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Encyclopedia > Case study

The case study is one of several ways of doing social science research. Other ways include experiments, surveys, multiple histories, and analysis of archival information (Yin 2003). The social sciences are groups of academic disciplines that study the human aspects of the world. ... This article is about the concept. ... In the scientific method, an experiment (Latin: ex- periri, of (or from) trying) is a set of observations performed in the context of solving a particular problem or question, to support or falsify a hypothesis or research concerning phenomena. ... There are several uses of the word survey, relating to two primary meanings: land surveying; and statistical surveys of people or other items, such as animals, organisations, or messages. ... The concept of multiple histories is closely related to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. ...

Rather than using large samples and following a rigid protocol to examine a limited number of variables, case study methods involve an in-depth, longitudinal examination of a single instance or event: a case. They provide a systematic way of looking at events, collecting data, analyzing information, and reporting the results. As a result the researcher may gain a sharpened understanding of why the instance happened as it did, and what might become important to look at more extensively in future research. Case studies lend themselves to both generating and testing hypotheses (Flyvbjerg, 2006). Look up case in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... For other uses, see Data (disambiguation). ... The ASCII codes for the word Wikipedia represented in binary, the numeral system most commonly used for encoding computer information. ... A hypothesis (= assumption in ancient Greek) is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. ...

Yin, on the other hand, suggests that case study should be defined as a research strategy, an empirical inquiry that investigates a phenomenon within its real-life context. Case study research means single and multiple case studies, can include quantitative evidence, relies on multiple sources of evidence and benefits from the prior development of theoretical propositions. He notes that case studies should not be confused with qualitative research and points out that they can be based on any mix of quantitative and qualitative evidence (Yin, 2002). Single-subject research provides the statistical framework for making inferences from quantitative case-study data. This is also supported and well-formulated in (Lamnek, 2005): "The case study is a research approach, situated between concrete data taking techniques and methodologic paradigms". Qualitative research is one of the two major approaches to research methodology in social sciences. ... Single Subject Research Designs aka small-n research designs, quasi-experimental research designs. ...


Types of case study

Exploratory case studies

Exploratory case studies condense the case study process: researchers may undertake them before implementing a large-scale investigation. Where considerable uncertainty exists about program operations, goals, and results, exploratory case studies help identify questions, select measurement constructs, and develop measures; they also serve to safeguard investment in larger studies.

The greatest pitfall in the exploratory study involves premature conclusions: the findings may seem convincing enough for inappropriate release as conclusions. Other pitfalls include the tendency to extend the exploratory phase, and inadequate representation of diversity.

Critical instance case studies

Critical instance case studies examine one or a few sites for one of two purposes. A very frequent application involves the examination of a situation of unique interest, with little or no interest in generalizability. A second, rarer, application entails calling into question a highly generalized or universal assertion and testing it by examining one instance. This method particularly suits answering cause-and-effect questions about the instance of concern.

Inadequate specification of the evaluation question forms the most serious pitfall in this type of study. Correct application of the critical instance case study crucially involves probing the underlying concerns in a request.

Program effects case studies

Program effects case studies can determine the impact of programs and provide inferences about reasons for success or failures.

Prospective case studies

In a prospective case study design, the researcher formulates a set of theory-based hypotheses in respect to the evolution of an on-going social or cultural process and then tests these hypotheses at a pre-determined follow-up time in the future by comparing these hypotheses with the observed process outcomes using "pattern matching" (Campbell, 1966; Trochim, 1989) or a similar technique.

Cumulative case studies

Cumulative case studies aggregate information from several sites collected at different times. The cumulative case study can have a retrospective focus, collecting information across studies done in the past, or a prospective outlook, structuring a series of investigations for different times in the future.

Narrative case studies

Case studies that present findings in a narrative format are called narrative case studies. This involves presenting the case study as events in an unfolding plot with actors and actions. To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Look up plot in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

Embedded case studies

A case study containing more than one sub-unit of analysis is referred to as an embedded case study (Yin, 2002). An embedded case study is a case study containing more than one sub-unit of analysis (Yin, 2003). ...

Case selection

When selecting a case for a case study, researchers often use information-oriented sampling, as opposed to random sampling (Flyvbjerg, 2006). This is because the typical or average case is often not the richest in information. Extreme or atypical cases reveal more information because they activate more basic mechanisms and more actors in the situation studied. In addition, from both an understanding-oriented and an action-oriented perspective, it is often more important to clarify the deeper causes behind a given problem and its consequences than to describe the symptoms of the problem and how frequently they occur. Random samples emphasizing representativeness will seldom be able to produce this kind of insight; it is more appropriate to select some few cases chosen for their validity. Sampling is that part of statistical practice concerned with the selection of individual observations intended to yield some knowledge about a population of concern, especially for the purposes of statistical inference. ...

The following three types of information-oriented cases may be distinguished: (1) Extreme or deviant cases, (2) Critical cases, and (3) Paradigmatic cases.

