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Comprehensive Case Study and Incremental Comparison for Theory Building

Authors: Jung Won Sonn*, University College London
Topics: Qualitative Methods, Urban Geography
Keywords: comparative urbanism, case study method, Mertonian middle range theory
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I argue against comparative study of two pre-picked cases and advocate for a new methodology that can indirectly offer comparative view. The traditional case study method is based on the Mertonian middle-range theory that encourages cross-sectional generalization. When such an approach is combined with geographers’ attention to local specificities, geographers end up with an idiography as was seen in the final destination of such promising research programs as Massey’s locality study, Dear’s postmodern geography, and New Regionalist economic geography as well as in more recent post-colonialist urban geography. The strategy I propose is a comprehensive case study whose outcome is a long list of factors that may cause the observed outcome. The list is then taken to another city and each factor is tested. Factors that are found to be irrelevant are dropped from the list. By applying this procedure to more cities with the same observed outcome, one can isolate a small number of factors that actually cause the outcome. Eventually, the research will reach the point where further application of the list would not make sense, which clarifies the limit to the list’s relevance. This approach might better accomplish what comparative urbanism intends to achieve.

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