Single Case Study Analysis For Education

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Se. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

 

 

Case study is a valuable method of research, with distinctive characteristics that make it ideal for many types of investigations. It can also be used in combination with other methods. Its use and reliability should make it a more widely used methodology, once its features are better understood by potential researchers

Case study research excels at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue or object and can extend experience or add strength to what is already known through previous research. Case studies emphasize detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationships. Researchers have used the case study research method for many years across a variety of disciplines. Social scientists, in particular, have made wide use of this qualitative research method to examine contemporary real-life situations .

Case study research, through reports of past studies, allows the exploration and understanding of complex issues. It can be considered a robust research method particularly when a holistic ,in-depth investigation is required. Recognized as a tool in many social science studies, the role of case study method in research becomes more prominent when issues with regard to education, sociology and community based problems, were raised. One of the reasons for the recognition of case study as a research method is that researchers were becoming more concerned about the limitations of quantitative methods in providing holistic and in-depth explanations of the social and behavioral problems in question. Through case study methods, a researcher is able to go beyond the quantitative statistical results and understand the behavioral conditions through the actor’s perspective

A case study is a research method  based on an in-depth investigation of a single individual, group, or event. By including both quantitative and qualitative data, case study helps explain both the process and outcome of a phenomenon through complete observation, reconstruction and analysis of the cases under investigation .

CONCEPT  OF CASE STUDY

Case study can be defined in a variety of ways. as case study is a specific instance that is frequently designed to illustrate a more general principle.

Researcher Robert K. Yin defines the case study research method as an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used

Case studies are particularistic, descriptive, and heuristic and rely heavily on inductive reasoning in handling multiple data sources ‘as ‘it tries to illustrate a decision or set of decisions: why they were taken, how they were implemented, and with what result’. It can be defined as an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a single entity, phenomenon, or social unit, as it is based on

In-depth, detailed data from wide data source.

Case studies observe effects in real contexts, recognizing that context is a powerful determinant of both cause and effects.

THE PURPOSE OF CASE STUDY

Case study can be a useful research method that can enable readers to understand how ideas and abstract principles can fit together.

Wallace  suggest that case study research is aimed at:

  • Solving particular problems
  • Applying theories into practice
  • Generating hypotheses
  • Providing illustrations

The case study is concerned with the antecedents of such complex phenomena as delinquency or reading disability. This is most frequently used in a clinical rather than a research setting; it become research only to the extent that it permits the deviation of generalizations of relatively broad applicability. In general case studies serve the greatest research functions through the suggestion of hypotheses that can be investigated more adequately by more rigorous techniques.

The purpose of case study is not to represent the world, but to represent the case. Case study has been one of important research methodologies in the category of empirical inquiry.    Research is ‘empirical’ when it employs observation, description, and case study as research techniques. On the other hand, Researchers from different disciplines view the term “case”, more or less, in different meanings. Case study is intended to portray, analyze and interpret the uniqueness of real individuals and situations through accessible accounts and to present and represent reality.

In education practitioners study schools or groups of schools ; curricula; the effect of innovations; the implementation of materials; classrooms; teachers; students. And in

Language learning, researchers often study mother tongue acquisition and  developments by looking at individual learners, and at what they have in common.

Case studies can be either single or multiple-case designs.

Single cases are used to confirm or challenge a theory, or to represent a unique or extreme case. Single-case studies are also ideal for revelatory cases where an observer may have access to a phenomenon that was previously inaccessible. Single-case designs require careful investigation to avoid misrepresentation and to maximize the investigator’s access to the evidence. These studies can be holistic or embedded the latter occurring when the same case study involves more than one unit of analysis.

Multiple-case studies follow replication logic. This is not to be confused with sampling logic where a selection is made out of a population, for inclusion in the study. This type of sample selection is improper in a case study. Each individual case study consists of a “whole” study, in which facts are gathered from various sources and conclusions drawn on those facts

CHATECTORISTICS OF THE CASE STUDY

2.A descriptive study

a. (I.e. the data collected constitute descriptions of psychological processes and events, and of the contexts in which they occurred (qualitative data).

b. The main emphasis is always on the construction of verbal descriptions of behavior or experience but quantitative data may be collected.

c. High levels of detail are provided.

2. Narrowly focused.

a. Typically a case study offers a description of only a single individual, and sometimes about groups.

b. Often the case study focuses on a limited aspect of a person, such as their psychopathological symptoms.

3. Combines objective and subjective data

a. i.e. the researcher may combine objective and subjective data: All are regarded as valid data for analysis, and as a basis for inferences within the case study.

i. The objective description of behavior and its context

ii. Details of the subjective aspect, such as feelings, beliefs, impressions or interpretations. In fact, a case study is uniquely able to offer a means of achieving an in-depth understanding of the behavior and experience of a single individual.

4. Process-oriented.

a. The case study method enables the researcher to explore and describe the nature of processes, which occur over time.

b. In contrast to the experimental method, which basically provides a stilled‘snapshot’ of processes, which may be continuing over time like forexample the development of language in children over time

FEATURES OF CASE STUDY

Sturman put it that a distinguishing feature of case studies is that human systems have a wholeness or integrity to them rather than being a loose connection of traits, necessitating in-depth investigation. On these considerations  the case study approach has several features as follows:

  • It is concerned with a rich and vivid description of events relevant to the case.
  • It provides a chronological narrative of events relevant to the case.
  • It blends a description of events with the analysis of them.
  • It focuses on individual actors or groups of actors, and seeks to understand their perceptions of events.
  • It highlights specific events that are relevant to the case.
  • The researcher is integrally involved in the case.
  • An attempt is made to portray the richness of the case in writing up the report

There are some other features also in the case study ;

  • Case studies are set in temporal, geographical, organizational, institutional and other contexts that enable boundaries to be drawn around the case.
  • Case studies  can be defined by individuals and groups involved
  • Case studies  can be defined by participants’ roles and functions in the case

CLASSIFICATION OF CASE-STUDIES

Case study can be classified in different ways, and the type preferred will depend on the objective of the research and probably on the paradigm underpinning it.

