Comparative Case Studies: An Innovative Approach


  • Lesley Bartlett University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Frances Vavrus University of Minnesota-Twin Cities



case study, research methods, comparison, context


What is a case study and what is it good for? In this article, we argue for a new approach—the comparative case study approach—that attends simultaneously to macro, meso, and micro dimensions of case-based research. The approach engages two logics of comparison: first, the more common compare and contrast; and second, a ‘tracing across’ sites or scales. As we explicate our approach, we also contrast it to traditional case study research. We contend that new approaches are necessitated by conceptual shifts in the social sciences, specifically in relation to culture, context, space, place, and comparison itself. We propose that comparative case studies should attend to three axes: horizontal, vertical, and transversal comparison. We conclude by arguing that this revision has the potential to strengthen and enhance case study research in Comparative and International Education, clarifying the unique contributions of qualitative research.


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Author Biographies

Lesley Bartlett, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies. Her research and teaching interests include migration studies, literacy studies, anthropology of education, and research methods.

Frances Vavrus, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Professor, Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Her research and teaching interests consider the transformative potential and limitations of education in sub-Saharan Africa.


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How to Cite

Bartlett, L., & Vavrus, F. (2017). Comparative Case Studies: An Innovative Approach. Nordic Journal of Comparative and International Education (NJCIE), 1(1).