Skip to main content
×
×
Home

What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?

  • JOHN GERRING (a1)
Abstract

This paper aims to clarify the meaning, and explain the utility, of the case study method, a method often practiced but little understood. A “case study,” I argue, is best defined as an intensive study of a single unit with an aim to generalize across a larger set of units. Case studies rely on the same sort of covariational evidence utilized in non-case study research. Thus, the case study method is correctly understood as a particular way of defining cases, not a way of analyzing cases or a way of modeling causal relations. I show that this understanding of the subject illuminates some of the persistent ambiguities of case study work, ambiguities that are, to some extent, intrinsic to the enterprise. The travails of the case study within the discipline of political science are also rooted in an insufficient appreciation of the methodological tradeoffs that this method calls forth. This paper presents the familiar contrast between case study and non-case study work as a series of characteristic strengths and weaknesses—affinities—rather than as antagonistic approaches to the empirical world. In the end, the perceived hostility between case study and non-case study research is largely unjustified and, perhaps, deserves to be regarded as a misconception. Indeed, the strongest conclusion to arise from this methodological examination concerns the complementarity of single-unit and cross-unit research designs.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Boston University, 232 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215 (jgerring@bu.edu).
References
Hide All
Acemoglu Daron, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson. 2003. “An African Success Story: Botswana.” In In Search of Prosperity: Analytic Narratives on Economic Growth, ed. Dani Rodrik. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 80122.
Achen Christopher H., and Duncan Snidal. 1989. “Rational Deterrence Theory and Comparative Case Studies.” World Politics 41 (January): 14369.
Adcock Robert. 2002Determinism and Comparative-Historical Analysis: Clarifying Concepts and Retrieving Past Insights.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston.
Alesina Alberto, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote. 2001. “Why Doesn't the US Have a European-Style Welfare State?Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 2: 187277.
Allen William Sheridan. 1965. The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1930–1935. New York: Watts.
Allison Graham T. 1971. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Boston: Little, Brown.
Bates Robert H., Avner Greif, Margaret Levi, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, and Barry Weingast. 1998. Analytic Narratives. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Brady Henry E., and David Collier, eds. 2004. Rethinking Social Inquiry: Diverse Tools, Shared Standards. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Cameron David. 1978. “The Expansion of the Public Economy: A Comparative Analysis.” American Political Science Review 72 (December): 124361.
Campbell Donald T. [1975] 1988. “‘Degrees of Freedom’ and the Case Study.” In Methodology and Epistemology for Social Science, ed. E. Samuel Overman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Campbell Donald T., and Julian Stanley. 1963. Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Collier David, and James Mahoney. 1996. “Insights and Pitfalls: Selection Bias in Qualitative Research.” World Politics 49 (October): 5691.
Collier Ruth Berins, and David Collier. [1991] 2002. Shaping the Political Arena: Critical Junctures, the Labor Movement, and Regime Dynamics in Latin America. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Coppedge Michael J. 2002. “Nested Inference: How to Combine the Benefits of Large-Sample Comparisons and Case Studies.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston.
Dahl Robert A. 1961. Who Governs?: Democracy and Power in an American City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Davidson P. O., and C. G. Costello, eds. 1969. N=1: Experimental Studies of Single Cases. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Dion Douglas. 1998. “Evidence and Inference in the Comparative Case Study.” Comparative Politics 30 (January): 12745.
Eaton Kent. 2002. Politicians and Economic Reform in New Democracies. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Eckstein Harry. [1975] 1992. “Case Studies and Theory in Political Science.” In Regarding Politics: Essays on Political Theory, Stability, and Change. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Elman Miriam, ed. 1997. Paths to Peace: Is Democracy the Answer? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Feagin Joe R., Anthony M. Orum, and Gideon Sjoberg. 1991. A Case for the Case Study. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Fenno Richard F., Jr. 1978. Home Style: House Members in their Districts. Boston: Little, Brown.
George Alexander. 1979. “Case Studies and Theory Development: The Method of Structured, Focused Comparison.” In Diplomacy: New Approaches in History, Theory, and Policy, ed. Paul Gordon Lauren. New York: Free Press.
George Alexander L., and Andrew Bennett. 2004. Case Studies and Theory Development, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gerber Alan S., and Donald P. Green. 2000. “The Effects of Canvassing, Direct Mail, and Telephone Contact on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment.” American Political Science Review 94: 65363.
Gerring John. 2001. Social Science Methodology: A Criterial Framework. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gerring John. Forthcoming. “Causation: A Unified Framework for the Social Sciences.” Journal of Theoretical Politics.
Goertz Gary. 2003. “The Substantive Importance of Necessary Condition Hypotheses.” In Necessary Conditions: Theory, Methodology and Applications, ed. Gary Goertz and Harvey Starr. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.
