Case Study Methods
Prerequisites (knowledge of topic)
The course is designed for Master, PhD students and practitioners in the social and policy sciences, including political science, sociology, public policy, public administration, business, and economics. It is especially suitable to MA students in these fields who have an interest in carrying out research. Previous courses in research methods and philosophy of science are helpful but not required. Materials not in the books assigned for purchase and not easily available through online library databases will be made available electronically. Bringing a laptop to class will be helpful but is not essential.
Laptop helpful but not required
The central goal of the seminar is to enable students to create and critique methodologically sophisticated case study research designs in the social sciences. To do so, the seminar will explore the techniques, uses, strengths, and limitations of case study methods, while emphasizing the relationships among these methods, alternative methods, and contemporary debates in the philosophy of science. The research examples used to illustrate methodological issues will be drawn primarily from international relations and comparative politics. The methodological content of the course is also applicable, however, to the study of history, sociology, education, business, economics, and other social and behavioral sciences.
The seminar will begin with a focus on the philosophy of science, theory construction, theory testing, causality, and causal inference. With this epistemological grounding, the seminar will then explore the core issues in case study research design, including methods of structured and focused comparisons of cases, typological theory, case selection, process tracing, and the use of counterfactual analysis. Next, the seminar will look at the epistemological assumptions, comparative strengths and weaknesses, and proper domain of case study methods and alternative methods, particularly statistical methods and formal modeling, and address ways of combining these methods in a single research project. The seminar then examines field research techniques, including archival research and interviews.
Course Assignments and Assessment
In addition to doing the reading and participating in course discussions, students will be required to present orally an outline for a research design, either written or in powerpoint, in the final sessions of the class for a constructive critique by fellow students and Professor Bennett. Students will then write this into a research design paper about 3000 words long (12 pages, double-spaced).
Presumably, students will choose to present the research design for their PhD or MA thesis, though students could also present a research design for a separate project, article, or edited volume. Research designs should address all of the following tasks (elaborated upon in the assigned readings and course sessions): 1) specification of the research problem and research objectives, in relation to the current stage of development and research needs of the relevant research program, related literatures, and alternative explanations; 2) specification of the independent and dependent variables of the main hypothesis of interest and alternative hypotheses; 3) selection of a historical case or cases that are appropriate in light of the first two tasks, and justification of why these cases were selected and others were not; 4) consideration of how variance in the variables can best be described for testing and/or refining existing theories; 5) specification of the data requirements, including both process tracing data and measurements of the independent and dependent variables for the main hypotheses of interest, including alternative explanations.
Students will be assessed on how well their research design achieves these tasks, and on how useful their suggestions are on other students' research designs. Students will also be assessed on the general quality of their contributions to class discussions.
Assigned Readings for GSERM Case Study Methods Course
Andrew Bennett, Georgetown University
Students should obtain and read these books in advance of the course (see below for specific page assignments):
•Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (MIT Press 2005).
•Henry Brady and David Collier, Rethinking Social Inquiry (second edition, 2010)
•Gary Goertz, Social Science Concepts: A User's Guide, (Princeton, 2005).
•Andrew Bennett and Jeffrey Checkel, eds., Process Tracing: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
•Gary King, Robert Keohane, and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry (Princeton University Press, 1994).
Lecture 1: Inferences About Causal Effects and Causal Mechanisms
This lecture addresses the philosophy of science issues relevant to case study research.
•Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development, preface and chapter 7, pages 127-150.
•King, Keohane, and Verba, Designing Social Inquiry pp. 3-33, 76-91, 99-114.
Lecture 2: Critiques and Justifications of Case Study Methods
•Gary King, Robert Keohane, and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry, pp. 46-48, 118-121, 208-230.
•Brady and Collier, Rethinking Social Inquiry, 1-64, 123-201 (or if you have the first edition, pages 3-20, 36-50, 195-266)
•George and Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development, Chapter 1, pages 3-36.
