On the Case Author(s): Lauren Berlant Source: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 33, No.

4, On the Case<break></break>Edited by Lauren Berlant (Summer 2007), pp. 663-672 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/521564 . Accessed: 08/07/2011 04:57
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1998). 1985). creative.00. Peter Galison argues against the naıve view of the self-evidence of case-study knowledge and ¨ the comparability of all case studies with each other in his “Specific Theory. 1980) and The Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud. blogs. Andrew Yale. 663 . 1990). Elizabeth Hutcheon. sports bars. a situation. universities. Jay Williams. Lacan. Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane (New York. the surge of the singularity concept in some contemporary humanist discussions—as that which resists being generalizable—runs antagonistically into the prevalence of case-study narrativity in scholarship.1 What matters is the idiom of the judgment. which mobilizes a whole variety of descriptive and interpretive processes of determining likeness. intention. and Derrida (Cambridge.On the Case Lauren Berlant The case represents a problem-event that has animated some kind of judgment. Critical Inquiry 33 (Summer 2007) 2007 by The University of Chicago. a crime. Language and the Origins of Psychoanalysis (New York. 0093-1896/07/3304-0002$10. a stranger.” Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004): 379–83. or any irritating obstacle to clarity. Richard Neer.professions. and John Forrester. ed. each domain with its vernacular and rule-based conventions for folding the singular into the general. 2. medicine. Mark Seltzer provides great analyses of the legal and literary development of the situation of case logic in Serial Killers: Death and Life in America’s Wound Culture (New York. and Abigail Zitin for their generous. Nonetheless. and rigorous editorial labor. while case study is what academics and psychoanalysts write. All rights reserved. See In Dora’s Case: Freud—Hysteria—Feminism. chat shows. 1. It is worth noting that case history tends to be what physicians take. This varies tremendously across disciplines. and Tom Mitchell for reading beyond compare. without which none of this work would appear. and consent. and ordinary life scenes: law. Burke Butler. Thanks also to Anat Benzvi. or patterning and whose interest in typification often (incoherently) produces evidences of singularity as the optimistic moment of excess or surplus to its very analytic activity. Andrea Haslanger.2 Biopower uses the case study as a primary instrument in its maThanks to Bradin Cormack. Psychoanalysis mobilized the case-study genre to worry at questions of obscured causality. generality. Any enigma could do—a symptom. a causal variable.

the medical mystery.: A Case of Parricide in the Nineteenth Century. Ragin and Howard S. and John Gerring. the fictional autobiography. Becker (Cambridge. 129–60. . the case hovers about the singular. 1997). An Introduction. vol. 6. see Todd Herzog. My Sister. trans.5 Those would be some of the different histories articulated in the concept of the case. Nebr. George M. trans. for example. ed. and My Brother . It expresses a relation of expertise to a desire for shared knowledge. He reads against the grain of normative closure in these legal and medical cases to show the consequences of the mobilization and suppression of their historical and conceptual contradictions. ed. ed. trans. licensed by training—no matter. and the Modernist Case History. 1989). Time Matters: On Theory and Method (Chicago.6 It organizes publics. Richard McDougall. see James Chandler. “Spaces and Classes” and “Signs and Cases. Elaine Showalter. “Crime Stories: Criminal. and director of the Lesbian and Gay Studies Project of the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Chicago.. Pullman Professor of English. Foucault critiques the disciplinary consequences of case-study forms throughout his corpus. 1980). deliberately cultivated. As genre. . Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media (New York. Having Slaughtered ` My Mother. trans. 80 (Fall 2002): 34–61. For an account of the detective story as a variant of the case history. La u re n Be r l a n t is coeditor of Critical Inquiry. see.664 Lauren Berlant / On the Case chinery for making individuals into normative social units. Pierre Riviere. while participating in the editing of at least two such studies—I. Robert Hurley (New York.4 It became available as an ordinary mode of life explanation. and the normative. the general.” The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Society. Alan Sheridan (New York. 2005). Michel Foucault (Lincoln.3 It took aesthetic form in documentary and ficto-narrative genres (the detective story. For an account of the shift across religious casuistry to the shaping of historical situations in literary cases. England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism (Chicago. see Foucault. But who counts as expert is often an effect of the impact 3. the expert who makes the case. For a more direct critique of the normativity of case making. M. Foucault (New York. 5. For an account of developments from the psychoanalytic case history to/through aesthetic genres. for example. 1975) and Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. 1977). Sheridan Smith (London. Her next book is The Female Complaint (2008). 1 of The History of Sexuality. no. 2001). especially after the development of mass cultural norms of inducing identification. Andrew Abbott. A. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good For?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341–54. 1998). See. the still life) and then in interpretive scholarship. 1978). What Is a Case?: Exploring the Foundations of Social Inquiry. Frank Jellinek. Charles C. It took shape in the social sciences and business as a way of rationalizing and debating about how to manage singularity and generalization in research design. It could be casual expertise.” Representations. 4. however fleeting. 1992). trans. . This is also the claim of the fabulous introduction written by Jean-Claude Passeron and Jacques Revel to Penser par cas (Paris. especially the chapter “What Do Cases Do?” pp. deciding what defines the surplus to singularity is now the province of the expert. and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

