Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

pattern matching the analyst makes a series of within-case observations against which the hypothesis can be further assessed.

Overall, these articles, along with works such as Robert K. Yin Case Study Research ( 1984), offer a systematization of case-study procedures that provide a valuable point of reference for scholars concerned with small-N analysis. At the same time, the debate continues on the proper role of case studies in assessing and building theory. An interesting part of this debate, published as a special issue of the journal World Politics ( 1989) focuses on the contribution of case studies to evaluating one application of rational choice analysis, i.e., rational deterrence theory in international relations. The opening article by Achen and Snidal ( 1989) argues that the case studies employed by many international relations specialists do not adequately address the central ideas of this body of theory, thereby raising an issue perhaps not often enough considered in discussions of the comparative method: How can the methodological concern with executing good comparisons be linked to the key analytic issues posed by the particular theories that are to be evaluated? Achen and Snidal also note the problem of selection bias in case studies of deterrence theory, that is, the problem that case studies usually focus on deterrence failure, whereas much or most of the time deterrence works. The issue of the journal includes a series of articles by scholars close to the case-study tradition who debate the issues raised by Achen and Snidal. These articles constitute a valuable effort to think through how case studies have functioned in relation to the assessment of a particular body of theory, a line of inquiry that should be taken up more often.

In this debate on deterrence theory, an intellectual tension emerges that has been a recurring theme in this chapter: between analyses that seek to achieve a generic understanding, based on relatively few variables and encompassing many cases, as opposed to analyses that seek to draw out the complexities of particular cases.


Conclusion

Among the diverse approaches discussed in this chapter, three major analytic alternatives stand out. First, new perspectives on the case-study method have strengthened the viability of that approach. Discussions of opportunities for within-case comparisons have in fact begun to blur the distinction between case studies and the comparative method, although the case-study approach does remain a distinct tradition. Interest in case studies has been reinforced by several factors, including the renewed concern with interpretive social science, the continuing intellectual and institutional strength of area studies, and deep skepticism in some circles about the validity of broad comparison.

Second, it is evident that quantitative techniques employing a relatively small number of cases can successfully address important substantive questions. This approach merits attention in light of the new statistical tests suitable for small-N analysis. The opportunity for cumulative scholarly learning provided by statistical studies is nicely illustrated by the Lange-Garrett-Jackman-Hicks-Patterson debate. This debate is also relevant to the issue of linking rival research traditions, because it shows that insights derived from case studies and from more qualitative comparative work can, after all, serve as stepping-stones on the path toward statistical analysis.

The third alternative has been reinforced as well: the systematic comparison of a small number of cases, with the goal of causal analysis, which is the approach that Lijphart originally advocated. In this perspective, broad qualitative comparison is seen as both possible and productive. The growing influence of the school of comparative historical analysis has substantially enhanced the credibility of this approach, and it plays an important role as an analytic middle ground between the case-study tradition and small-N statistical analysis.

All three of these approaches will persist, and a key question is how well they can be linked. The tradition of research on Western Europe provides an encouraging model, in that the findings of quantitative comparative scholars play an important role in general debates in that field. 19 In research on Latin America, by contrast, quantitative comparative work receives considerably less attention from mainstream scholars. Yet the kind of cross-fertilization found in the West European field can make an important contribution to strengthening research. With good communication, country specialists and experts in qualitative small-N comparison can push the comparative quantifiers toward more carefully contextualized analysis. Likewise, the comparative quantifiers can push the country specialists and experts in qualitative comparison toward more systematic measurement and hypothesis testing. A central goal must be to sustain such communication.

The implications for graduate training are clear. If Ph.D. candidates are to be prepared to address these issues of comparison, they should have enough training in statistical methods to evaluate quantitative studies that employ old, and new, methods of statistical analysis and to use such methods when appropriate. Those more oriented toward statistical analysis should have enough background in qualitative small-N comparison and case study analysis to be able to build on the analytic contribution of those approaches. Both groups should have substantial exposure to basic writings on the

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