The extreme case can be well-suited for getting a point across in an especially dramatic way, which often occurs for well-known case studies such as Freud’s ‘Wolf-Man.’ Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud (May 6, 1856–September 23, 1939; (IPA pronunciation: []) was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology. ...

A critical case can be defined as having strategic importance in relation to the general problem. For example, an occupational medicine clinic wanted to investigate whether people working with organic solvents suffered brain damage. Instead of choosing a representative sample among all those enterprises in the clinic’s area that used organic solvents, the clinic strategically located a single workplace where all safety regulations on cleanliness, air quality, and the like, had been fulfilled. This model enterprise became a critical case: if brain damage related to organic solvents could be found at this particular facility, then it was likely that the same problem would exist at other enterprises which were less careful with safety regulations for organic solvents. Via this type of strategic sampling, one can save both time and money in researching a given problem. Another example of critical case sampling is the strategic selection of lead and feather for the test of whether different objects fall with equal velocity. The selection of materials provided the possibility to formulate a generalization characteristic of critical cases, a generalization of the sort, ‘If it is valid for this case, it is valid for all (or many) cases.’ In its negative form, the generalization would be, ‘If it is not valid for this case, then it is not valid for any (or only few) cases.’

A paradigmatic case may be defined as an exemplar or prototype. Thomas Kuhn has shown that the basic skills, or background practices, of natural scientists are organized in terms of ‘exemplars’ or 'paradigms' the role of which in the scientific process can be analyzed. Similarly, scholars like Clifford Geertz and Michel Foucault have often organized their research around specific cultural paradigms: a paradigm for Geertz lay for instance in the ‘deep play’ of the Balinese cockfight, while for Foucault, European prisons and the ‘Panopticon’ are examples. Both instances are examples of paradigmatic cases, that is, cases that highlight more general characteristics of the societies or issues in question. Kuhn has shown that scientific paradigms cannot be expressed as rules or theories. There exists no predictive theory for how predictive theory comes about. A scientific activity is acknowledged or rejected as good science by how close it is to one or more exemplars; that is, practical prototypes of good scientific work. A paradigmatic case of how scientists do science is precisely such a prototype. It operates as a reference point and may function as a focus for the founding of schools of thought. Thomas Samuel Kuhn (July 18, 1922 – June 17, 1996) was an American intellectual who wrote extensively on the history of science and developed several important notions in the philosophy of science. ... This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ... Michel Foucault (IPA pronunciation: ) (October 15, 1926 – June 25, 1984) was a French philosopher and historian. ... Panopticon blueprint by Jeremy Bentham, 1791 The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. ...

For more on case selection, see [1]

Generalizing from case studies

The case study is effective for generalizing using the type of test that Karl Popper called falsification, which forms part of critical reflexivity (Flyvbjerg, 2006). Falsification is one of the most rigorous tests to which a scientific proposition can be subjected: if just one observation does not fit with the proposition it is considered not valid generally and must therefore be either revised or rejected. Popper himself used the now famous example of, "All swans are white," and proposed that just one observation of a single black swan would falsify this proposition and in this way have general significance and stimulate further investigations and theory-building. The case study is well suited for identifying "black swans" because of its in-depth approach: what appears to be "white" often turns out on closer examination to be "black." Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH, FRS, FBA, (July 28, 1902 – September 17, 1994), was an Austrian and British[1] philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics. ... Falsification may mean: The act of disproving a proposition, hypothesis, or theory. ... Binomial name Cygnus atratus Latham, 1790 Subspecies Black Swan New Zealand Swan (extinct) Synonyms Anas atrata Latham, 1790 Chenopis atratus The Black Swan, Cygnus atratus is a large non-migratory waterbird which breeds mainly in the southeast and southwest of Australia. ...

For instance, Galileo’s rejection of Aristotle’s law of gravity was based on a case study selected by information-oriented sampling and not random sampling. The rejection consisted primarily of a conceptual experiment and later on of a practical one. These experiments, with the benefit of hindsight, are self-evident. Nevertheless, Aristotle’s incorrect view of gravity dominated scientific inquiry for nearly two thousand years before it was falsified. In his experimental thinking, Galileo reasoned as follows: if two objects with the same weight are released from the same height at the same time, they will hit the ground simultaneously, having fallen at the same speed. If the two objects are then stuck together into one, this object will have double the weight and will according to the Aristotelian view therefore fall faster than the two individual objects. This conclusion seemed contradictory to Galileo. The only way to avoid the contradiction was to eliminate weight as a determinant factor for acceleration in free fall. Galileo’s experimentalism did not involve a large random sample of trials of objects falling from a wide range of randomly selected heights under varying wind conditions, and so on. Rather, it was a matter of a single experiment, that is, a case study. Aristotle (Greek: AristotélÄ“s) (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. ... Galileo can refer to: Galileo Galilei, astronomer, philosopher, and physicist (1564 - 1642) the Galileo spacecraft, a NASA space probe that visited Jupiter and its moons the Galileo positioning system Life of Galileo, a play by Bertolt Brecht Galileo (1975) - screen adaptation of the play Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht...