Lecture 3: Concept Formation and Measurement
•Gary Goertz, Social Science Concepts, chapters 1, 2, 3, and 9, pages 1-94, 237-268.
•Gary Goertz, Exercises, available at
Please think through the following exercises: 7, 21, 48, 49, 52, 163, 252, 253, 256, 257.
Lecture 4: Designs for Single and Comparative Case Studies
•George and Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development, chapter 4, pages 73-88.
•Jason Seawright and John Gerring, Case Selection Techniques In Case Study Research. Political Research Quarterly June 2008. Available at: http://blogs.bu.edu/jgerring/files/2013/06/CaseSelection.pdf
Lecture 5: Typological Theory, Fuzzy Set Analysis
•George and Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development chapter 11, pages 233-262.
•Excerpt from Andrew Bennett, "Causal mechanisms and typological theories in the study of civil conflict," in Jeff Checkel, ed., Transnational Dynamics of Civil War, Columbia University Press, 2012.
•Charles Ragin, "From Fuzzy Sets to Crisp Truth Tables," available at:
Lecture 6: Process Tracing, Congruence Testing, and Counterfactual Analysis
•Andrew Bennett and Jeff Checkel, Process Tracing, chapter 1, conclusions, and appendix on Bayesianism.
•David Collier, online process tracing exercises. Look at exercises 3, 4, 7, and 8 at:
Lecture 7: Multimethod Research: Combining Case Studies with Statistics and/or Formal Modeling
•Andrew Bennett and Bear Braumoeller, "Where the Model Frequently Meets the Road: Combining Statistical, Formal, and Case Study Methods," draft paper.
•Evan Lieberman, "Nested Analysis as a Mixed-Method Strategy for Comparative Research," American Political Science Review August 2005, pp. 435-52.
Lecture 8: Field Research Techniques: Archives, Interviews, and Surveys
•Cameron Thies, "A Pragmatic Guide to Qualitative Historical Analysis in the Study of International Relations," International Studies Perspectives 3 (4) (November 2002) pp. 351-72.
Lecture 9 & 10: Student research design presentations
Read and be ready to constructively critique your fellow students' research designs.
Supplementary / voluntary:
The following readings are useful for students interested in exploring the topic further, but they are not required:
I) Philosophy of Science and Epistemological Issues
Henry Brady, "Causation and Explanation in Social Science," in Janet Box-
Steffensmeier, Henry Brady, and David Collier, eds., Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology (Oxford, 2008) pp. 217-270.
II) Case Study Methods
George and Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development, Chapter 1.
Gerardo Munck, "Canons of Research Design in Qualitative Analysis," Studies in Comparative International Development, Fall 1998.
Timothy McKeown, "Case Studies and the Statistical World View," International Organization Vol. 53, No. 1 (Winter, 1999) pp. 161190.
Concept Formation and Measurement
John Gerring, "What Makes a Concept Good?," Polity Spring 1999: 357-93.
Robert Adcock and David Collier, "Measurement Validity: A Shared Standard for Qualitative and Quantitative Research," APSR Vol. 95, No. 3 (September, 2001) pp. 529-546.
Robert Adcock and David Collier, "Democracy and Dichotomies," Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 2, 1999, pp. 537-565.
David Collier and Steven Levitsky, "Democracy with Adjectives: Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Research," World Politics, Vol. 49, No. 3 (April 1997) pp. 430451.
David Collier, "Data, Field Work, and Extracting New Ideas at Close Range," APSA -CP Newsletter Winter 1999 pp. 1-6.
Gerardo Munck and Jay Verkuilen, "Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: Evaluating Alternative Indices," Comparative Political Studies Feb. 2002, pp. 5-34.
Designs for Single and Comparative Case Studies and Alternative Research Goals
Aaron Rapport, Hard Thinking about Hard and Easy Cases in Security Studies, Security Studies 24:3 (2015), 431-465.