A number of taxonomies were put forward by many researchers from different aspects.

Yin  identifies three types of case studies as follows:

  • Exploratory (as a pilot to other studies or research questions) set to explore any phenomenon in the data which serves as a point of interest to the researcher. In this case study also, prior fieldwork and small-scale data collection may be conducted before the research questions and hypotheses are proposed. As a prelude, this initial work helps prepare a framework of the study. A pilot study is considered an example of an exploratory case study  and is crucial in determining the protocol that will be used.
  • Descriptive (providing narrative accounts) set to describe the natural phenomena which occur within the data in question, for instance, what different strategies are used by a reader and how the reader use them. The goal set by the researcher is to describe the data as they occur. The descriptive case studies may be in a narrative form The challenge of a descriptive case study is that the researcher mustbegin with a descriptive theory to support the description of the phenomenon or story. If this fails there is the possibility that the description lacks rigour and that problems may occur during the project.
  • Explanatory (testing theories) examine the data closely both at a surface and deep level in order to explain the phenomena in the data.. On the basis of the data, the researcher may then form a theory and set to test this theory. Furthermore, explanatory cases are also deployed for causal studies where pattern- matching can be used to investigate certain phenomena in very complex and multivariate cases.

Merriam also put forward a three-way schema:

  • Descriptive (narrative accounts)
  • Interpretative (developing conceptual categories inductively in order to examine initial assumption) the researcher aims to interpret the data by developing conceptual categories, supporting or challenging the assumptions made regarding them.
  • Evaluative (explaining and judging) the researcher goes further by adding their judgment to the phenomena found in the data

Stake looks at the classification from the point of view of the purpose informing the initial choice, and distinguishes between:

  • The intrinsic case study, where the interest is in the case for its own sake, based on uniqueness. a researcher examines the case for its own sake. For instance, why does student A, age eight, fail to read when most children at that age can already read?
  • The instrumental casestudy, selected to help in the understanding of something else, based on issues. the researcher selects a small group of subjects inorder to examine a certain pattern of behavior, for instance, to see how tertiary level students study for examination.
  • The collective case study, groups of individual studies that are undertaken to gain a fuller picture, more than one case studied. the researcher coordinates data from several different sources, such as schools or individuals.

Stenhouse develops a typology of case studies.

  • Neo-ethnographic’ an in-depth investigation of a single case by a participant observer
  • Evaluative’. ‘a single case or group of cases studied at such depth as the evaluation of policy or practice will allow (usually condensed field work)’.
  • Multi-site case study, which consists of ‘condensed field work undertaken by a team of workers on a number of sites and possibly offering an alternative approach to research to that based on sampling and statistical inference’
  • Teacher research.  This should be one of accessible approaches in that this type is ‘classroom action research or school case studies undertaken by teachers who use their participant status as a basis on which to build skills of observation and analysis’

PROCESS OF CASE STUDY

A case study, when it is planned or designed, usually may follow the typical frame work of a research arranged by Morrison :

  • Orienting decisions
  • Research design and methodology
  • Data analysis
  • Presenting and reporting the results

But in planning a case study, Adelman  suggest the following issues should be taken into careful consideration in conducting case studies:

  • The use of primary and secondary sources;
  • The opportunities to check data;
  • Triangulation ( including peer examination of the findings, respondent validation and reflexivity);
  • Data collection methods (to be discussed in the following section)
  • Data analysis and interpretation, and where appropriate, theory generation;
  • The writing of the report.

Nisbet and Watt suggest three main stages in undertaking a case study.

  • An open phase, without selectivity or prejudgment.\
  • Progressive focusing enables a narrower field of focus to be established, identifying key foci for subsequent study and data collection.
  • A draft interpretation is prepared which needs to be checked with respondents before appearing in the final form.

Asserting the reliability of the case study

Yin presented the protocol as a major component in asserting the reliability of the case study research. A typical protocol should have the following sections:

  • An overview of the case study project (objectives, issues, topics being investigated)
  • Field procedures (credentials and access to sites, sources of information)
  • Case study questions (specific questions that the investigator must keep in mind during data collection)
  • A guide for case study report (outline, format for the narrative)

The overview should communicate to the reader the general topic of inquiry and the purpose of the case study. The field procedures mostly involve data collection issues and must be properly designed. The investigator does not control the data collection environment as in other research strategies; hence the procedures become all the more important. During interviews, which by nature are open ended, the subject’s schedule must dictate the activity. Gaining access to the subject organization, having sufficient resources while in the field, clearly scheduling data collection activities, and providing for unanticipated events, must all be planned.

 

ORGANIZING AND CONDUCTING RESEARCH

Many well-known case study researchers such as Robert E. Stake, Helen Simons, and Robert K. Yin have suggested techniques for organizing and conducting the research successfully. Thus introduction to case study research proposes six steps be used:

Step 1. Determine and Define the Research Questions

The first step in case study research is to establish a firm research focus to which the researcher can refer over the course of study of a complex phenomenon or object. The researcher establishes the focus of the study by forming questions about the situation or problem to be studied and determining a purpose for the study. The research object in a case study is often a program, an entity, a person, or a group of people. Each object is likely to be intricately connected to political, social, historical, and personal issues, providing wide ranging possibilities for questions and adding complexity to the case study. The researcher investigates the object of the case study in depth using a variety of data gathering methods to produce evidence that leads to understanding of the case and answers the research questions.

