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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: September 2012

11 - Interactive, Context-Specific Analysis


To identify and understand the operation of the community responsibility system, the analysis in Chapter 10, like all of the empirical analyses in this book, used a particular case study method. Specifically, it employed a theoretically informed, case study method that extensively relied on contextual knowledge of the situation and its history, and context-specific modeling. This chapter first argues that this method usefully responds to the challenge that institutional analysis presents to the traditional empirical methods of the social sciences; it then presents this methodin detail.

The challenge that institutions present to the traditional empirical methods of social science has two sources. First, although institutions are not random – those that fulfill a particular function or interest respond to the same forces and considerations – they are inherently indeterminate, historically contingent, and context-specific. We don't have a theory of institutions to guide their empirical analysis, and what we know about them suggests that seeking such a theory is likely to be a futile exercise (section 11.1). Second, we cannot generally study institutions by considering only their observable features (section 11.2).

The method presented here responds to institutions' inherent indeterminacy, their context-specificity, and the need to coexamine institutions' observable and unobservable components. This method interactively combines theory, contextual knowledge of the situation and itshistory, and context-specific modeling. A case study approach such as this is promising for several other reasons. Institutions' inherent indeterminacy and context-specificity imply that we often need to study an institution as a historically unique phenomenon.