medicine. an offering of an account of the event and of the world. although any case of x promises to generate an account of a situation that is recognizable enough that people can debate about it. state taxonomies. 352). focuses on cases of singled-out personhood in history.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2007 665 of the case the expert makes. 1993). remanded to banal particularity.” in What Is a Case?.7 Yet. Therefore the case is always pedagogical.9 When it does. something is deemed merely a case study. Mass. “On the Case. medicine. art history. No essay is written from sociology (we tried) 7. This number. scene. The metacases in this special issue of Critical Inquiry. university disciplines..” the second number. 1 (1992): 1–15. Renoir. p. See Abbott. “Making the Case. Agamben’s discussion of “whatever/quodlibet” as the condition of any belonging to a set is in his The Coming Community. The Social Construction of What? (Cambridge. and aesthetic genres. too. See Ian Hacking. See Stanley Lieberson. and not only what the consequences of those histories are for disciplining knowledge but what phenomena and impacts get included in the event of knowledge itself. and yet neither number is as comprehensive as I would like. “Small N’s and Big Conclusions: An Examination of the Reasoning in Comparative Studies Based on a Small Number of Cases.” having redoubled reflexivity. 8. In sum. a personal or collective sensorium shifts. and event of case making has been generated.” American Sociological Review 57.8 When it doesn’t work to change the conditions of exemplarity or explanation. that scholars often disrespect the mediations of the case-study method with the adjective mere while nonetheless using this framework of moving from an “intensive study” of a single or singular unit with an “aim to generalize” or make “descriptive inferences” about similarity (Gerring.” looks at changes in case normativity in law. trans. itself an agent. pp. exemplarity. and explanation in that domain. a vast range of explanatory variations on the language. From sociology. and a variety of media. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good For?” pp. The essays that follow address how certain norms of making a case got to be that way in a given domain of expertise. philosophy. one cannot produce a predictive account of the case as a communicative action except for this: as an expressive form of expertise and explanation the case points to something bigger. 342. the case may be a version of the Agambenian whatever of discussion itself. that the case concept enables discussion to proceed in the absence of agreement about the object’s contours. this problem has been considered extensively by Stanley Lieberson. . Michael Hardt (Minneapolis. 130. when it is not assuming something like the structure of a fetish. seemed to demand two numbers. “Missing Persons. I am grateful to him for extensive conversations about how to frame the scene and issue of caseness and must confess that by the end it was apparent that sometimes interdisciplinarity is not possible—and that one way to assess what impedes it is to track fundamental disagreements about the procedures for constructing case-style exemplarity. 346. Yet our discussion proved what Forrester argues too. 9. and Greeley: Some Thoughts about Evidence in Sociology. 1999). Time Matters. what those norms mean for the way we now encounter archives. no. from political science. 105–18 and “Einstein. Gerring argues.

