The Case Study
Part of the
Comparative Government and Politics
book series (CGP)
We have already discussed the possibility of conducting comparative research with small samples of countries, including the seeming impossibility of doing meaningful comparison with a sample of only one. These small-N comparisons all depend upon the capacity of the researcher to perform effective case-research. The case-study remains by far the most common method of research in political science in general, and more particularly in comparative politics. Despite its frequent use, case-research is often denigrated by more ‘modern’ and ‘scientific’ researchers, who rely on statistical analysis and other more quantitative methods to collect their data. Also, it must be said that case studies are often conducted poorly, and without sufficient understanding of the theoretical and methodological issues involved in doing proper case-research. Sir Geoffrey Vickers (1965: 173) provides a trenchant critique of case studies (whether done well or poorly) when he argues that:
Case histories are a laborious approach to understanding. For situations are so varied that even a large number of cases may be a misleading sample, while each is so complex that even a detailed description may be too summary; and none is comprehensible outside the historical sequence in which it grew.