The study’s questions are most likely to be “how” and “why” questions, and their definition is the first task of the researcher. To assist in targeting and formulating the questions, researchers conduct a literature review. This review establishes what research has been previously conducted and leads to refined, insightful questions about the problem. Careful definition of the questions at the start pinpoints where to look for evidence and helps determine the methods of analysis to be used in the study. The literature review, definition of the purpose of the case study, and early determination of the potential audience for the final report  will guide how the study will be designed, conducted, and publicly reported.

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

Step 2. Select the Cases and Determine Data Gathering and Analysis Techniques

During the design phase of case study research, the researcher determines what approaches to use in selecting single or multiple real-life cases to examine in depth and which instruments and data gathering approaches to use. When using multiple cases, each case is treated as a single case. Each cases conclusions  can then be used as information contributing to the whole study, but each case remains a single case. Exemplary case studies carefully select cases and carefully examine the choices available from among many research tools available in order to increase the validity of the study. Careful discrimination at the point of selection also helps erect boundaries around the case.

The researcher must determine whether to study cases which are unique in some way or cases which are considered typical and may also select cases to represent a variety of geographic regions, a variety of size parameters, or other parameters. A useful step in the selection process is to repeatedly refer back to the purpose of the study in order to focus attention on where to look for cases and evidence that will satisfy the purpose of the study and answer the research questions posed. Selecting multiple or single cases is a key element, but a case study can include more than one unit of embedded analysis.

A key strength of the case study method involves using multiple sources and techniques in the data gathering process. The researcher determines in advance what evidence to gather and what analysis techniques to use with the data to answer the research questions. Data gathered is normally largely qualitative, but it may also be quantitative. Tools to collect data can include surveys, interviews, documentation review, observation, and even the collection of physical artifacts

McDonough introduce the questionnaires and structured interview schedules in case studies since these techniques allow for numerical analysis of elicited data. They also suggest that coded observation and factual logs will make use of pre-specified categories of information, which would contribute greatly to the examination of large-scale trends.

He list some other possible techniques catering for different aims and approaches to data collection as follows:

  • Naturalistic and descriptive observation
  • Narrative diaries
  • Unstructured and ethnographic interviews
  • Verbal reports
  • Collection of existing information

In the case of case analysis, the wide range of ways includes correlation, tabulation, tallying, coding, thematic frequency and saliency, quantitative content analysis, and so on

Stake , and Yin identified six sources of evidence in case studies.

Documents could be letters, memoranda, agendas, administrative documents, newspaper articles, or any document that is germane to the investigation. Documents are also useful for making inferences about events. Documents can lead to false leads, in the hands of inexperienced researchers, which has been a criticism of case study research. Documents are communications between parties in the study, the researcher being a vicarious observer; keeping this in mind will help the investigator avoid being misled by such documents.

Archival documents can be service records, organizational records, lists of names, survey data, and other such records. The investigator has to be careful in evaluating the accuracy of the records before using them

Interviews are one of the most important sources of case study information. There are several forms of interviews that are possible: Open-ended, Focused, and Structured or survey. In an open-ended interview, respondents are asked to comment about certain events. They may propose solutions or provide insight into events. They may also corroborate evidence obtained from other sources. The researcher must avoid becoming dependent on a single informant, and seek the same data from other sources to verify its authenticity.

The focused interview is used in a situation where the respondent is interviewed for a short period of time, usually answering set questions. This technique is often used to confirm data collected from another source.

The structured interview is similar to a survey. The questions are detailed and developed in advance, much as they are in a survey

Direct observation occurs when a field visit is conducted during the case study. It could be as simple as casual data collection activities. This technique is useful for providing additional information about the topic being studied. Participant-observation makes the researcher into an active participant in the events being studied. This often occurs in studies of groups. The technique provides some unusual opportunities for collecting data.

Physical artifacts can be physical evidence that may be collected during the he perspective of the researcher can be broadened as a result of the discovery.

It is important to keep in mind that not all sources are relevant for all case studies .The investigator should be capable of dealing with all of them, should it be necessary, but each case will present different opportunities for data collection.

There are some conditions that arise when a case researcher must start data collection before the study questions have been defined Another important point to review is the benefit of using rival hypotheses and theories as a means of adding quality control to the case study. This improves the perception of the fairness and serious thinking of the researcher.

Throughout the design phase, researchers must ensure that the study is well constructed to ensure construct validity, internal validity, external validity, and reliability. Construct validity requires the researcher to use the correct measures for the concepts being studied. Internal validity that certain conditions lead to other conditions and requires the use of multiple pieces of evidence from multiple sources to uncover convergent lines of inquiry. The researcher strives to establish a chain of evidence forward and backward. External validity reflects whether or not findings are able to  generalize  beyond the immediate case or cases; the more variations in places, people, and procedures a case study can withstand and still yield the same findings, the more external validity. Techniques such as cross-case examination and within-case examination along with literature review helps ensure external validity.

Reliability refers to the stability, accuracy, and precision of measurement. Exemplary case study design ensures that the procedures used are well documented and can be repeated with the same results over and over again.

Step 3. Prepare to Collect the Data

Because case study research generates a large amount of data from multiple sources, systematic organization of the data is important to prevent the researcher from becoming overwhelmed by the amount of data and to prevent the researcher from losing sight of the original research purpose and questions. Advance preparation assists in handling large amounts of data in a documented and systematic fashion. Researchers prepare databases to assist with categorizing, sorting, storing, and retrieving data for analysis.

Good case studies prepare good training programs for investigators, establish clear protocols and procedures in advance of investigator field work, and conduct a pilot study in advance of moving into the field in order to remove obvious barriers and problems.

