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  • 00:01


  • 00:11

    TODD LANDMAN: I'm Todd Landman.I'm a professor of political science.And for the last 20 or so years, I'vebeen looking at the question of human rights more generally,but I've also really taken an interestin the systematic study of human rights problemsas they relate to development, democracy,and other global issues.And in order to do that, I've looked at comparative methods.

  • 00:33

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And one part of the comparative methodological storyis the importance of case studies.So in this tutorial, I'm going to talk about the value of casestudies, the selection of case studies,what case studies can do and what they cannot do,and of course the limitations of case studies.So I hope you find that useful, because case study'sa very popular form of political analysisand comparative analysis more generally.

  • 01:00

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: It's very popular these days in political scienceto be rather skeptical of the value of case studies.And by that I mean the sort of single-country studythat is, some would say, quite descriptive.And there was one study that was criticizedas being lots of evidence but not much inference.And that study is John Womack's Zapataand the Mexican Revolution.

  • 01:22

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: This could be described as a descriptive or narrativehistorical account of the state of Morelos in southern Mexico,and this character of Zapata and how he contributedto the Mexican Revolution.That could be one simple reading of this book.However, I would make the claim that there'squite a lot of causal inference in this book,and it does relate to theories of revolution, et cetera.

  • 01:42

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And if I read just the opening sentence from the prefaceto start, there's actually a really interesting statementhere.Womack says, "this is a book about country peoplewho did not want to move and therefore gotinto a revolution."That single sentence contains a hypothesis, or a propositionif you will.It's about country people, so we have a definitionof a type of people.

  • 02:05

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And that could be further refined.They didn't want to move, so theywere resisting some outside force wanting them to move,and therefore got into revolution, which suggeststhat because they were being asked to move,they got involved in revolution.And there is a passage at the end of the bookthat I'm fascinated with and it's gripped me for years.

  • 02:25

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: Womack says, "new attitudes, new policies, new laws,new agencies, new authorities, and of the plain country peopleof 1910, about 3/5 remained.They had won a victory too, simply in holding onas villagers, not in refuge in the state's cities or huddledinto the haciendas, but out wherethey felt they belonged, in the little towns and pueblosand ranchos, still reeking at least a "pacific Zapatismo.

  • 02:48

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: In 1910 the bases of the only life they wanted to livehad been breaking down.Although they wore themselves out dutifullytilling their scattered patches of corn and beans,now and then trading a horse or a cow for a few pesos,marketing eggs, tomatoes, onions, chilies, or charcoal,tending their scrubby orchards, desperatelysharecropping on the planters' worse land,they had nevertheless lost the struggleto keep their communities going."This rich description, if you will, of the life of a peasantor a country person in Mexico tells usa lot about the experience of those lives,and the experience of change in those lives,and how that change led to peoplebeing mobilized for revolution.

  • 03:30

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And it's that sort of relationshipbetween people's lives, external forces that change those lives,and the motivation to be involvedin violent political activities such as a revolution asexperienced in Mexico is something thatshould be of interest to scholarsof comparative politics and international relations moregenerally.So what I try to do is explain how a case study canmake a contribution to these types of statements thathave larger implications for political processesin countries outside the case that was originally studied.

  • 04:06

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: The Mexican case is a simple illustrationof the plethora of case studies available to us as researchers.There are 194 independent nation-states in the world.And of course, the history of the worldis very rich and very deep.My students often come to me and say,I'd like to do a case study on Guatemala.I'd like to do a case study on South Africa.And then I say, what would you like to researchin Guatemala or South Africa?

  • 04:30

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: Well, I want to work on human rights.Well, why have you chosen Guatemala or South Africa?Well, the United Nations says these are terrible places.And then I say, well, there are a lot of terrible placesin the world.So why have you chosen Guatemala and whyhave you chosen South Africa?Oftentimes students stumble at that very basic question.What is the function of the case study?What is it for, or what is it a case study of?