Galileo’s view continued to be subjected to doubt, however, and the Aristotelian view was not finally rejected until half a century later, with the invention of the air pump. The air pump made it possible to conduct the ultimate experiment, known by every pupil, whereby a coin or a piece of lead inside a vacuum tube falls with the same speed as a feather. After this experiment, Aristotle’s view could be maintained no longer. What is especially worth noting, however, is that the matter was settled by an individual case due to the clever choice of the extremes of metal and feather. One might call it a critical case, for if Galileo’s thesis held for these materials, it could be expected to be valid for all or a large range of materials. Random and large samples were at no time part of the picture.

By selecting cases strategically in this manner one may arrive at case studies that allow generalization.

For more on generalizing from case studies, see [2]

History of the case study

As a distinct approach to research, use of the case study originated only in the early 20th century. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase case study or case-study back as far as 1934, after the establishment of the concept of a case history in medicine.[citation needed] The Oxford English Dictionary print set The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a dictionary published by the Oxford University Press (OUP), and is the most successful dictionary of the English language, (not to be confused with the one-volume Oxford Dictionary of English, formerly New Oxford Dictionary of English, of...

The use of case studies for the creation of new theory in social sciences has been further developed by the sociologists Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss who presented their research method, Grounded theory, in 1967. The social sciences are groups of academic disciplines that study the human aspects of the world. ... Barney G. Glaser (born 1930), American sociologist and one of the founders of the Grounded theory methodology. ... Anselm L. Strauss (December 18, 1916_September 5, 1996) was a sociologist, who worked the field of medical sociology. ... Grounded theory (GT) is a general research method (most often associated with qualitative research) for social sciences developed by the sociologists Barney Glaser (b. ...

The popularity of case studies in testing hypotheses has developed only in recent decades. One of the areas in which case studies have been gaining popularity is education and in particular educational evaluation. Some of the prominent scholars in educational case study are Robert Stake and Jan Nespor (see references).

Case studies have also been used as a teaching method and as part of professional development, especially in business and legal education. The problem-based learning (PBL) movement is such an example. When used in (non-business) education and professional development, case studies are often referred to as critical incidents (see David Tripp in references). Problem-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogical strategy of active learning often used in higher education, but it can be adapted for use in K-12 education. ...

History of Business Cases

When the Harvard Business School was started, the faculty quickly realized that there were no textbooks suitable to a graduate program in business. Their first solution to this problem was to interview leading practitioners of business and to write detailed accounts of what these managers were doing. Of course the professors could not present these cases as practices to be emulated because there were no criteria available for determining what would succeed and what would not succeed. So the professors instructed their students to read the cases and to come to class prepared to discuss the cases and to offer recommendations for appropriate courses of action. Basically that is the model still being used. See a critique of this approach. Harvard Business School, officially named the Harvard Business School: George F. Baker Foundation, and also known as HBS, is one of the graduate schools of Harvard University. ...

See also

The casebook method, also known as the case method, is the primary method of teaching law in law schools in the United States. ...

Sources and further readings

  • Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, "Building Theories from Case Study Research", The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 532-550; doi:10.2307/258557
  • Siegfried Lamnek. Qualitative Sozialforschung. Lehrbuch. 4. Auflage. Beltz Verlag. Weihnhein, Basel, 2005
  • Charles C. Ragin and Howard S. Becker, eds., What is a Case? Exploring the Foundations of Social Inquiry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). [3]
  • Roland W. Scholz and Olaf Tietje. Embedded Case Study Methods. Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Knowledge. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks 2002, Sage. ISBN 0761919465
  • Robert E. Stake, The Art of Case Study Research (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1995). [4]
  • Bent Flyvbjerg, "Five Misunderstandings About Case Study Research." Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 12, no. 2, April 2006, pp. 219-245. [5]
  • Robert K. Yin. Case Study Research. Design and Methods. Third Edition. Applied social research method series Volume 5. Sage Publications. California, 2002. ISBN 0-7619-2553-8

  Results from FactBites:
Introduction to Case Study (5406 words)
This study replicates and extends the Levy (1988) study, and was conducted at Fairfield University.
Levy (1988) established the use of the case study as appropriate for the research project, and this researcher also used the literature to confirm the use of case methodology in the study at Fairfield University.
Case study questions are posed to the investigator, and must serve to remind that person of the data to be collected and its possible sources.
Case study - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (3022 words)
Case studies can be used not only for inductive theory development, but also as quazi-experiments in deductive theory testing.
In this follow-up study, the formulated hypotheses are compared to the observed outcomes of the social process, and the predictive power of the theory is, thus, evaluated.
The case study is effective for generalizing using the type of test that Karl Popper called falsification, which forms part of critical reflexivity (flyvbjerg 2006).
  More results at FactBites »



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