Abstract

Katya Drozdova and Kurt Taylor Gaubatz, "Structured, Focused Uncertainty: Information Analysis for Multi-Method Comparative Case Studies", February 2010

In this paper, we propose drawing on advances in the field of information theory and uncertainty analysis to strengthen the case study method of structured, focused comparison. Structured, focused comparison can be very effective when a set of cases aligns to clearly show the impact of one or two central variables. However, real problems in politics tend to have many sources of uncertainty and change. Just as in large-N regression methods, we need a way to assess the relative explanatory power of different factors in those frequent contexts where several variables affect an outcome. Typical statistical approaches are unhelpful for analyzing complex nonlinear problems with a small number of cases. The information theory approach can improve the structured, focused case study method by providing systematic, comparable, and replicable measures of uncertainty and influence for the factors of interest. These analytic tools can enhance case study findings and ensure the maximum leverage for discerning between alternative explanations. After explicating the method of structured, focused comparison and the information theory approach, we demonstrate the analytic process by applying it to two prominent examples of structured, focused comparisons—Alexander George and William Simon’s The Limits of Coercive Diplomacy (1971; 1994), and Michael Krepon and Dan Caldwell’s The Politics of Arms Control Treaty Ratification (1991). In each example, the information theory approach sharpens the analysis and provides additional insights into the comparative results. This promising but underappreciated approach should have a more prominent place in the social scientist’s multi-methods toolbox.

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