  • 04:52

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: In the case of Mexico, we know it'sabout the Mexican Revolution.We know it's about a particular character, Zapata,and the state of Morelos.But we also know it's about land,people being force from that land,and the motivation for being involved in revolution.But when I probe my students' mindsand say, why is it that you reallywant to work on that country, I'mreally asking them, what's the puzzle that needs to be solved?

  • 05:16

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: Have you found some sort of anomalyor some sort of question that youwant to answer by researching that single case?And if you do it through that case, what willyou learn from that case?And what might you learn from that case that couldbe applied to other cases?In a seminal essay in 1975, which in my viewis still the very best essay ever writtenabout case studies, by Harry Eckstein,he says that there's a set of functions around case studies,that they serve different functions.

  • 05:43

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: There's sort of the clinical studyof a one-off, single descriptive account,a kind of in-depth clinical analysis of one case.But case studies can also do thingslike weaken theories, infirm theories, he says.So you have a dominant theory about social relationships,and yet in one of the cases you find it doesn't work there,so that kind of weakens a general proposition.

  • 06:05

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: They can also be theory-confirming.So you might have a general theory about somethingand you find a case that upholds that theory,so that's a theory-confirming function of a case study.Case studies can also be used to generate hypotheses.So for example, if I had gone to Mexico in 1910and sort of walked around for a whileand looked at what was going on, I might think, hmm,I think there might be a revolution brewing here,because the country people are getting agitated,they don't want to move, et cetera.

  • 06:33

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: So imagine if we cast ourselves back in historyand we looked at the circumstances within that case,we might say, there's a hypothesis hereabout the relationship between people,land, power, and violence that wemight be able to test in this particular case study.So in that sense, the case study is nota sui generis it's an interesting place to work on.

  • 06:54

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: But it is related to social theory about change,about power, about conflict, about all those topicsthat interest us in political science.So I go back to my students and say,where is that case study located in a larger set of questionsthat you're really motivated by?And what will you learn by studying that case study thatmight apply to other cases?

  • 07:20

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: Now two of the main functions that I reallylike about case studies include the notion of a most likelyor a least likely case study.So let me explain what that means.And I'll just give you a little illustration to do that.So if you could imagine two variables-- and I'mgoing to draw a little graph here in a minute.But if we had a measure of-- and I'm writing here "development,"and we had a measure of democracy.

  • 07:46

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: So I'll just draw these for the momentand hold this up so you can see.So at the bottom we have development.At the side we have democracy.Imagine you had those two variables.And you had a measure of development,let's say it was the per-capita GDP in a country,and you had a measure of democracy.One of the popular measures we use in political scienceis the Polity IV measure of democracy.

  • 08:08

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: It's kind of a negative 10 to positive 10measure of democracy.A negative 10 is authoritarian, positive 10is fully democratic.Now we know statistically ever since really the late 1950suntil today, that there is a positive and significantrelationship between the level of economic developmentand democracy.So positive and significant relationshipis captured by this straight line rising up in this manner.

  • 08:34

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: We know that as levels of development increase,countries tend to be more democratic.Some say it's a causal relationship.Some people think it's just a sort of correlation,if you will, an elective affinity between these twovariables.What we do know is that rich countriestend to be democratic.Now what would a most likely and least likelycase study look like?

  • 08:58

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: Yes, there is a positive and significant relationship.But not all the countries in the world are on that line.So we would have some countries, whichI will represent by dots in this graph, that wouldbe quite close to the line.So the dot would be a country location.This would be its measure of development.This would be its measure of democracy.So that would be its unique location within whatwe call a scatterplot.

  • 09:20

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: The line itself describes the relationship more generally,but the countries make up the scatterplot itself.Now, they're quite close to the line.And we could say that they confirm the relationshipbetween development and democracy,because they're very close to that line.However, there might be some countriesthat are off the line.

