Comparative Case Study Research

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

(second half course, starting Nov 2)
The aims of this course consists in making students familiar with the basic rules of doing case study research that aims at drawing descriptive or causal inference wit the goal of developing theories. The definition of ”case study research” used in this course comprises both comparative and single case studies and it can be situated at the cross-case and at the within-case level. The course will help students to evaluate the methodological merits of those political science publications that use a smaller N comparative approach or a within-case approach and to design their own (comparative) case study research strategy. With its focus on drawing descriptive or causal inference based on systematic (qualitative) empirical evidence, it is important to point out that this course is not about interpretivist, post-structuralist etc. understandings of doing ”qualitative” research. Students interested in these important strands of political science literature are better served by taking the respective mandatory elective course offered at our department. Furthermore, while throughout the course we will read applied case studies and try to practice specific research tasks, this course does not focus on the hands-on principles and practices of data collection, such as interviewing, archival research, field work etc. Again, other courses offered at the department are catering to these important needs.

The course proceeds as follows. In the beginning, we introduce some fundamentals of case study research that are relevant regardless of whether one is performing single or comparative case studies. In fact, most of these issues are so fundamental that they are relevant to any kind of empirical social research. In this part, we discuss different research goals (description vs. explanation; theory testing vs. theory developing; types of causes and how they can be inferred; scope conditions; concept formation strategies etc.). We then move on to the discussion of different types of cases and the analytic purposes that their intense study can and cannot serve. We focus on strategies of case selection and then move to comparative case studies. In the next sessions, we move from cross-case to a within-case perspective. Here we discuss the different logics of within-case analysis, with special focus on process tracing and a brief detour on Bayesian approaches. In the last week, we conclude the course with a session on how to graphically visualize findings from qualitative case studies and a wrap-up session.

The course starts in the second half of the Fall term and meets twice a week. Most of the meetings will be a mix between a lecture at the beginning, followed by a seminar-style discussion among students and the instructor.

Learning Outcomes: 

During the course work, students are asked to write one take-home written exercise, sit in a closed-book exam, and to actively participate during in-class discussions and group work. The written exercise is expected to help develop the ability to synthesize the information gath-ered from the mandatory readings, determine a focus point, and to develop a coherent line of argumentation. The exam is meant to improve the ability to generate logical, plausible, and persuasive arguments, to compare and contrast, and to derive theoretical conclusions from comparative empirical observations. The emphasis on in-class participation and group work is meant to foster the skills of expressing informative reflections ’on the spot’ and to decrease potential fears of speaking in front of others.


Course Requirements:
Presence and Participation
Students are expected to be actively present at all lectures and seminars. In case you are unable to attend, you need to inform the instructor(s) via email prior to the meeting you are going to miss. Unexcused missed classes count with 0 points for participation on that specific day. During the seminars you are expected to re ect critically on the mandatory readings and to engage in discussions with your fellow students and the instructor(s). As some might be more shy than others and because our class might be bigger than average, everybody is encouraged to send questions, suggestions, and comments via email to the instructor(s), preferably prior to the meetings. These emails will count towards the participation grade. In general, for the grade the quality of participation prevails over its quantity, but if quantity is zero, quality is zero, too. Students who are present but do not actively participate receive the lowest passing grade for participation. Feedback on the class performance (including grade) will be provided if and when students sign up for an appointment during the office hours.

Take-Home Exercise
Each participant will have to submit one take-home exercise. The exercise aims at testing the student's mastery of the methodological issues addressed in this course, by applying it to the evaluation of published research. The exercise consists of a set of questions that we formulate about an extra reading.
The reading and questions will be sent out on the day the exercise starts (November 24, 2016).
Deadline for submitting the take-home exercise is November 28, 2016 at noon.

Final Exam
The written closed book in-class exam will take place on the last session of our course (December 8, 2016).

It is a close book exam and will consist of a critical discussion of a published case study research article. We will provide more than one article to choose from for discussion. We will also provide a loose list of questions that you might want to ask and answer about the methodological aspects of the text. The written exam is similar to the take-home exercise, but because the former takes place at the end of the course, students are expected to apply and thus mastery of all the issues discussed during the entire course.

Grade composition:
In-Class Participation 15%
Take-Home Exercise 40%
Written Exam 45%
The grading follows the standard scale adopted by the Department of Political Science:
A: 100-94; A-: 93-87; B+: 86-80; B: 79-73; B-: 72-66; C+: 65-59; F: 58-0Late submission

Late submission
In case of late submissions, three grade points from the final grade of the assignment are deducted for every 12 hours of delay. For instance, submitting 15 hours late leads to a deduction of six points.
Word-limit violation
A violation consists in writing more words than the upper limit or less than the lower limit. In case of violations of word limits, one grade point from the final grade of the assignment is deducted for every 5% of word limit violation. For instance, if the lower limit is 3000 and somebody writes 2400 words (= 20% below word limit), four points are deducted.
Use of laptop and electronic devices
The Use of Laptops and Electronic Devices in the classroom is not allowed. Students who insist in reading and taking notes in electronic format should come and see the instructor(s) and we can accommodate this request. The use of electronic devices for anything else than strictly course related matters will lead to a participation grade of 0 points for the particular session.