The investigator training program covers the basic concepts of the study, terminology, processes, and methods, and teaches investigators how to properly apply the techniques being used in the study. The program also trains investigators to understand how the gathering of data using multiple techniques strengthens the study by providing opportunities for triangulation during the analysis phase of the study. The program covers protocols for case study research, including time deadlines, formats for narrative reporting and field notes, guidelines for collection of documents, and guidelines for field procedures to be used.

Investigators need to be good listeners who can hear exactly the words being used by those interviewed. Qualifications for investigators also include being able to ask good questions and interpret answers. Good investigators review documents looking for facts, but also read between the lines and pursue collaborative evidence elsewhere when that seems appropriate.

Investigators need to be flexible in real-life situations and not feel threatened by unexpected change, missed appointments, or lack of office space. Investigators need to understand the purpose of the study and grasp the issues and must be open to contrary findings. Investigators must also be aware that they are going into the world of real human beings who may be threatened or unsure of what the case study will bring.

After investigators are trained, the final advance preparation step is to select a pilot site and conduct a pilot test using each data gathering method so that problematic areas can be uncovered and corrected. Researchers need to anticipate key problems and events, identify key people, prepare letters of introduction, establish rules for confidentiality, and actively seek opportunities to revisit and revise the research design in order to address and add to the original set of research questions.

Step 4. Collect Data in the Field

The researcher must collect and store multiple sources of evidence comprehensively and systematically, in formats that can be referenced and sorted so that converging lines of inquiry and patterns can be uncovered. Researchers carefully observe the object of the case study and identify causal factors associated with the observed phenomenon. Renegotiation of arrangements with the objects of the study or addition of questions to interviews may be necessary as the study progresses. Case study research is flexible, but when changes are made, they are documented systematically.

Good case studies use field notes and databases to categorize and reference data so that it is readily available for subsequent reinterpretation. Field notes record feelings and intuitive hunches, pose questions, and document the work in progress. They record testimonies, stories, and illustrations which can be used in later reports. They may warn of impending bias because of the detailed exposure of the client to special attention, or give an early signal that a pattern is emerging. They assist in determining whether or not the inquiry needs to be reformulated or redefined based on what is being observed. Field notes should be kept separate from the data being collected and stored for analysis.

Maintaining the relationship between the issue and the evidence is mandatory. The researcher may enter some data into a database and physically store other data, but the researcher documents, classifies, and cross-references all evidence so that it can be efficiently recalled for sorting and examination over the course of the study.

Step 5. Evaluate and Analyze the Evidence

This aspect of the case study methodology is the least developed .As a result, some researchers have suggested that if the study were made conducive to statistical analysis, the process would be easier and more acceptable. This quantitative approach would be appealing to some of the critics of the case study methodology. Miles and Huberman suggested analytic techniques such as rearranging the arrays, placing the evidence in a matrix of categories, creating flowcharts or data displays, tabulating the frequency of different events, using means, variances and cross tabulations to examine the relationships between variables, and other such techniques to facilitate analysis.

There must first be an analytic strategy, that will lead to conclusions. Yin presented two strategies for general use: One is to rely on theoretical propositions of the study, and then to analyze the evidence based on those propositions. The other technique is to develop a case description, which would be a framework for organizing the case study. In other situations, the original objective of the case study may help to identify some causal links that could be analyzed.

Cambell described “pattern-matching” as a useful technique for linking data to the propositions. He  asserted that pattern-matching is a situation where several pieces of information from the same case may be related to some theoretical proposition.

Construct validity is especially problematic in case study research. because of potential investigator subjectivity.

Yin proposed three remedies to counteract this: using multiple sources of evidence, establishing a chain of evidence, and having a draft case study report reviewed by key informants. Internal validity is a concern only in causal (explanatory) cases. This is usually a problem of “inferences” in case studies, and can be dealt with using pattern-matching, which has been described above. External validity deals with knowing whether the results are able  to generalize beyond the immediate case. Reliability is achieved in many ways in a case study

Pattern-matching is another major mode of analysis. This type of logic compares an empirical pattern with a predicted one. Internal validity is enhanced when the patterns coincide. If the case study is an explanatory one, the patterns may be related to the dependent or independent variables. If it is a descriptive study, the predicted pattern must be defined prior to data collection

This researcher examines the proposed methodology for the development of survey instruments. This aspect is an important element of the data gathering function in the study.The researcher examines raw data using many interpretations in order to find linkages between the research object and the outcomes with reference to the original research questions. Throughout the evaluation and analysis process, the researcher remains open to new opportunities and insights. The case study method, with its use of multiple data collection methods and analysis techniques, provides researchers with opportunities to triangulate data in order to strengthen the research findings and conclusions.

The tactics used in analysis force researchers to move beyond initial impressions to improve the likelihood of accurate and reliable findings. Good case studies will deliberately sort the data in many different ways to expose or create new insights and will deliberately look for conflicting data to disconfirm the analysis. Researchers categorize, tabulate, and recombine data to address the initial propositions or purpose of the study, and conduct cross-checks of facts and discrepancies in accounts. Focused, short, repeat interviews may be necessary to gather additional data to verify key observations or check a fact.

Specific techniques include placing information into arrays, creating matrices of categories, creating flow charts or other displays, and tabulating frequency of events. Researchers use the quantitative data that has been collected to corroborate and support the qualitative data which is most useful for understanding the rationale or theory underlying relationships. Another technique is to use multiple investigators to gain the advantage provided when a variety of perspectives and insights examine the data and the patterns. When the multiple observations converge, confidence in the findings increases. Conflicting perceptions, on the other hand, cause the researchers to pry more deeply.

