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Using selected examples from within the International Relations literature, this paper aims to provide a brief overview of the main principles and distinctive advantages and limitations of single case study analysis. Divided into three inter-related sections, the paper therefore begins by first identifying the underlying principles that serve to constitute the case study as a particular research strategy, noting the somewhat contested nature of the approach in ontological, epistemological, and methodological terms.
The final section of the paper then discusses the most commonly articulated limitations of single case studies; while accepting their susceptibility to criticism, it is however suggested that such weaknesses are somewhat exaggerated.
The paper concludes that single case study analysis has a great deal to offer as a means of both understanding and explaining contemporary international relations. It is possible, however, to distil some of the more commonly-agreed principles. One of the most prominent advocates of case study research, Robert Yin As such, three key points can be derived from this — respectively concerning issues of ontology, epistemology, and methodology — that are central to the principles of single case study research.
It is important to note, however, that — whereas Gerring refers to a single unit of analysis — it may be that attention also necessarily be given to particular sub-units. The former, for example, would examine only the overall nature of an international organization, whereas the latter would also look to specific departments, programmes, or policies etc.
One of the principal reasons for this, he argues, is the relationship between the use of case studies in social research and the differing epistemological traditions — positivist, interpretivist, and others — within which it has been utilised.
Philosophy of science concerns are obviously a complex issue, and beyond the scope of much of this paper. That said, the issue of how it is that we know what we know — of whether or not a single independent reality exists of which we as researchers can seek to provide explanation — does lead us to an important distinction to be made between so-called idiographic and nomothetic case studies Gerring, b.
The former refers to those which purport to explain only a single case, are concerned with particularisation, and hence are typically although not exclusively associated with more interpretivist approaches.
The latter are those focused studies that reflect upon a larger population and are more concerned with generalisation, as is often so with more positivist approaches. The importance of this distinction, and its relation to the advantages and limitations of single case study analysis, is returned to below.
Thirdly, in methodological terms, given that the case study has often been seen as more of an interpretivist and idiographic tool, it has also been associated with a distinctly qualitative approach Bryman, If case studies can reliably perform any or all three of these roles — and given that their in-depth approach may also require multiple sources of data and the within-case triangulation of methods — then it becomes readily apparent that they should not be limited to only one research paradigm.
Exploratory and descriptive studies usually tend toward the qualitative and inductive, whereas explanatory studies are more often quantitative and deductive David and Sutton, It is perhaps better to think of case studies as transparadigmatic; it is mistaken to assume single case study analysis to adhere exclusively to a qualitative methodology or an interpretivist epistemology even if it — or rather, practitioners of it — may be so inclined.
Advantages Having elucidated the defining principles of the single case study approach, the paper now turns to an overview of its main benefits.
As noted above, a lack of consensus still exists within the wider social science literature on the principles and purposes — and by extension the advantages and limitations — of case study research.
Eckstein proposed a taxonomy which usefully identified what he considered to be the five most relevant types of case study. As opposed to the opportunity this presented primarily for theory application, Eckstein identified heuristic case studies as explicit theoretical stimulants — thus having instead the intended advantage of theory-building.
So-called plausibility probes entailed preliminary attempts to determine whether initial hypotheses should be considered sound enough to warrant more rigorous and extensive testing.
As a subset of the latter, however, Jack Levy notes that the advantages of idiographic cases are actually twofold. Secondly, they can operate as theory-guided case studies, but ones that seek only to explain or interpret a single historical episode rather than generalise beyond the case.
Harnessing various methods, process tracing may entail the inductive use of evidence from within a case to develop explanatory hypotheses, and deductive examination of the observable implications of hypothesised causal mechanisms to test their explanatory capability. It involves providing not only a coherent explanation of the key sequential steps in a hypothesised process, but also sensitivity to alternative explanations as well as potential biases in the available evidence Bennett and Elman John Owenfor example, demonstrates the advantages of process tracing in analysing whether the causal factors underpinning democratic peace theory are — as liberalism suggests — not epiphenomenal, but variously normative, institutional, or some given combination of the two or other unexplained mechanism inherent to liberal states.
Within-case process tracing has also been identified as advantageous in addressing the complexity of path-dependent explanations and critical junctures — as for example with the development of political regime types — and their constituent elements of causal possibility, contingency, closure, and constraint Bennett and Elman, b.
Bennett and Elman Of these, so-called deviant cases are those whose outcome does not fit with prior theoretical expectations or wider empirical patterns — again, the use of inductive process tracing has the advantage of potentially generating new hypotheses from these, either particular to that individual case or potentially generalisable to a broader population.
A classic example here is that of post-independence India as an outlier to the standard modernisation theory of democratisation, which holds that higher levels of socio-economic development are typically required for the transition to, and consolidation of, democratic rule Lipset, ; Diamond, Conversely, if a theory cannot pass a most-likely case, it is seriously impugned.
Single case analysis can therefore be valuable for the testing of theoretical propositions, provided that predictions are relatively precise and measurement error is low Levy, As Gerring rightly observes of this potential for falsification: From various epistemological and analytical standpoints, single case study analysis can incorporate both idiographic sui generis cases and, where the potential for generalisation may exist, nomothetic case studies suitable for the testing and building of causal hypotheses.
Finally, it should not be ignored that a signal advantage of the case study — with particular relevance to international relations — also exists at a more practical rather than theoretical level.
Limitations Single case study analysis has, however, been subject to a number of criticisms, the most common of which concern the inter-related issues of methodological rigour, researcher subjectivity, and external validity.
With regard to the first point, the prototypical view here is that of Zeev Maoz The absence of systematic procedures for case study research is something that Yin As the previous section suggests, this critique seems somewhat unfair; many contemporary case study practitioners — and representing various strands of IR theory — have increasingly sought to clarify and develop their methodological techniques and epistemological grounding Bennett and Elman, A second issue, again also incorporating issues of construct validity, concerns that of the reliability and replicability of various forms of single case study analysis.The International University in Geneva is an accredited academic institution offering undergraduate and graduate programs in Business Administration, International Relations, Media and Communication and Computer Science Management.
Vittori is a more detailed, and longer, overview of sources, movement methods, and case studies. Naylor provides an interesting counterargument to much of the conventional wisdom, arguing that the activities of terrorist and criminal groups are, at their core, little different from legitimate actors.
1 Hence, in this paper, “the case study”or “the study”denotes the second part of the author’s draft of dissertation thesis, “the paper” denotes this text for the purpose of the ISA convention. relations theory-that is, two subfields where the likelihood for fruitful dialogue is at its highest.
International Security, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Summer , pp.
0 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Theories of International Relations: Contending Approaches to World Politics is a compelling analysis of theoretical foundations in the study of international relations. It emphasizes the importance of bringing together theoretical foundations with substantive matters existing all around us in everyday world politics.
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