Geddes, B. (1990). How the cases you choose affect the answers you get: Selection bias in comparative politics. Political Analysis, 2, 131–50.
Week 8: Data collection and analysis
What are the major difficulties when analysing case material?
George & Bennett. Chapter 5: Phase two: Carrying out the case studies.
George & Bennett. Chapter 6: Phase three: Drawing the implications of case findings for theory.
Gerring, J. (1999). What makes a concept good? A criterial framework for understanding concept formation in the social sciences. Polity, 31(3), 357–93.
Collier, D, & Mahon, J.E. (1993). Conceptual “stretching” revisited: Adapting categories in
comparative analysis. The American Political Science Review, 87(4), 845–55.
Week 9: Process-tracing
How does process-tracing help in developing explanations?
George & Bennett. Chapter 9: The congruence method.
George & Bennett. Chapter 10: Process-tracing and historical explanation.
Collier, D. (2011). Understanding Process Tracing. PS: Political Science and Politics, 44(4),
Hall, P.A. (2012). Tracing the progress of process tracing. European Political Science, 12(1),
Week 10: Interviews and archival work
What are the challenges of interviewing elites, and how can they be overcome?
Mikecz, R. (2012). Interviewing elites: Addressing methodological issues. Qualitative inquiry, 18(6), 482–93.
From Symposium section in PS: Political Science & Politics, 35(4), 2002:
Rivera, S.W., Kozyreva, P.M., & Sarovskii, E.G. Interviewing political elites: Lessons from
Berry, J.M. Validity and reliability issues in elite interviewing. Archival work
Hill, M.R. (1993). Archival strategies and techniques. Newbury Park: Sage.
Hakim, C. (2000). Administrative records and documents. In Research design: Successful designs for social and economic research (pp. 46–58). London: Routledge.
Week 11: Direct policy applications
How can case studies be useful to policymakers?
George & Bennett. Chapter 12: Case studies and policy-relevant theory.
Manski, C.F. (2011). Policy analysis with incredible certitude. The Economic Journal,
Barzelay, M. (2007). Learning from second hand experience: Methodology for extrapolation- oriented case research. Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, 20(3), 521–43.