Another technique, the cross-case search for patterns, keeps investigators from reaching premature conclusions by requiring that investigators look at the data in many different ways. Cross-case analysis divides the data by type across all cases investigated. One researcher then examines the data of that type thoroughly. When a pattern from one data type is corroborated by the evidence from another, the finding is stronger. When evidence conflicts, deeper probing of the differences is necessary to identify the cause or source of conflict. In all cases, the researcher treats the evidence fairly to produce analytic conclusions answering the original “how” and “why” research questions.

Step 6. Prepare the report

The guide for the case study report is often neglected, but case studies do not have the uniform outline, as do other research reports. It is essential to plan this report as the case develops, to avoid problems at the end.

Exemplary case studies report the data in a way that transforms a complex issue into one that can be understood, allowing the reader to question and examine the study and reach an understanding independent of the researcher. The goal of the written report is to portray a complex problem in a way that conveys a vicarious experience to the reader. Case studies present data in very publicly accessible ways and may lead the reader to apply the experience in his or her own real-life situation. Researchers pay particular attention to displaying sufficient evidence to gain the readers confidence that all avenues have been explored, clearly communicating the boundaries of the case, and giving special attention to conflicting propositions

Techniques for composing the report can include handling each case as a separate chapter or treating the case as a chronological recounting. Some researchers report the case study as a story. During the report preparation process, researchers critically examine the document looking for ways the report is incomplete. The researcher uses representative audience groups to review and comment on the draft document. Based on the comments, the researcher rewrites and makes revisions. Some case study researchers suggest that the document review audience include a journalist and some suggest that the documents should be reviewed by the participants in the study.

APPLYING THE CASE STUDY METHOD TO AN ELECTRONIC COMMUNITY NETWORK

By way of example, we apply these six steps to an example study of multiple participants in an electronic community network. All participants are non-profit organizations which have chosen an electronic community network on the World Wide Web as a method of delivering information to the public. The case study method is applicable to this set of users because it can be used to examine the issue of whether or not the electronic community network is beneficial in some way to the organization and what those benefits might be

Step 1. Determine and Define the Research QuestionsIn general, electronic community networks have three distinct types of users, each one a good candidate for case study research. The three groups of users include people around the world who use the electronic community network, the non-profit organizations using the electronic community network to provide information to potential users of their services, and the “community” that forms as the result of interacting with other participants on the electronic community network.

In this case, the researcher is primarily interested in determining whether or not the electronic community network is beneficial in some way to non-profit organization participants. The researcher begins with a review of the literature to determine what prior studies have determined about this issue and uses the literature to define the following questions for the study of the non-profit organizations providing information to the electronic community network:

Step 2. Select the Cases and Determine Data Gathering and Analysis Techniques

Many communities have constructed electronic community networks on the World Wide Web. At the outset of the design phase, the researcher determines that only one of these networks will be studied and further sets the study boundaries to include only some of the  organizations represented on that one network. The researcher contacts the Board of Directors of the community network, who are open to the idea of the case study. The researcher also gathers computer generated log data from the network and, using this data, determines that an in-depth study of representative organizations from four categories — health care, environmental, education, and religious — is feasible

The researcher considers multiple sources of data for this study and selects document examination, the gathering and study of organizational documents such as administrative reports, agendas, letters, minutes, and news clippings for each of the organizations. In this case, the investigator decides to also conduct open-ended interviews with key members of each organization using a check-list to guide interviewers during the interview process so that uniformity and consistency can be assured in the data, which could include facts, opinions, and unexpected insights. In this case study, the researcher cannot employ direct observation as a tool because some of the organizations involved have no office and meet infrequently to conduct business directly related to the electronic community network. The researcher instead decides to survey all Board members of the selected organizations using a questionnaire as a third data gathering tool. Within-case and cross-case analysis of data are selected as analysis techniques.

Step 3. Prepare to Collect the Data

The researcher prepares to collect data by first contacting each organization to be studied to gain their cooperation, explain the purpose of the study, and assemble key contact information. Since data to be collected and examined includes organizational documents, the researcher states his intent to request copies of these documents, and plans for storage, classification, and retrieval of these items, as well as the interview and survey data. The researcher develops a formal investigator training program to include seminar topics on non-profit organizations and their structures in each of the four categories selected for this study. The training program also includes practice sessions in conducting open-ended interviews and documenting sources, suggested field notes formats, and a detailed explanation of the purpose of the case study. The researcher selects a fifth case as a pilot case, and the investigators apply the data gathering tools to the pilot case to determine whether the planned timeline is feasible and whether or not the interview and survey questions are appropriate and effective. Based on the results of the pilot, the researcher makes adjustments and assigns investigators particular cases which become their area of expertise in the evaluation and analysis of the data

Step 4. Collect Data in the Field

Investigators first arrange to visit with the Board of Directors of each  organization as a group and ask for copies of the organization’s mission, news clippings, brochures, and any other written material describing the organization and its purpose. The investigator reviews the purpose of the study with the entire Board, schedules individual interview times with as many Board members as can cooperate, confirms key contact data, and requests that all Board members respond to the written survey which will be mailed later.

Investigators take written notes during the interview and record field notes after the interview is completed. The interviews, although open-ended, are structured around the research questions defined at the start of the case study.

The investigators field notes record impressions and questions that might assist with the interpretation of the interview data. The investigator makes note of stories told during open-ended interviews and flags them for potential use in the final report. Data is entered into the database.

The researcher mails written surveys to all Board members with a requested return date and a stamped return envelope. Once the surveys are returned, the researcher codes and enters the data into the database so that it can be used independently as well as integrated when the case study progresses to the point of cross-case examination of data for all four cases.

