Comparative Case Studies: Methodological Framework

The Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Series 2017-2018, ‘Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation’, takes a multidisciplinary approach to examine the different ways in which cultures and people remember wars and the impact of these commemorative practices on peacebuilding and reconciliation. The Series has a tripartite approach, examining three strands of commemoration – textual, monumental and aural – which, when drawn together, seek to make constructive commemoration practices more understandable. To this end, the methodological framework of comparative case studies will be utilised. In Social Sciences, comparative case studies are a well-known method, characterised by their potential to explore the how and why of contemporary phenomena within a real-life context. The intention of comparative case studies is to find explanations for each case individually by identifying broader, more complex theories. Utilising comparative case studies allows us to compare specialists’ knowledge and experiences of commemoration practices within a discursive setting. The output of these discussions will be evaluated and will inform our sense of how commemorative practices may contribute to reconciliation and peacebuilding. Subsequently the results from the tripartite approach will be cumulated to understand factors involved in constructive commemoration on a more superordinate level.

One of the greatest strengths of case studies is to achieve high levels of construct validity, the ability to measure the indicators that best represent the theoretical concept. In this project’s context, the case study’s rigid construct validity offers the opportunity to inductively derive relevant factors for constructive commemoration practices. An analysis of these factors will help to identify and examine potential causal mechanisms within particular contexts and cases and will allow us to draw more general conclusions. In consequence, the identified factors will contribute to forming hypotheses and building theories about potentially underlying aspects of constructive commemoration practices. This highlights the second major advantage of case studies: their explorative nature. Instead of being determined by theory, case studies offer the opportunity to shed light onto previously unknown aspects of phenomena. The implications of these aspects may be observed in detail and potential inferences derived. This allows us to accommodate complex causal relations such as multifaceted historical influences, equifinality or interactional aspects in explanatory theories.

The main limitation of the comparative case studies framework is the potential of lowering the selection bias. Selection bias occurs when the selection process causes a systematic error. Then explanations for the investigated phenomenon cannot be generalised as the findings are determined by subjective perceptions, which may lead to potential indeterminacy. To avoid such limitations, the Series aims to open up a discursive sphere in which a wide range of perceptions and understandings may be discussed. In this sense, this project intends to offer valuable insight into commemoration practices from different points of view and also to have theoretical impact on how constructive commemoration processes may take place.

Rita Phillips

texture of the memorial to the murdered jews of europe