The Case for the Case Study; What Imelda Marcos, Nikita Khrushchev, and Niccolo Machiavelli Could Teach the American Political Science Association

By Goldsmith, Suzanne; Boo, Katherine | The Washington Monthly, June 1989 | Go to article overview

The Case for the Case Study; What Imelda Marcos, Nikita Khrushchev, and Niccolo Machiavelli Could Teach the American Political Science Association


Goldsmith, Suzanne, Boo, Katherine, The Washington Monthly


The Case for the Case Study

In a classroom of graduate students in Harvard's department of government, students hunch over spiral notebooks, copying down terms from a lecture. "Theoretical linking structure." "Criterion of falsifiability." A professor, book in hand, reads a passage on the fallacy of falsification. "I remember the feeling I had when I first read this," he says, rhapsodically, "the feeling of scales falling from my eyes."

He scans the room. No scales falling here. One student has his open textbook propped up against the table. Nestled inside it is a book of comic strips. He turns a page discreetly.

Welcome to the world of quantitative theory, the preeminent discipline in university departments of political science. Combining mathematical modelling and sophisticated statistical analysis, quantitative theory tests hypotheses and derives principles for political behavior. "This is theory," emphasizes the professor, "as opposed to common sense."

In another classroom across the Cambridge campus, apostates hold a different sort of service. A student in the front row has been waving her hand since class began. The professor, pacing three rows back, finally swings around and points. "You. You're OMB." She smiles. "A hundred-and-thirty-five million dollars per expected life saved is too much," she says. "I'm not gonna pay it."

The classroom becomes a sea of hands. The professor hustles back and forth, barking questions, rapping on desks: You're Ford. The election is three months from tomorrow. What do you do? The subject is the swine flu vaccine. The students, mid-level federal bureaucrats in real life, are now cabinet members and agency directors, fighting out alternatives, discussing consequences, compromising, caucusing, and consolidating power. And while they're arguing the particulars of flu strains and campaign decisions, they're learning something enduring: the anatomy of political decision-making. The tool of this impressive trade? It's called the case study.

Within a political science establishment that emphasizes statistics and theoretical modeling, the case study is widely regarded as a poor relation. At the Kennedy School, its basic unit of currency is a 15- to 20-page paper that spells out the facts relevant to an actual event in government or politics, emphasizing the personalities of both the people and bureaucracies involved. Of course, many topics demand case studies of book length--Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, her tremendously insightful account of the origins of World War I, is but one example. What case studies have in common isn't length but the ability to recreate the historical moment, in all its complexity and idiosyncrasy.

At the Kennedy School, the case study is a hit. The Ford Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trust, the National League of Cities, and other organizations have contributed millions to fund the development of new cases. And each year, nearly a thousand government professionals make the pilgrimage to Cambridge to hear Richard Neustadt, Ernest May, and other case-study gurus lead the arguments over Reagan and Lebanon, AIDS and the insurance industry, and other issues in American policy, prominent and obscure.

While the case study has fluorished at the Kennedy School, its true and tremendous potential remains untapped. The American Council on Education, the nation's largest higher-education trade organization, collects information on many forms of teaching; but not the case study. Out of the dozens of scholarly journals in the field of political science, none reviews case studies. No journal publishes them; no organization of advocates exists. "People aren't looking at the case study method much," says Jerry Stohler, of the American Educational Research Association, the country's leading organization for research on teaching techniques. "It's not what you'd call a big issue. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Case for the Case Study; What Imelda Marcos, Nikita Khrushchev, and Niccolo Machiavelli Could Teach the American Political Science Association
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.