11. the narrator provides us “a complete and accurate account of the true history of Tom Thumb” from birth through the oral. the word case comes from the Latin casus. why. 12. Psychoanalysis.10 He might not extend it this way. referencing the vicissitudes of conventionality.diacenter. an altered way of feeling things out. though— John Forrester’s essay on Thomas Kuhn’s concept of the paradigm argues that the exemplar can provide a way of proceeding together to generate knowledge in the absence of a theory. 1984). Jeanne Dunning’s Tom Thumb: Notes Toward a Case History. See Jeanne Dunning. of falling out of line. chance. occurrence” and cassus. and the case study is also pursued by Bent Flyvbjerg’s comprehensive and synthetic “Five Misunderstandings about Case-Study Research.” as though a falling out of the fabric of things produces an event that requires explanation. www. To talk about someone or something as marked is to suggest that it is remarkable in itself but also that it is already strongly marked by exemplarity. Its operations are ethical.11 The contingencies of the expert’s ground are demonstrated beautifully in an incomplete case that you will fail to see here. the case is actuarial. for example. “void. or example. 1–32. There is also a bibliog10.org/ dunning/toc.html . of narrative elucidation. the Kuhnian paradigm. It befalls me to cite. and Literature. of canons of contextualization. no. and when certain things become imperatives for fresh study and fresh narrative re-mediation. Case almost closed: the marked subject is a walking exemplar. hollow. This is what’s disciplinary about the normativity of caseness. As everyone who writes on cases notes. Jacques Derrida.12 Somewhat like a mix of a Freudian case history and a children’s admonitory tale. and Oedipal phases. “My Chances/Mes Chances: A Rendezvous with Some Epicurean Stereophonies. phallic.666 Lauren Berlant / On the Case and there is just a glancing reflection on the Harvard case-study method (see Forrester and Goodrich). In these domains. This project presumes that to ask the question of what makes something a case. It raises questions of precedent and futurity.” in Taking Chances: Derrida. with a little repetition compulsion thrown in a few times for good effect. Tom Thumb: Notes toward a Case History. pp. ed. This association of the exemplar. and not a merely gestural instance. Charming illustrations from six centuries of Tom Thumb books line the margins. 2 (2006): 219–45. event. or person has come to be associated with what kind of exemplarity. procedures of case analysis have been crucial to the reproduction of qualitative disciplinary knowledge and have themselves generated rich historical and institutional analyses of how. a person trailing an already-known story. is to query the adequacy of an object to bear the weight of an explanation worthy of attending to and taking a lesson from. Smith and William Kerrigan (Baltimore. “fall. anal. the case can incite an opening. but I would.” Qualitative Inquiry 12. illustration. oral again. of what kind of thing. Not always. Joseph H.