  • 09:41

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: So I call this my Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica problem.So I'm going to write Saudi Arabia here,and Costa Rica here, and then show those to you.Now what I'm saying here is that here wehave an example of a country thathas high levels of economic development,but isn't particularly democratic.

  • 10:02

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And here we have a country that haslow levels of economic development, but is democratic.These are what we call outlier cases, or deviant cases.They're very far away from the overall relationship,so there's a distance between the position of this countryand the line itself, a distance between this countryand the line itself.

  • 10:22

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: The distance here is quite negative.We call this a negative residual.And this is positive.We would call this a positive residual.We call them outliers because they in partconfound our general relationship.It leads us to ask more interesting questions,like in the case of Costa Rica, why is it democratic and poor?

  • 10:44

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: How did it become democratic even though it wasn'tparticularly well developed.The per-capita GDP in Costa Rica over the 20th centurywasn't very high.It made a kind of upper low-income countryrather than a high-income country, measured by World Bankstandards.So what was it in Costa Rica thatled to its democratization?So Latin American scholars would say, well,there was a big peace agreement in 1948.

  • 11:07

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: They got rid of their military and police force.And they invested that money in education,and that led to the development of a democratic cultureand a kind of elite bargain that hasworked since 1948 through the rest of the 20th century.International relations scholars would say, yes,and then you add in the protection of the United Statesfrom the north.They didn't need an army.If they ever got invaded, the United States would help themout, et cetera, et cetera.

  • 11:29

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: So there was a sort of set of explanationsthat sort of accounted for the exceptionalityof the Costa Rican case.So here, this deviant case is another anomaly.Why in the case of Saudi Arabia is there great wealth, but notparticularly democratic?And of course, we would then lookat things like the concentration of oil, the factthat the development of Saudi Arabiais very much based on the concentration of oneasset, the oil.

  • 11:53

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: There might be cultural explanationsaround the way in which the Saudi kingdom runs its affairsand the sort of, if you will, skepticismabout democratic institutions and the full protectionof human rights, et cetera.So it becomes an outlier case as well.Now when we talk about most likely and least likely cases,we're using that kind of logic and we'resaying of all the places in the world we expect a country notto be democratic, and it is.

  • 12:18

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: So in the Costa Rican case, we'd saywe don't expect Costa Rica to be democratic because it'srelatively lowly developed.We do expect Saudi Arabia to be democratic, but it's not.So that's the obverse of the argument.So here we have this mixture of most likely and least likelycases.The intense investigation of a single case like Costa Rica,or an intense investigation of Saudi Arabia,will tell us things about this overall relationship thatenriches our understanding.

  • 12:47

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And for me, that really representsthe value of a case study.It's not a sui generis case.It is sitting there in relation to a larger set of questionsand relationships in the world.By investigating Costa Rica or investigating Saudi Arabia,we would learn something about that overall relationship.And we would have a conversation between the in-depth countrystudy done in either of these cases,and a global study looking at relationships all together.

  • 13:19

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: Now despite all the many benefitsand the value of case studies that I'vebeen discussing in this tutorial,there are naturally some limitations.We have to be careful about the types of inferencesthat we draw from single case studies.So there are all sorts of questionsaround which case study was selected and why.Was it a most likely case study, a least likely?Was it an infirming or confirming case?

  • 13:41

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And why was that case chosen, or was itjust an in-depth clinical analysisor a hypothesis-generating case?I think the more explicit a scholar canbe about what the case study is trying to achieve,then that actually locates the case study much better.Clearly there are limits to the inferences we canmake from a single case study.I might learn a lot about democratic transitionin Chile by an in-depth study of military documents and factionswithin the military, mobilization from below,from social movements, pressure from the international systemthat brought about change in Chileduring the 1980s, a plebiscite in 1988, the defeat of Pinochetin an electoral process.