Van Evera, Guide to Methodology, pp. 7788.
Richard Nielsen, "Case Selection via Matching," Sociological Methods and Research
Typological Theory and Case Selection
Colin Elman, "Explanatory Typologies and Property Space in Qualitative Studies of International Politics," International Organization, Spring 2005, pp. 293-326.
Gary Goertz and James Mahoney, "Negative Case Selection: The Possibility Principle," in Goertz, chapter 7.
David Collier, Jody LaPorte, Jason Seawright . "Putting typologies to work: concept formation, measurement, and analytic rigor." Political Research Quarterly, 2012
Tasha Fairfield and Andrew Charman, 2015 APSA paper on Bayesian process tracing.
David Waldner, "Process Tracing and Causal Mechanisms." In Harold Kincaid, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 65‐84.
Gary Goertz and Jack Levy, "Causal Explanation, Necessary Conditions, and Case Studies: The Causes of World War I," manuscript, Dec. 2002.
Counterfactual Analysis, Natural Experiments
Jack Levy, paper in Security Studies on counterfactual analysis.
Thad Dunning, "Design-Based Inference: Beyond the Pitfalls of Regression Analysis?" in Brady and Collier, pp. 273-312.
Thad Dunning, Natural Experiments in the Social Sciences: A Design‐Based Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Chapters 1,7
Philip Tetlock and Aaron Belkin, eds., Counterfactual Thought Experiments, chapters 1, 12.
Multimethod Research: Combining Case Studies with Statistics and/or Formal Modeling
David Dessler, "Beyond Correlations: Toward a Causal Theory of War," International Studies Quarterly vol. 35 no. 3 (September, 1991), pp. 337355.
Alexander George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development, Chapter 2.
James Mahoney, "Nominal, Ordinal, and Narrative Appraisal in MacroCausal Analysis," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 104, No.3 (January 1999).
Field Research Techniques: Archives, Interviews, and Surveys
Diana Kapiszewski, Lauren M. MacLean, and Benjamin L. Read, "Field Research in
Political Science: Practices and Principles," chapter 1 in Field Research in Political Science: Practices and Principles (Cambridge University Press). Read pages 15-33.
Diana Kapiszewski, Lauren M. MacLean, and Benjamin L. Read, "Interviews, Oral
Histories, and Focus Groups" in Field Research in Political Science: Practices and Principles (Cambridge University Press).
Elisabeth Jean Wood, "Field Research," in Carles Boix and Susan Stokes, eds., Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics, Oxford University Press 2007, pp. 123-146.
Soledad Loaeza, Randy Stevenson, and Devra C. Moehler. 2005. "Symposium: Should Everyone Do Fieldwork?" APSA-CP 16(2) 2005: 8-18.
Layna Mosley, ed., Interview Research in Political Science, Cornell University Press, 2013.
Hope Harrison, "Inside the SED Archives," CWIHP Bulletin
Ian Lustick, "History, Historiography, and Political Science: Multiple Historical Records and the Problem of Selection Bias," APSR September 1996, pp. 605618.
Symposium on interview methods in political science in PS: Political Science and Politics (December, 2002), articles by Beth Leech ("Asking Questions: Sampling and Completing Elite Interviews"), Kenneth Goldstein ("Getting in the Door: Sampling and Completing Elite Interviews"), Joel Aberbach and Bert Rockman ("Conducting and Coding Elite Interviews"), Laura Woliver ("Ethical Dilemmas in Personal Interviewing"), and Jeffrey Barry ("Validity and Reliability Issues in Elite Interviewing), pp. 665-682.
Diana Kapiszewski, Lauren M. MacLean, and Benjamin L. Read, "A Historical and
Empirical Overview of Field Research in the Discipline" Chapter 2 in Field Research in Political Science: Practices and Principles (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).
Mandatory readings before course start:
It is advisable to do as much of the mandatory reading as possible before the course starts.