Sometimes the rebuses open up into discontinuous narratives and other times into a repetition of what you’ve already seen or read. even a failed one. distracted. (Jim Chandler’s essay demonstrates Joseph Conrad’s almost comic play on this. What’s the point of all this? Tom Thumb lives impulsively and without purpose. If you don’t read it optimistically. But one can browse dreamily in the image overlay and almost not get out. he seeks to take his pleasure. frames pop up signaling that you have choices to make about where to go. as Jeffrey Nealon’s “theory toolbox” marks sort of ironically. if the genre of the “Notes Toward” is honored. It’s a story about the chaotic appetites and their consequences. you leave your cursor on a rebus image for too long. as literary case study. which makes the artwork somewhat like the intestines Tom constantly enters (he is almost eaten by his mother in a bowl of pudding made of intestines but instead is later eaten by a cow and.) But it is instructive to see how varied are the norms. renarrated. small filmed shadow puppets serve as rebuses (a movie of a thumb substitutes for the word thumb. If you click on an image it usually just expands. and you never know in advance. Luckily. and the narrative energy depletes when he dies. adorable anecdotes in hand about that naughty and unlucky Tom Thumb. a man) or like the Queen’s vagina (tamponlike. seeming at once intelligible and giving no map or rules for the cursorpusher who is used to reading the case study as a demonstration of an enigma and its resolution. If. But as they are filmed in slow. this beautifully executed work demands to be skimmed. slow motion they interrupt reading time with gazing time and drifting time. Like much web art. later still. A case. as butterflies in a case ornament a room where anecdotal and legal versions of Lord Jim’s case are discussed and then. a Vaseline-lensed normativity about how knowing something happens. for instance). and the case study is different from the case-study method used in law and business. the opposite. this is merely an aesthetic space from which you can detach when Tom dies.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2007 667 raphy. would threaten to make reading merely instrumental and mechanical and not an exercise of reflexive . In English departments there is often enacted a kind of gut disciplinarity. except when it moves. once discovered he is sentenced to be beheaded but ends up dying of blood loss in the diaphanous intestine of a spider’s web). Inserted amidst the text. The efficient reader would never discover this and can leave the story quickly. you get to be an amateur. Sometimes it just pulsates. In that model. expertise in the case form distances the reader from the intensities (or intestines) of near and then completed death. appreciating Thumb as a little life drive whose story produces countless adaptations that are all sure that Tom Thumb is a case—of something. if you want to read it that way. is different from the case study.

14. bookstores. “The Extended Case Method. 1984). Colonialism. 1998): 4– 33. but both rely on the logic of the event that appears to flash up to retemporalize experience. I could go on. where the captioning model of contextualization is abandoned entirely to renditions of the episodic present-in-presence and the opening-out work of reading that takes place in the reader rather than in the expert. 13. the internet. To read Abbott is to be released into a universe of small. Most material that advances case-study practices is instrumental.15 At the same time. Additionally. See Jeffrey T. See Michael Burawoy. The case-study method always assumes the sociality of knowledge. evidence.668 Lauren Berlant / On the Case self-cultivation. 2003). Nealon and Susan Searls Giroux. They constitute two very different Benjaminian notions of the case. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good For?” for clarifying discussions of the “as opposed to what” of the choice to use case-study modes of narration. My Cocaine Museum (Chicago. teaching readers how to avoid pitfalls of faulty generalization and to mine the genre for the rich potential it offers for understanding human life. and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing (Chicago. 1987) more than. 15. no. hugely significant variations in the object. nonetheless. 5 (2002): 631–49. He feels the need to point out that he is not judging but describing the improvisatory and often methodologically fuzzy practice of his estimable colleagues. even the most theoretical version of this work would seem too methodical a path to whatever it is that humanists mean when they invoke the rubric of thinking.” Cultural Studies 16. Social science books that give accounts of the case study as an organizing genre impart voluminous advice about how to choose properly among different qualitative research paradigms. Abbott’s work is daunting and revelatory in its focus on the consequences of mixing irreconcilable logics of generalization.. 2004). and resolution. argument. Focusing on producing work responsible to history and structural determination as well as to the openness of a transferential engagement in the ethnographic situation. see Ricca Edmondson. and libraries are brimming with social science and business versions of advice about how to use the case study as a method for producing skills in efficient problem solving. . Burawoy would also describe the extended case work of Michael Taussig in Shamanism. and the clarifying obligation of analytic narrative.” Sociological Theory 16 (Mar.and narrative-decision making that occurs in the construction of scholarly work in sociology. the circulation of discourse as its condition. “Sociological Cultural Studies: The Question of Explanation. See Creswell and Gerring. Yet to many humanists. Md. for anyone.14 Michael Burawoy has developed a compelling argument for the “extended case” study. often involving collaborative work. such a view runs up against Andrew Abbott’s caveat against overamalgamating different procedures around the case. and Gregor McLennan. he advances a project that is analogous to practices of transformative contextualization evident in much case-based scholarship in the humanities today. in Taussig. Rhetoric in Sociology (London. say. The Theory Toolbox: Critical Concepts for the New Humanities (Lanham.13 Meanwhile.

