MY425      Half Unit
Case Studies and Comparative Methods for Qualitative Research

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Eleanor Knott COL 7.08


This course is available on the MPhil/PhD in Social Policy, MPhil/PhD in Social Research Methods, MSc in Comparative Politics, MSc in Conflict Studies, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Inequalities and Social Science, MSc in Political Sociology and MSc in Social Research Methods. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is freely available to any MSc or MRes students interested in case study research designs. MY525 is available for PhD students interested in case study research designs.

The course is most suited to students within macro- or meso-sociological traditions (e.g. political science, IR, sociology, political sociology, policy studies, development studies) than those within a micro-sociological/individualist tradition (e.g. micro-interactionist perspectives, psychology, psychiatry).


There are no pre-requisites for this course.

Course content

This course focuses on the approach and practice of designing and conducting case study and comparative research. Thinking outside of the areas of interest and specialisms and topics, students will be encouraged to develop the concepts and comparative frameworks that underpin these phenomena. In other words, students will begin to develop their research topics as cases of something.

The course will cover questions of design and methods of case study research, from single-n to small-n case studies including discussions of process tracing and Mill's methods. The course will address both the theoretical and methodological discussions that underpin research design as well as the practical questions of how to conduct case study research, including gathering, assessing and using evidence. Examples from the fields of comparative politics, IR, development studies, sociology and European studies will be used throughout the lectures and seminars.


15 hours of lectures and 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars in the LT.

Students will receive 10 lectures (1.5 hours) and 9 seminars (1.5 hours) with a reading week in week 6. Lectures will provide students with the key concepts, ideas and approaches to case study and comparative research. Seminars will provide students with practical experience of assessing the approaches of case study and comparative research design, as well as opportunities to design and develop their own research projects. 

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 presentation, 1 essay and 1 other piece of coursework in the LT.

1 presentation: every week 1-2 students will present on a key reading and lead subsequent discussion of the reading and its research design

1 formative paper: literature review and project outline (1-2 pages) due in week 8. Students will receive written feedback on this by week 11.

1 peer marking exercise: in-class oral peer feedback session for students to exchange ideas on formative assignment (week 9)

Indicative reading

Key texts:

• Bennett, A. and Checkel, J.T. eds., 2014. Process tracing: From metaphor to analytic tool. Cambridge University Press.

• Della Porta, D. and Keating, M. eds., 2008. Approaches and methodologies in the social sciences: A pluralist perspective. Cambridge University Press.

• George, Alexander L. and Andrew Bennett. 2005. Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences.

• Gerring, J. (2017) Case study research: principles and practices. Second edition. Cambridge University Press.

• Yin, R. K. (2018) Case study research and applications: design and methods. Sixth edition. Sage.

Example readings for discussion:

• Briggs, Ryan C. 2017. “Explaining case selection in African politics research”, Journal of Contemporary African Studies.

• Finkel, E. (2017) Ordinary Jews: choice and survival during the Holocaust. Princeton University Press.

• Lund, Christian. 2014. “Of What is This a Case? Analytical Movements in Qualitative Social Science Research.” Human Organization 73(3): 224–234.

• Rudra, Nita. 2011. “Openness and the Politics of Potable Water.” Comparative Political Studies 44(6): 771–803.

• Simmons, E. (2016) Meaningful resistance: market reforms and the roots of social protest in Latin America.: Cambridge University Press.

• Simmons, E. S. and Smith, N. R. (2017) ‘Comparison with an Ethnographic Sensibility’, PS: Political Science & Politics, 50(01), pp. 126–130. doi: 10.1017/S1049096516002286.

• Slater, D. and Wong, J. (2013b) ‘The Strength to Concede: Ruling Parties and Democratization in Developmental Asia’, Perspectives on Politics, 11(03), pp. 717–733. doi: 10.1017/S1537592713002090.


Project (90%, 4000 words) in April.
Class participation (10%) in the LT.

Research design proposal (Project 4000 words) due at the beginning of ST (90%). It is recommended that students base the research design proposal on their dissertation topic (or a related topic, e.g. a PhD proposal) subject to approval by students’ home department. Where students also take MY400 (which has a similar summative assessment), students will be guided towards a modified version of the research proposal (e.g. a different research question) to avoid self-plagiarism between assignments. Students must consult with their home department regarding overlap between the proposal and their dissertation.

Weekly participation grade (10%)  preparation and active participation in seminars and group presentation.

Key facts

Department: Methodology

Total students 2018/19: 49

Average class size 2018/19: 12

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills