Definition of case study in qualitative research

A case study is a research method common in social science. It is based on an in​-depth investigation of a single individual, group, or event.
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  • The case study as a type of qualitative research | | Sodobna PEDAGOGIKA.
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  • Thematic Analysis in Social Work: A Case Study.
  • The case study as a type of qualitative research.

According to its design, case studies in business research can be divided into three categories: explanatory, descriptive and exploratory. This type of case studies focus on phenomena within the contexts of real-life situations. Descriptive case studies aim to analyze the sequence of interpersonal events after a certain amount of time has passed. Studies in business research belonging to this category usually describe culture or sub-culture, and they attempt to discover the key phenomena. Exploratory case study data collection method is often accompanied by additional data collection method s such as interviews, questionnaires, experiments etc.

Danneels used the extended case study design to extend the dynamic capabilities theory. In his famous Smith Corona case, Danneels shows how a company tried to change its resource base.

Based on detailed data, the Smith Corona case provides insights into the resource alteration processes and how dynamic capabilities operate. As a result, the paper fills a process gap in dynamic capability theory. Iterating between data collection and analysis, Danneels revealed resource cognition as an element not considered so far in dynamic capability theory.

The use of the extended case study method is limited to the iteration of data and theory. Second, there is iteration between analysis and existing theory. Commonalities and differences emerged from the comparison of the designs. There is an extensive range between the different designs regarding the research processes. The research question may be modified during the study as well as the variables. This design avoids any propositions regarding relationships. The existing theory contains research gaps which, once identified within the existing theory, lead accordingly to assumed relationships which are the basis for framework and propositions to be matched by empirical data.

There is no research question at the outset, but a curiosity in the case or the case is a facilitator to understand a research issue. Here, the research question is inspired by questioning why an anomaly cannot be explained by the existing theory. What kind of gaps, silences, or internal contradictions demonstrates the insufficiency of the existing theory? Various sampling strategies are used across these case study research designs, including theoretical sampling and purposeful sampling, which serve different objectives. Such a sampling strategy aims to choose a case that is a demonstration of the failure of the theory.

Case Studies

Extreme and unusual cases have other purposes compared to common cases or revelatory cases. A single case may be chosen to investigate deeply into new phenomena. A multiple case study may serve a replication logic by which the findings have relevance beyond the cases under investigation. Either the case is of interest per se or the case represents a good opportunity to understand a theoretical issue.

Although qualitative data are preferred in all of the designs, quantitative data are seen as a possible opportunity to strengthen cases by such data. Finally, data analysis lies within a wide range. The final analysis concentrates on the matching of the framework or propositions with patterns from the data.

As a result, it is unlikely that the specified case study designs contribute to theory in a homogeneous manner. This result will be discussed in light of the question regarding how these case study designs can inform theory at several points of a continuum of theory. This analysis will be outlined in the following sections. In a first step, I review the main elements of a theory continuum. In a second step, I discuss the respective contribution of the previously identified case study research designs to the theory continuum.

What a theory is and what a theory is not is a classic debate Sutton and Staw ; Weick Often, theories are described in terms of understanding relationships between phenomena which have not been or were not well understood before Chiles ; Edmondson and McManus ; Shah and Corley , but there is no overall acceptance as to what constitutes a theory.

Theory can be seen as a final product or as a continuum, and there is an ongoing effort to define different stages of this continuum Andersen and Kragh ; Colquitt and Zapata-Phelan ; Edmondson and McManus ; Snow ; Swedberg In the following section, basic elements of the theory and the construction of the theory continuum are outlined.

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A theory comprises components concepts and constructs , used to identify the necessary elements of the phenomenon under investigation. The second is relationships between components concepts and constructs , explaining the how and whys underlying the relationship.

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Third, temporal and contextual boundaries limit the generalizability of the theory. As a result, definitions of theory emphasize these components, relationships, and boundaries:. Such constructs have to be operationalized and measured. Non-positivists aim at developing concepts on the basis of data that contain richness and complexity of the observed phenomenon instead of narrow definitions and operationalizations of constructs. Gioia et al. In sum, theories are a systematic combination of components and their relationships within boundaries. The use of the terms constructs and concepts is related to different philosophical assumptions reflected in different types of case study designs.

Weick makes an important point that theory is more a continuum than a product. In his view, theorizing is a process containing assumptions, accepted principles, and rules of procedures to explain or predict the behavior of a specified set of phenomena.

Case Study Method

In similar vein, Gilbert and Christensen demonstrate the process character of theory. In their view, a first step of theory building is a careful description of the phenomena. Having already observed and described the phenomena, researchers then classify the phenomena into similar categories. In this phase a framework defines categories and relationships amongst phenomena. In the third phase, researchers build theories to understand causal relationships, and in this phase, a model or theory asserts what factors drive the phenomena and under what circumstances.

The categorization scheme enables the researchers to predict what they will observe. The early drafts of a theory may be vague in terms of the number and adequateness of factors and their relationships. At the end of the continuum, there may be more precise variables and predicted relationships. These theories have to be extended by boundaries considering time and space. Across that continuum, different research strategies have various strengths. Several classifications in the literature intend to match research strategies to the different phases of a theory continuum Andersen and Kragh ; Colquitt and Zapata-Phelan ; Edmondson and McManus ; Snow ; Swedberg These classifications, although there are differences in terms, comprise three phases with distinguishable characteristics.

Here, the careful description of the phenomena is the starting point of theorizing. For example, Snow puts this phase as theory discovery, where analytic understandings are generated by means of detailed examination of data. Edmondson and McManus state the starting phase of a theory as nascent theory providing answers to new questions revealing new connections among phenomena.

Therefore, research questions are open and researchers avoid hypotheses predicting relationships between variables. Swedberg highlights the necessity of observation and extensive involvement with the phenomenon at the early stage of theory-building. It is an attempt to understand something of interest by observing and interpreting social facts.

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Creativity and inspiration are necessary conditions to put observations into concepts and outline a tentative theory. This tentative theory exists in the second phase of the continuum and has to be developed.

3.7 Research Strategy: Case Study

Several possibilities exist. In theory extension, the preexisting constructs are extended to other groups or other contexts. In theoretical refinement, a modification of existing theoretical perspectives is conducted Edmondson and McManus New antecedents, moderators, mediators, and outcomes are investigated, enhancing the explanation power of the tentative theory.

Constructs and relationships are well developed to a mature state; measures are precise and operationalized. Such theories are empirically tested with elaborate methods, and research questions are more precise.