Jessica Dubow adapts the Benjaminian version of vitalized sensibility via The Arcades Project and W. as Abbott says. which they follow. p. Diana Taylor works across three of them. Narrating Reality: Austen. and my own piece shifts style when it moves from obesity as a drama of sovereignty and labor to focus on the appetites and lateral agency. N. These varieties of the case study allow for the confusion of the objective and the phantasmatic. She shows how easily and horrifically the case study shuts things down in opening them up. and the scenario. concepts about which there is a consensus that includes us. 17.Y. Pursuing the logics through which torture is legitimated.17 It is as though. during the construction of this volume. no doubt. Sebald. . Shaw. the grounded and the dreamy. Scott. the “case (or exemplary) study. Whatever else they mean. for some reason. when uttered with a certain tonality of outrage they 16. ´ operating as though there were a self-evidence to these names that marks them out as concepts. . peeled-away Chest sporting a pink nipple stacked over a bullet hole. “It is precisely in the reflection about what x is a case of that real theory arises. 716). with its desiccated. Eliot (Ithaca. See Harry E. 129. This special issue further proliferates kinds of case style. the empirical and the counterfactual. There was a time. (At least four of the essays in “Making the Case” express this tendency of the moment. This happens a lot in this issue—especially. Peter Goodrich uses Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit to open his historical analysis of the religious casuistry that shapes “secular” legal case norms. suggesting where it might travel.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2007 669 But. in the three essays most engaged with Marxist traditions of accounting for affect. the case study is a claim about realism. Time Matters. The reworkings of the case study here instead seek to make an opening within realism. spray gas in the guise of brainstorming—which is why. Christopher Nealon’s “The Poetic Case” closes with its own poetic meditation on lyric form as a register of optimistic contemporary historicism. .. and rhetorical” (p.) When I write Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib I presume that you know what I mean. Contra Fredric Jameson’s argument that history is a tragic narrative. so does Dolores Wilbur’s cover. each with its own specific relation to the empirical. when authors seemed unable to write about anything without making reference to Guanta´ namo or Abu Ghraib.”16 Scholars often proceed as though their object demands a certain method. the Foucauldian tradition of seeing literary detective and medical genres as enactments of disciplinary and normative power is often tacitly sympathetic to locating the real in tender singularities that deserved better genres. when executed conventionally. It can produce pseudo-thought in the guise of thought. 1999). the limit case. Abbott. evidential. G. . As Harry Shaw has argued elsewhere.