  • 14:20

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: All those sorts of things would be verydetailed in the Chilean case.I might learn that there are some inferencesfrom the Chilean case, so I mightlearn that the conflict between those factions led to a break,that the rule-oriented faction within the Chilean militarywas more interested in international legitimacy,et cetera.And there's a wonderful case studyby Darren Hawkins to this effect thatgives us that deep history.

  • 14:45

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: But what he does in that case study, which is interesting,is he says, I think these inferences from Chilemight apply to the case of Cuba, no democratic transition,and the case of South Africa, democratic transition.So he takes the inferences from Chileand then applies them to these other two countries.However, that's where he stops.And I think it's really intellectuallyhonest for a scholar to say, I'm not sure if what I've said hereapplies to the whole world or to the universe of cases thatinvolve democratic transition.

  • 15:14

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And it's that self-limiting nature of the study that Ithink is really important.Again, if we go back to Zapata and the Mexican Revolution,the story that was told about the state of Morelos,the country people not wanting to moveand therefore getting involved in revolutionhas a set of universal aspirations in terms of itmight apply to other cases of revolutionin Vietnam, Angola, Peru, et cetera.

  • 15:36

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: But it might not.And there's a really interesting sortof conversation between this case study and future casestudies.So we have to be very cautious in making inferences,be very honest about the degree to which those inferences applyto the rest of the world, and the degree to which theydo not.There may be features to the case studythat really are unique to that country.

  • 15:57

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And we don't want to over-egg our explanationand say that it might apply to the whole world.So there are limitations to case studies,but nonetheless I think the value that I'vedemonstrated in this tutorial is definitelyserious food for thought.This tutorial has been about the value of case studiesand comparative research.

  • 16:18

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: I made reference to case studies reallyas a single-country study.They might also refer to a subnational partof a single country.But by and large, we're looking at the valueof looking at single countries and whatthat might tell us about larger political processes.I talked about the selection of cases,that there are functions, if you will,of case studies from the purely descriptive clinical analysisall the way to a most likely, least likely deviant caseanalysis, where the goal of the analysisis really to make that case study talk to largerquestions in political science and comparative politics moregenerally.

  • 16:53

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: I've also talked about the limitations of case studies,that we don't want to over-egg inferencesand think that we've discovered the full proof of a theory thatwill apply to all countries in the world.Equally, we may not want to say that our case study rejectsforever a particular popular theory.So we need to be a little bit humble about our case studiesand recognize the natural limitations to the typesof inferences that they yield.

  • 17:17

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: Some people think doing a case study is really easy.Ah, I'm only going to work on one country.It's brilliant.Well, it turns out you might needto know the language, the history, the society,the culture.You might need to travel there, spend timethere, get to know people.If you're really interested in ethnographic methodsfor example, participant observation,in-depth interviewing, document and archival analysis,the time commitment to really know a case wellis extraordinary.

  • 17:43

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: And you don't want to underestimatesome of the challenges of doing single case studies.And then of course, if you're building a careeras a researcher in political science,you may become known as that person thatknows everything about Mexico or that person whoknows everything about South Africa when in fact youwant to say something larger about the world.And there may be limitations to the sorts of thingsthat you get involved with in your professional careeras an analyst.

  • 18:05

    TODD LANDMAN [continued]: So those are some of the concernsI would say are really important when thinkingabout doing case study work.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Publication Year: 2017

Video Type:Tutorial

Methods: Case study research, Comparative research, Cross-case analysis

Keywords: Chile; Costa Rica; democracy and development; economic development; human rights; inferences; influential texts and figures of veneration; motivation; political science; Saudi Arabia; world history ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Professor Todd Landman explains how case studies can be used in research. He discusses the importance of choosing a case study correctly and warns about limitations of case study research.

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An Introduction to Case Studies

Professor Todd Landman explains how case studies can be used in research. He discusses the importance of choosing a case study correctly and warns about limitations of case study research.

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