Step 5. Evaluate and Analyze the Data

Within-case analysis is the first analysis technique used with each non-profit organization under study. The assigned investigator studies each organizations written documentation and survey response data as a separate case to identify unique patterns within the data for that single organization. Individual investigators prepare detailed case study write-ups for each organization, categorizing interview questions and answers and examining the data for within-group similarities and differences.

Cross-case analysis follows. Investigators examine pairs of cases, categorizing the similarities and differences in each pair. Investigators then examine similar pairs for differences, and dissimilar pairs for similarities. As patterns begin to emerge, certain evidence may stand out as being in conflict with the patterns. In those cases, the investigator conducts follow-up focused interviews to confirm or correct the initial data in order to tie the evidence to the findings and to state relationships in answer to the research questions

Step 6 Prepare the Report

The outline of the report includes thanking all of the participants, stating the problem, listing the research questions, describing the methods used to conduct the research and any potential flaws in the method used, explaining the data gathering and analysis techniques used, and concluding with the answers to the questions and suggestions for further research. Key features of the report include a retelling of specific stories related to the successes or disappointments experienced by the organizations that were conveyed during data collection, and answers or comments illuminating issues directly related to the research questions. The researcher develops each issue using quotations or other details from the data collected, and points out the triangulation of data where applicable. The report also includes confirming and conflicting findings from literature reviews. The report conclusion makes assertions and suggestions for further research activity, so that another researcher may apply these techniques to another electronic community network and its participants to determine whether similar findings are identifiable in other communities. Final report distribution includes all participants

A report of case studies made for the purpose of studying the circumstances common to several instances of some particular educational condition, should present a schedule of the antecedents studied, the amount of each factor present in each particular situation ,a record of whether the antecedent was or was not judged to be the determining factor in each specific situation, the adjustments made, and the results secured.

ADVANTAGES OF CASE STUDY

The examination of the data is most often conducted within the context of its use that is, within the situation in which the activity takes place. A case study might be interested, for example, in the process by which a subject comprehends an authentic text. To explore the strategies the reader uses, the researcher must observe the subject within her environment, such as reading in classroom or reading for leisure. This would contrast with experiment, for instance, which deliberate isolates a phenomenon from its context, focusing on a limited number of variables.

Variations in terms of intrinsic, instrumental and collective approaches to case studies allow for both quantitative and qualitative analyses of the data. Some longitudinal studies of individual subjects, for instance, rely on qualitative data from journal writings which give descriptive accounts of behavior. On the other hand, there are also a number of case studies which seek evidence from both numerical and categorical responses of individual subjects

Help to explain the complexities of real life situationsThe detailed qualitative accounts often produced in case studies not only help to explore or describe the data in real-life environment, but also help to explain the complexities of real life situations which may not be captured through experimental or survey research. A case  of reading strategies used by an individual subject, for instance, can give access to not only the numerical information concerning the strategies used, but also the reasons for strategy use, and how the strategies are used in relation to other strategies. As reading behaviors involve complex cognitive processes, each reading strategy cannot be examined in isolation but rather in relation to other strategies .

Stimulating new research. A case study can sometimes highlight extraordinary behavior, which can stimulate new research. For example, Luria’s study of the memory man  “S”  enabled  researchers to  begin to investigate  cases  of  unusual memory abilities, and the cognitive mechanisms, which made  such phenomena possible. Without the case  study, it is  unlikely that this area of  research would have been opened up in the same way.

Contradicting  established  theory.  Case  studies  may  sometimes  contradict established psychological theories. Searle cites the case study of severely deprived Czechoslovak twins, and the remarkable recovery they showed when placed in caring social environment, as an example of a case study which challenged the established theory of the early years of life being a critical period for human social development,

Giving new insight into phenomena or experience. Because case studies are so rich in information, they can give insight into phenomena, which we could not gain in any other way. For example, the case of S.B., a blind man given sight in adulthood, gave researchers a particularly detailed insight into the processes and experiences of perception, highlighting aspects of the experience, which had not yet previously been suspected.

Permitting investigation of otherwise inaccessible situations. Searle  claimed that the case study gives psychological researchers the possibility to investigate cases,  which  could  not  possibly  be  engineered  in  research  laboratories.  One example  of  this  is  the  case  of  Genie,  the  severely  deprived  child  whose  case enabled  researchers to  study the effect  of extreme  social  deprivation continued from infancy to puberty. To create such a situation for research purposes would be totally  unethical  and  not  possible  but  when  Genie  was  discovered  by  social workers, the use of case-study methodology permitted much deeper insights into the mechanisms, processes and consequences of her experience and recovery.

LIMITATIONS OF CASE STUDY

Despite these advantages, case studies have received criticisms

Are often accused of lack of rigor. Case study method has always been criticized for its lack of rigor and the tendency for a researcher to have a biased interpretation of the data. Too many times, the case study investigator has been sloppy, and has allowed equivocal evidence or biased views to influence the direction of the findings and conclusions.

Provide very little basis for scientific generalization since they use a small number of subjects, some conducted with only one subject. The question commonly raised is “How can you generalize from a single case?”

Often labeled as being too long, difficult to conduct and producing a massive amount of documentation . In particular, case studies of ethnographic or longitudinal nature can elicit a great deal of data over a period of time. The danger comes  the data are not managed and organized systematically.

Dependency on a single case exploration making it difficult to reach a generalizing conclusion . Grounds for establishing reliability and generality are also subjected to skepticism when a small sampling is deployed

Considered case methodology ‘microscopic’ because of the limited sampling cases. , however, parameter establishment and objective setting of the research are far more important in case study method than a big sample size

Replication not possible. Uniqueness of data means that they are valid for only one person. While this is strength in some forms of research, it is a weakness for others, because it means that findings cannot be replicated and so some types of reliability measures are very low.

