International Relations Case Study Methods in International Relations
Christopher K. Lamont
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0225


Case studies are perhaps the most widely used research design in international relations (IR). Across the discipline’s subfields of security studies, international political economy, foreign policy analysis, and international political theory, case studies have become ubiquitous. As such, it is not surprising that case studies have been the subject of debate as to what constitutes a case study, how to conduct or design case studies, the potential contribution of case studies to general, or case specific, knowledge in the field of IR, and of course, how to evaluate case studies. To be sure, debates on case study research in IR mirror the field’s methodological pluralism and broader debates on methodology. Case studies have been widely used by interpretivist and positivist scholars of IR alike. It is for this reason that literature on case study design contains scholarship that on the one hand aims to emphasize how case study design, and case selection strategies, can help generalize findings beyond specific cases to literature on the other hand that emphasizes the historic, contextual and descriptive richness of case studies. However, it will become apparent in this bibliography that most scholarship that deals explicitly with the case study method has done so from a positivist perspective on the social sciences. Indeed, each methodological standpoint advances distinct claims as to the purpose and contribution of case studies to IR. Therefore, as we will see in the overview of scholarship presented here within this bibliography, early methodological literature on case studies in IR, political science, and comparative politics, attempted to evaluate the utility, or contribution, of case studies along the lines of the extent to which case studies could contribute to causal explanation and generalizability. However, it is also the case that today, as in the past, IR scholarship that utilizes case study design cuts across both methodological traditions as not all scholars of IR deploy case studies for the purpose of explanation. Indeed, although there has been much discussion in the literature on case study design with an aim to maximize causal inference within the positivist tradition, this bibliography will highlight scholarship on case studies that includes both positivist debates on causality, inference, and generalization, and scholarship that embraces case studies as a means of producing deeper context-dependent knowledge on a given topic, notion, or concept. The first sections will present general texts and journals on case study research relevant to IR. The following texts are general textbooks or monographs on case study research design and methods. While there is a growing body of methodological scholarship that focuses on case studies in the social science that makes reference to research in IR, most of the texts below have a broader disciplinary focus. This is because debates over case study methods have tended to center around wider philosophy of social science debates on causal inference and the study of the social world.

Textbooks and Monographs

In recent years the growing popularity of case studies in international relations (IR) has coincided with a growth in textbooks and monographs that examine case study methods. These range from broad texts on research methods in the social sciences (Blatter and Haverland 2012, Burton 2000) that sometimes contain collections of essays on case study design and research (Gomm, et al. 2000) or provide examples of case studies drawn from a wide range of cognate disciplines (Yin 2004). For scholars of IR, the most discipline-specific broader text is Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (George and Bennett 2005), while Qualitative Methods in International Relations (Klotz and Prakash 2008) also contains contributions that explicitly address case study methods, or methods such as process tracing, that are relevant to case study research. Also of note are texts that provide readers with guidance on how to conduct case studies (Thomas 2016, Yin 2014). An example of a text that both reflects on case study methods and also provides practical how-to guidance is Case Study Research (Gerring 2017).

  • Blatter, Joachim, and Markus Haverland. Designing Case Studies: Explanatory Approaches in Small-N Research. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137016669

    This text presents an overview of case study methods that makes the case for a pluralist case study epistemology. Blatter and Haverland explore case study design in the context of co-variational analysis, causal process tracing, and congruence analysis.

  • Burton, Dawn. Research Training for Social Scientists. London: SAGE, 2000.

    DOI: 10.4135/9780857028051

    This is a broad text on research methods in the social sciences that contains specific chapters relevant to case study research that provide a basic introduction to case study research. See in particular chapter 16, which sets out uses of case studies in social science research.

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

    This text provides an in-depth assessment of case study research design for researchers whose focus is on designing case studies for theory testing. While the first part of the book provides an in-depth overview of social science debates on the merits of case studies, the second part provides a guide for researchers to conduct case study research. This text draws upon examples from both international relations and political science research.

  • Gerring, John. Case Study Research: Principles and Practices. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    This textbook provides an overview of case study research design that primarily addresses strategies for maximizing causal inference in case study research, but also provides an overview of descriptive case studies. This text contains a practical guide to doing case study research and analyzing findings.

  • Gomm, Roger, Martyn Hammersley, and Peter Foster, eds. Case Study Methods: Key Issues, Key Texts. London: SAGE, 2000.

    This is a general collection of essays that addresses core elements of case study design and research. It contains numerous contributions on case studies and generalizability and case studies and theory. The latter includes a contribution by Harry Eckstein on case study research in political science.

  • Klotz, Audie, and Deepa Prakash, eds. Qualitative Methods in International Relations: A Pluralist Guide. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.

    This volume contains numerous useful contributions relevant to case study methods that range from Klotz’s chapter on case selection to a contribution on process tracing by Jeffrey Checkel.

  • Thomas, Garry. How to Do Your Case Study. 2d ed. London: SAGE, 2016.

    This is an accessible guide for case study research whose primary audience is students. It begins with defining case studies and strategies for case design before presenting a practical guide to carrying out case study research.

  • Yin, Robert K. The Case Study Anthology. London: SAGE, 2004.

    This collection of essays includes examples of case studies drawn from IR, political science, sociology, and other related disciplines.

  • Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. 5th ed. London: SAGE, 2014.

    This textbook provides a comprehensive overview of case study research. Starting from providing definitions for case studies, this textbook goes on to provide a practical guide for students to conduct their own case studies.

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