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Case Studies and the Statistical Worldview: Review of King Keohane, and Verba's Designing Social Inquiry:

Author: Timothy J. McKeown
Winter 1999
International Organization


Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sydney Verba's Designing Social Inquiry exploits the metaphor of researcher-as-statistician to develop guidelines for conducting social scientific research that are allegedly applicable to all empirical investigations. Their approach has sharp and often unflattering implications for case studies and similar research strategies. Because their statistical worldview is unable to make sense of important aspects of case study research or of the importance that is sometimes attached to the findings of a single case, their argument seemingly casts doubt on the wisdom of producing or consuming such studies. I argue that the foundation of classical statistics and the epistemology of Carl Hempel and Karl Popper is an inadequate and misleading basis for a critical evaluation of case studies. I then present examples of research that are not easily accommodated within the authors' framework and sketch the elements of an alternative epistemological framework rooted in a "pattern" model of explanation. The latter is a standpoint that is much more helpful in understanding and criticizing case studies than the framework presented in Designing Social Inquiry.