Case Study and Theory by Harry Eckstein

Topics: Scientific method, Theory, Case study Pages: 75 (27253 words) Published: July 7, 2013
Regarding Politics "d0e2292"

http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft0k40037v;chu...

Preferred Citation: Eckstein, Harry. Regarding Politics: Essays on Political Theory, Stability, and Change. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1992 1992. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030 /ft0k40037v/

Four— Case Study and Theory in Political Science

Four— Case Study and Theory in Political Science Author's Note : One aim of the attempt to overhaul comparative politics was to make it more theoretical. Before the 1950s comparative politics consisted almost entirely of studies of particular cases (polities or aspects of them); many of these were highly learned, but not theoretical. Even the major texts in the field were collections of case studies: usually Britain first; then France and Germany; in some cases, also, a smattering of Italy and Sweden; and, for contrast, the Soviet Union. This was the genre in which I was formed, and thus I have always found intensive case study congenial. One can readily understand why, to achieve "theory," highly extensive large-n studies using aggregate statistics (that is, studies in the manner of Gurr, Hibbs, or the Cross-Polity Survey ) would be used, despite sacrificing intensive knowledge of the cases covered. I have not been much impressed by their results. Usually they have been complex, weak, and much-qualified by ill-fitting variables. And, although alienated from the configurative case studies prevalent in the field before, I was impressed by the import of single or limited observations, critical for theory, in the "hard" sciences or, in sociology, by the theoretical case-method as used by Michels, Malinowski, or Whyte. This led to reflections on "extensive" versus "intensive" studies for purposes of building theory; to reflections on what the process of theory building is about: and about the roles that case studies, which come in a number of varieties, might play in the process. This essay first appeared in Handbook of Political Science , ed. by F. I. Greenstein and N. W. Polsby (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975), 7: 79–138. Reprinted by permission of the publisher; copyright © 1975 by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. ― 118 ― The essay that resulted has been widely used and cited, and I have received much positive feedback about it. That would be gratifying, if it were not for an irony. The essay has widely been taken to vindicate case studies of the old, accustomed mode, when even a minimally careful reading should make clear that I attack that mode and make the case only for certain, rather rare, kinds of case study, especially for a kind that hardly exists at all as yet: "crucial case-study." I have by now come around to a somewhat modified view of that argued here: that "matched comparisons" of cases carefully selected for theory—a kind of "strong inference" procedure—are even more telling for theory. Alexander George has argued for that method cogently in the abstract; Ronald Dore's inspired comparison of virtually identical electrical industries in Britain and Japan is a good case in point. (Dore keeps the fact that his superb, apparently idiographic, descriptions have a theoretical purpose well-concealed by stating it only in his preface, but the purpose both exists and is well-served by the case studies.) Matched comparisons of properly selected cases serve especially well the experimental methods of both agreement and difference. But single case study also, as I argue here, can have powerful, even conclusive, theoretical results. Introduction The extent to which certain kinds of study are carried out in the field of political science seems to be a poor indicator of their perceived utility for building theories. The type of study most frequently made in the field is the intensive study of individual cases. Case studies run the gamut from the most microscosmic to the most macrocosmic levels of political phenomena. On the microlevel, we have many...
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