The  researcher’s  own  subjective  feelings  may  influence  the  case  study

(researcher bias). Both in the collection of data and their interpretation. This

is  particularly true of many of the  famous case studies in psychology’s history,

Memory  distortions. The  heavy  reliance  on memory when  reconstructing the case history means that the information about past experiences and events may be notoriously subject to distortion. Very few people have full documentation of all various aspects of their lives, and there is always a tendency that people focus on factors which they find important themselves while they may be unaware of other possible influences.

Not possible to replicate findings. Serious problems in generalising the results of a unique individual to other people because the findings may not be representative of any particular population.

CONCLUSION

The situation with reference to use of case study materials might be greatly clarified , if the investigator understood that the case study method may serve two purpose ;(1)

To determine the antecedents of some particular instance of a phenomenon,(2)To discover the circumstances common to a number of instances of some condition.

The first type of case study deal with similar problems and, further the scientific study of education .In this respect reports of the case study indicate that it had served  the intended purpose. The report  contains evidence concerning the initial status of the phenomenon under investigation, a statement of the symptoms observed, conditions drawn ,evidence concerning the supposed antecedents of the unsatisfactory status of the condition under investigation, the remedial adjustments made, and the observed effects ,Although it is true that case studies of a particular phenomenon were designed first of all to improve some given condition, they may however, provide suggested procedure for those who deal with similar problems .

Case studies are considered useful in research as they enable researchers to examine data at the micro level. As an alternative to quantitative or qualitative research, case studies can be a practical solution when a big sample population is difficult to obtain. Although case studies have various advantages, in that they present data of real-life situations and they provide better insights into the detailed behaviors of the subjects of interest,

Critics of the case study method believe that the intense exposure to study of the case biases the findings. Some dismiss case study research as useful only as an exploratory tool A common misconception is that the various research strategies should be arrayed hierarchically. Thus, we were once taught to believe that case studies were appropriate for the exploratory phase of an investigation that surveys and histories were appropriate for the descriptive phase, and that experiments were the only way of doing exploratory or causal inquiries.

The hierarchical view, however, is incorrect. Finally, case studies are far from being only an exploratory strategy. Yet researchers continue to use the case study research method with success in carefully planned and crafted studies of real-life situations, issues, and problems

Often time, case study research is dismissed as useful only as an exploratory tool. Despite these criticisms, researchers continue to deploy the case study method particularly in studies of real-life situations governing social issues and problems. Case studies from various disciplines and domains are widely reported in the literature.

Case studies are complex because they generally involve multiple sources of data, may include multiple cases within a study, and produce large amounts of data for analysis. Researchers from many disciplines use the case study method to build upon theory, to produce new theory, to dispute or challenge theory, to explain a situation, to provide a basis to apply solutions to situations, to explore, or to describe an object or phenomenon. The advantages of the case study method are its applicability to real-life, contemporary, human situations and its public accessibility through written reports. Case study results relate directly to the common readers everyday experience and facilitate an understanding of complex real-life situations.

REFERENCES

Busha, C. H., & Harter, S. P. (1980). Research methods in librarianship, techniques and interpretation. New York: Academic Press

DuMont, R. R. (1975). The large urban public library as an agency of social reform, 1890-1915. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Goldhor, H. (1972). An introduction to scientific research in librarianship. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois.

Hamel, J. (with Dufour, S., & Fortin, D.). (1993). Case study methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Hayes, N. (2000) Doing Psychological Research. Gathering and analysing data. Buckingham: Open

University Press. p. 133.6

McClure, C. R., & Hernon, P. (Eds.). (1991). Library and information science research: perspectives and strategies for improvement. Norwood, NJ: Ablex

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Qualitative data analysis: A sourcebook of new methods. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. .

Paris, M. (1988). Library school closings: Four case studies. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Patton, M. Q. (1980). Qualitative evaluation methods. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage

Powell, R. R. (1985). Basic research methods for librarians. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Simons, H. (1980). Towards a science of the singular: Essays about case study in educational research and evaluation. Norwich, UK: University of East Anglia, Centre for Applied Research in Education.

Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Taylor, R. S. (1967). Question-negotiation and information-seeking in libraries. Bethlehem, PA: Center for the Information Sciences.

Weiss, C.H., & Bucuvala, M. J. (1980). Social science research and decision-making. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wholey, J. S., Hatry, H. P., & Newcomer, K. E. (Eds.). (1994). Handbook of practical program evaluation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Yin, R. K. (1984). Case study research: Design and methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Acknowledgement

Dr. Suraksha Bansal for being the scribe to this article.

 

 

 

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Define the Main Principles, and Analyse the Advantages and Limitations of One of the Following Research Methods: (i) Single Case Study Analysis.

As Andrew Bennett and Colin Elman have recently noted, qualitative research methods presently enjoy “an almost unprecedented popularity and vitality… in the international relations sub-field”, such that they are now “indisputably prominent, if not pre-eminent” (2010: 499). This is, they suggest, due in no small part to the considerable advantages that case study methods in particular have to offer in studying the “complex and relatively unstructured and infrequent phenomena that lie at the heart of the subfield” (Bennett and Elman, 2007: 171). Using selected examples from within the International Relations literature[1], this paper aims to provide a brief overview of the main principles and distinctive advantages and limitations of single case study analysis. Divided into three inter-related sections, the paper therefore begins by first identifying the underlying principles that serve to constitute the case study as a particular research strategy, noting the somewhat contested nature of the approach in ontological, epistemological, and methodological terms. The second part then looks to the principal single case study types and their associated advantages, including those from within the recent ‘third generation’ of qualitative International Relations (IR) research. The final section of the paper then discusses the most commonly articulated limitations of single case studies; while accepting their susceptibility to criticism, it is however suggested that such weaknesses are somewhat exaggerated. The paper concludes that single case study analysis has a great deal to offer as a means of both understanding and explaining contemporary international relations.