Goertz Gary, and Harvey Starr, eds. 2003. Necessary Conditions: Theory, Methodology and Applications. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.
Hall Peter A. 2003. “Aligning Ontology and Methodology in Comparative Politics.” In Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences, ed. James Mahoney and Dietrich Rueschemeyer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hartz Louis. 1955. The Liberal Tradition in America. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Hedstrom Peter, and Richard Swedberg, eds. 1998. Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Horowitz Donald L. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Johnson Chalmers. 1983. MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925–1975. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Kaufman Herbert. 1960. The Forest Ranger: A Study in Administrative Behavior. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
King Gary, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kuhn Thomas S. [1962] 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lane Robert. 1962. Political Ideology: Why the American Common Man Believes What He Does. New York: Free Press.
Lazarsfeld Paul F., Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet. 1948. The People's Choice: How the Voter Makes Up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign. New York, Columbia Univ. Press.
Lieberman Evan S. 2003. “Nested Analysis as a Mixed-Method Solution to Cross-National Research.” Ms. Princeton University.
Lieberson Stanley. [1991] 1992. “Small N's and Big Conclusions: An Examination of the Reasoning in Comparative Studies Based on a Small Number of Cases.” In What Is a Case? Exploring the Foundations of Social Inquiry, ed. Charles S. Ragin and Howard S. Becker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lieberson Stanley. 1994. “More on the Uneasy Case for Using Mill-Type Methods in Small-N Comparative Studies.” Social Forces 72 (June): 122537.
Lijphart Arend. 1968. The Politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in the Netherlands. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lijphart Arend. 1975. “The Comparable Cases Strategy in Comparative Research.” Comparative Political Studies 8 (July): 15877.
Lipset Seymour Martin. 1963. The First New Nation: The United States in Historical and Comparative Perspective. New York: Basic Books.
Lynd Robert Staughton, and Helen Merrell Lynd. [1929] 1956. Middletown: A Study in American Culture. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Mahoney James, and Dietrich Rueschemeyer, eds. 2003. Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Malinowski Bronislaw. [1922] 1984. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. Prospect Height1s, IL: Waveland.
McKeown Timothy. 1999. “Case Studies and the Statistical World View.” International Organization 53 (Winter): 16190.
Njolstad Olav. 1990. “Learning From History? Case Studies and Limits to Theory-Building.” In Olav Njolstad, (ed.), Arms Races: Technological and Political Dynamics (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage) 22046.
Popper Karl. 1969. Conjectures and Refutations. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Pressman Jeffrey L., and Aron Wildavsky. 1973. Implementation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Przeworski Adam, and Henry Teune. 1970. The Logic of Comparative Social Inquiry. New York: John Wiley.
Przeworski Adam, Michael Alvarez, Jose Antonio Cheibub, and Fernando Limongi. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Material Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ragin Charles C. 1987. The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies. Berkeley: University of California.
Ragin Charles C. 1992. “Cases of ‘What Is a Case?”’ In What Is a Case? Exploring the Foundations of Social Inquiry, ed. Charles C. Ragin and Howard S. Becker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ragin Charles C. 1997. “Turning the Tables: How Case-Oriented Research Challenges Variable-Oriented Research.” Comparative Social Research 16: 2742.
Ragin Charles C. 2000. Fuzzy-Set Social Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ragin Charles C., and Howard S. Becker, eds. 1992. What Is a Case? Exploring the Foundations of Social Inquiry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Reilly Benjamin. 2001. Democracy in Divided Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roberts Clayton. 1996. The Logic of Historical Explanation. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Rodrik Dani, ed. 2003. In Search of Prosperity: Analytic Narratives on Economic Growth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rueschemeyer Dietrich, and John D. Stephens. 1997. “Comparing Historical Sequences: A Powerful Tool for Causal Analysis.” Comparative Social Research 16: 5572.
Sartori Giovanni. 1984. “Guidelines for Concept Analysis.” In Social Science Concepts: A Systematic Analysis. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1548.
Skocpol Theda. 1979. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Smith Rogers M. 1997. Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Stratmann Thomas, and Martin Baur. 2002. “Plurality Rule, Proportional Representation, and the German Bundestag: How Incentives to Pork-Barrel Differ Across Electoral Systems.” American Journal of Political Science 46 (July): 50614.
Taylor Charles. 1970. “The Explanation of Purposive Behavior.” In Explanation in the Behavioral Sciences, ed. Robert Borger and Frank Cioffi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Temple Jonathan. 1999. “The New Growth Evidence.” Journal of Economic Literature 37 (March): 111256.
Thompson E. P. 1963. The Making of the English Working Class. New York: Vintage Books.
Waldner David. 2002. “Anti Anti-Determinism: Or What Happens When Schrodinger's Cat and Lorenz's Butterfly Meet Laplace's Demon in the Study of Political and Economic Development.” Presented to the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston.
Whyte William Foote. [1943] 1955. Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Yin Robert K. 1994. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed