Case Study Research

hardtofindcurtainUrban and Civil

Nov 16, 2013 (3 years and 10 months ago)


Case Study Research

Qualitative Methods in Social
Research 2010

Alice Mah


Introduction: what is a case study?

Case study research design

Contrasting theoretical views

Case study
rationales and varieties

Research methods and process

Discussion: advantages and disadvantages

Case study research example

Conclusion and workshop discussion

What is a case study? 1/2

A research frame or design

‘…a strategy for doing research which involves an
empirical investigation of a particular
contemporary phenomenon within its real life
context using multiple sources of evidence.’ (Yin

‘… those research projects which attempt to
explain holistically the dynamics of a certain
historical period of a particular social unit.’
(Stoecker 1991)

is a case study?

Intensive vs. extensive

Holistic: attending to interrelationships


Internal context (eg. detailed analysis of internal
social processes, Burawoy)

External context (eg.
ecessarily reified
characterisation of external social forces,

Choose the case study method:

When a ‘how’ question is asked of a contemporary vs.
historical phenomenon, in a situation in which the
researcher has little control, and when the boundaries
between the phenomenon and the context are not
clearly evident (Yin 1994)

For producing ‘exemplars’: ‘Good social science is
problem driven and not methodology driven in the
sense that it employs those methods that for a given
problematic, best help answer the research questions
at hand.’ (Flyvberg, 2006, p 242)

Case study research design

Start with research questions or propositions

Define spatial and temporal
around the case
: the unit of analysis (an
individual, a country’s economy, a community,
an industry, a policy, a social group, an
organisation): provisional

Construct validity, internal validity, external
validity and reliability (Yin 1994)

Contrasting theoretical views

of case studies


Diverse conceptions of case studies:

: only exploratory (‘method of last resort’

: 1)
sui generis
(in its own right), 2) a basis
for grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss)

: loci of generic phenomenon
(claims to universality of ‘primordial practices’)

Critical realist
: case studies are opportunities for
explanatory theory development (Burawoy, Stoecker,

occasions for creative narratives

Contrasting theoretical views

of case studies


The role of theory

generating, testing, avoiding, elaborating

Wider implications beyond the case

The extended case method: extending out from
the field (Burawoy, Zambian copper industry)

Challenge to the (positivist) notion that one
cannot generalise from single cases (Flyvberg,

Case study rationales: single cases

Critical case
: testing a well
formulated theory

Extreme or deviant case
: unusual or problematic

Representative or typical case
: everyday or
commonplace situation (eg. Robert and Helen Lynd’s
community study of
, 1929)

Revelatory case
: new sociology insights (eg. Whyte’s
Street Corner Society
, 1955)

: studying the same case over time.

(Flyvberg, 1006): an exemplary,
prototypical or metaphorical case that highlights more
general characteristics of the society

Case study rationales: multiple cases

By definition, the unusual, critical and the revelatory
case are likely to involve single cases, whereas
exemplary, typical or paradigmatic might be multiple.

A substitute for the experimental techniques of the
natural sciences (Ragin 1987)

Multiple case studies raise new questions: ‘replication’
design (Yin, 1994)

Literal replication
: predicts similar results

Theoretical replication
: predicts contrasting results but
for anticipatable reasons

Necessity of a rich theoretical framework

Holistic vs. embedded case studies

Relevant to both single and multiple case

: a global approach with only one unit
of analysis (eg. an organisation

: more than one unit of
analysis within a case (eg. the organisation as
well as its employees, services, clients,
programmes, etc.)

The role of comparison in and
between cases

Within cases
: nested or embedded cases

Consider internal divisions/tensions/conflicts,
often reflected in differing accounts of what is
going on ‘in’ the case

Between cases
: (multiple case study
rationales); also: representative/typical cases;
paradigmatic cases; similarities and

Comparative method
: contested approach

Case study methods

Usually draws on multiple sources of evidence

BUT may rely exclusively on one method

Commonly contrasted with quantitative surveys

BUT can involve mixed qualitative and
quantitative methods

Common sources of data

Interviews (narrative, life history, semi
or informal), participant observation (and other
observations), documents, photographs, official
records (including statistical information)

Triangulation of data

Research process

Data collection and analysis as a continuing and
iterative process (Tony Elgar, 2009)

First impressions

Exploring and contextualising actors/informants’

Identifying distinctive narratives and their contexts

Drawing out social processes

Tracing temporal sequences

Pursuing puzzles and anomalies


to test analyses’

Feedback and revisits

Discussion: What are some of the
advantages and disadvantages to case
study research?

Discuss for 5 minutes with a partner, then
share your ideas with the group.

Case study research: example

Landscapes and Legacies of Industrial
(Mah, forthcoming, University of
Toronto Press)

Case study design: theoretically driven,
multiple site (3), exemplary/paradigmatic
(Flyvberg), combination of typical and unique
(Yin), drew up criteria for selection.

Iterative, mixed methods, spatial/social
analysis, interviews & observations

Conclusion and discussion

Multiple theoretical views of case studies

Role of theory is important in research design

Case study rationales should be considered
carefully prior to research

Many varieties of case studies (single, multiple,
holistic, embedded, comparative)

Case study boundaries are fuzzy and difficult to

Discussion: workshop (homework task)