The case is always normative but also always a perturbation in the normative. It is a professional genre pointing to the form information takes so that it can be judged: legal case. perhaps in memory.670 Lauren Berlant / On the Case communicate a view that a self-evident case has not been acknowledged appropriately. the case will have been absorbed into the system of failed goads. Otherwise. Both. Most 18. the case that serves as an index and horizon of development for all other cases. Usually. but a corresponding metamorphosis not achieved. now stand for a phrase like “the case that didn’t matter. intelligible patterns. then.” It is a genre that organizes singularities into exemplary. or this population were supposed to have become beyondthe-limit cases. the concept of case is used in many different ways. or detail that captures the interpretive eye. The growing stock of new and better arguments about what the revelations meant and mean is a tribute to the urgency to maintain the information for a potentially transformative event. I would argue. 1–2 (2003): 69–76. What. I ran into more evidence of frustration at the impeded destiny of these events to become what their genre dictates. a phenomenon. that family. Finally. a cold case. adjudicate claims about it. In the previous paragraphs. nos. It is an instance of something (violated law. transformative cases: see John Frow’s acute and passionate “The Uses of Terror and the Limits of Cultural Studies. instance. Authors writing about the concept of the case seemed stunned (though not surprised). the case reveals itself not fundamentally as a form but as an event that takes shape. make a judgment. failed informational impact). arguments and judgments made. when an event happens there are no outcomes.”18 Events of singular injustice to this person. it fades into the ordinary pulsations of living on undramatically. seek out precedent. Disbelief is an active political affect. and file it somewhere: a sick body. Closed case. and their repeated gestures toward the barred event seemed to manifest disbelief that evidence had been gathered. write its narratives. a thing that merits interpretive recontextualization. this statute. a traffic accident. The very thing that represents an enigma that requires argument is also the very thing that represents an achieved transparency or a normative judgment. that norm. . When an event occurs out of which a case is constructed.” Symplok’ 11. the case and the event? One might say that a case is what an event can become. It also signifies limit case. is the difference between these two concepts. As I was writing this introduction. medical case. stocked next to Rosebud in that imaginary warehouse of unrealized potentials. it represents a situation in which people are compelled to take its history. It is a synonym for argument. enmeshing realist claims (x really is exemplary in this way) with analytic aims (if we make a pattern from x set of singularities we can derive y conclusions) and makes claims for why it should be thus. without being memorable. as in “making a case for.

there was nothing manifestly urgent about the timing of this special issue. the phrase “knowledge object” obscures how often debates about whether a topic or object is an object or is worthy of becoming an absorbing and potentially transformative case-event are really about whether one can bear to have transference 19. I have been interested in the aesthetic and legal conjuncture of the case since reading Walter Scott’s meditations on novelistic history writing as the third stage of the shift from public hanging to liberal legal discipline in The Heart of Mid-Lothian. Scandals aside. the singularities of the event are adjudicated by normative expertise. As Nasser Hussain’s essay argues. which makes them general through pattern recognitions. cultural studies and new forms of interdisciplinarity continue to foment new norms of exemplarity and singularity in the humanities and the social sciences in ways that constantly force us at Critical Inquiry to reconsider whether a said knowledge object can support the general claim being made about it. At the same time. modes of description. but usually not interestingly. I have been interested in the Freudian genre since I first encountered its canny negotiation of Dora’s singularity and Freud’s claim to be able to discern in her life exemplary patterns that warranted fundamental changes in how we understand people generally. “The Normative Case Study. Provoking debates about the terms of better (more ethical) normativity is the aim invested in case-study analysis by David Thacher. a form repeated usually without methodological reflection on why the work took this narrative shape given that archive.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2007 671 often. To decide not to is not evidence of anything. At that point the new event usually just plumps up conventions. These editorial debates often evidence disciplinary changes in what deserves significance. perhaps creating new precedents for future judgments. Decades later. I had become puzzled by the persistent claim-case-case-caseconclusion-coda shape of so much scholarly work. argument. and judgment. Sometimes.” American Journal of Sociology 111 (May 2006): 1631–76. Meanwhile. That’s a huge claim to rest on one person’s story. it disturbs. To decide to publish something is to confirm that it has made a case for its worthiness as knowledge. The event usually becomes the kind of thing that would have been expected. creates a louder noise that opens up the field of debate about expertise. often the exceptionality of the event has already been so thoroughly stipulated that it’s soon transformed into a banality that’s experienced as a mere brush against something rather than a movement toward change or a dissolution of appropriateness.19 Sometimes you can’t tell in advance. evaluation. though. narration. as teacher and editor. an event more than perturbs. .

are honed by debates about consensus sensibility. the emergence as a topic of case norms and their relation to the kinds of judgment that reshape events in all (professional) life.672 Lauren Berlant / On the Case with the low and the hot. This is why the topic of the case matters: the conventions of the case. . professional life is generally so stable and so cool. Any time is a good time for some reflection on that. of the fate of singularity in exemplifying narratives and expert commentary.

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