Oftentimes in social science research, we do not desire to study what is true on average. It may not be as helpful to know, for instance, that poor children from underperforming schools on average perform less well in college than wealthier children from well-managed schools. Especially if the variables in question are not readily amenable to change, it might be more useful to identify and closely examine exceptional cases. That is, studying why some poor children from underperforming schools do very well in college might identify some factors that could help raise performance levels despite unfavorable circumstances. However, the commonly used quantitative methods, including regression analysis, cannot help us do this. Using a mixed-method approach, this paper focuses on how to apply quantitative methods to systematically select exceptional cases, which can be further examined through qualitative methods. To exemplify this method, the paper focuses on the relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction. While most economists agree that there is an inverse relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction, most also recognize that there are exceptions. From places that experienced rapid poverty reduction despite slow or negative economic growth, perhaps we can learn some lessons on what to do to make growth better for the poor. Similarly, from places that experienced slow or no poverty reduction despite rapid economic growth, perhaps we can learn some lessons on what not to do in our fight against poverty. Once we identify these cases, we can then turn to qualitative methods, including case studies and fieldwork, to trace the processes that caused these unexpected or puzzling results. While this does not deny the original relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction, it might be helpful for poor areas in which rapid economic growth is unlikely. This method can also be applied to other urgent social science questions.
American Political Science Association Annual Meeting
City or Country
DONALDSON, John Andrew, Ching, Ju Mae Rosie, & Tan, Andrew Tsao Ming.(2013). Going Extreme: Systematically Selecting Extreme Cases for Study through Qualitative Methods. Paper presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Chicago, USA.
Available at: http://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/soss_research/1509