MY525      Half Unit
Case Studies and Comparative Methods for Qualitative Research

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Eleanor Knott COL 7.08


This course is available on the MPhil/PhD in International Relations, MPhil/PhD in Social Policy and MPhil/PhD 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 MRes or PhD student 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).

This course is not controlled access. If you register for a place and meet the prerequisites, if any, you are likely to be given a place.

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.


This year, some or all of this teaching may be delivered through a combination of virtual synchronous webinars, synchronous lectures via Zoom and recorded asynchronous lectures delivered as short online videos.

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.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of LT.

Formative coursework

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

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). This in-class activity may be delivered via webinar.

Indicative reading

Key texts:

  • Beach, D., & Pedersen, R. B. 2019. Process-tracing methods: Foundations and guidelines. University of Michigan Press.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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.


Class participation (10%) and research design (90%) in the LT.

It is recommended that students base the research design proposal (5000 words) on their dissertation topic (e.g. the whole dissertation project, a chapter or paper). Where students also take MY500 (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.

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

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Methodology

Total students 2020/21: 13

Average class size 2020/21: 8

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