Principles

The term ‘case study’, John Gerring has suggested, is “a definitional morass… Evidently, researchers have many different things in mind when they talk about case study research” (2006a: 17). It is possible, however, to distil some of the more commonly-agreed principles. One of the most prominent advocates of case study research, Robert Yin (2009: 14) defines it as “an empirical enquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon in depth and within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident”. What this definition usefully captures is that case studies are intended – unlike more superficial and generalising methods – to provide a level of detail and understanding, similar to the ethnographer Clifford Geertz’s (1973) notion of ‘thick description’, that allows for the thorough analysis of the complex and particularistic nature of distinct phenomena. Another frequently cited proponent of the approach, Robert Stake, notes that as a form of research the case study “is defined by interest in an individual case, not by the methods of inquiry used”, and that “the object of study is a specific, unique, bounded system” (2008: 443, 445). As such, three key points can be derived from this – respectively concerning issues of ontology, epistemology, and methodology – that are central to the principles of single case study research.

First, the vital notion of ‘boundedness’ when it comes to the particular unit of analysis means that defining principles should incorporate both the synchronic (spatial) and diachronic (temporal) elements of any so-called ‘case’. As Gerring puts it, a case study should be “an intensive study of a single unit… a spatially bounded phenomenon – e.g. a nation-state, revolution, political party, election, or person – observed at a single point in time or over some delimited period of time” (2004: 342). It is important to note, however, that – whereas Gerring refers to a single unit of analysis – it may be that attention also necessarily be given to particular sub-units. This points to the important difference between what Yin refers to as an ‘holistic’ case design, with a single unit of analysis, and an ’embedded’ case design with multiple units of analysis (Yin, 2009: 50-52). The former, for example, would examine only the overall nature of an international organization, whereas the latter would also look to specific departments, programmes, or policies etc.

Secondly, as Tim May notes of the case study approach, “even the most fervent advocates acknowledge that the term has entered into understandings with little specification or discussion of purpose and process” (2011: 220). One of the principal reasons for this, he argues, is the relationship between the use of case studies in social research and the differing epistemological traditions – positivist, interpretivist, and others – within which it has been utilised. Philosophy of science concerns are obviously a complex issue, and beyond the scope of much of this paper. That said, the issue of how it is that we know what we know – of whether or not a single independent reality exists of which we as researchers can seek to provide explanation – does lead us to an important distinction to be made between so-called idiographic and nomothetic case studies (Gerring, 2006b). The former refers to those which purport to explain only a single case, are concerned with particularisation, and hence are typically (although not exclusively) associated with more interpretivist approaches. The latter are those focused studies that reflect upon a larger population and are more concerned with generalisation, as is often so with more positivist approaches[2]. The importance of this distinction, and its relation to the advantages and limitations of single case study analysis, is returned to below.

Thirdly, in methodological terms, given that the case study has often been seen as more of an interpretivist and idiographic tool, it has also been associated with a distinctly qualitative approach (Bryman, 2009: 67-68). However, as Yin notes, case studies can – like all forms of social science research – be exploratory, descriptive, and/or explanatory in nature. It is “a common misconception”, he notes, “that the various research methods should be arrayed hierarchically… many social scientists still deeply believe that case studies are only appropriate for the exploratory phase of an investigation” (Yin, 2009: 6). If case studies can reliably perform any or all three of these roles – and given that their in-depth approach may also require multiple sources of data and the within-case triangulation of methods – then it becomes readily apparent that they should not be limited to only one research paradigm. Exploratory and descriptive studies usually tend toward the qualitative and inductive, whereas explanatory studies are more often quantitative and deductive (David and Sutton, 2011: 165-166). As such, the association of case study analysis with a qualitative approach is a “methodological affinity, not a definitional requirement” (Gerring, 2006a: 36). It is perhaps better to think of case studies as transparadigmatic; it is mistaken to assume single case study analysis to adhere exclusively to a qualitative methodology (or an interpretivist epistemology) even if it – or rather, practitioners of it – may be so inclined. By extension, this also implies that single case study analysis therefore remains an option for a multitude of IR theories and issue areas; it is how this can be put to researchers’ advantage that is the subject of the next section.

Advantages

Having elucidated the defining principles of the single case study approach, the paper now turns to an overview of its main benefits. As noted above, a lack of consensus still exists within the wider social science literature on the principles and purposes – and by extension the advantages and limitations – of case study research. Given that this paper is directed towards the particular sub-field of International Relations, it suggests Bennett and Elman’s (2010) more discipline-specific understanding of contemporary case study methods as an analytical framework. It begins however, by discussing Harry Eckstein’s seminal (1975) contribution to the potential advantages of the case study approach within the wider social sciences.

Eckstein proposed a taxonomy which usefully identified what he considered to be the five most relevant types of case study. Firstly were so-called configurative-idiographic studies, distinctly interpretivist in orientation and predicated on the assumption that “one cannot attain prediction and control in the natural science sense, but only understanding (verstehen)… subjective values and modes of cognition are crucial” (1975: 132). Eckstein’s own sceptical view was that any interpreter ‘simply’ considers a body of observations that are not self-explanatory and “without hard rules of interpretation, may discern in them any number of patterns that are more or less equally plausible” (1975: 134). Those of a more post-modernist bent, of course – sharing an “incredulity towards meta-narratives”, in Lyotard’s (1994: xxiv) evocative phrase – would instead suggest that this more free-form approach actually be advantageous in delving into the subtleties and particularities of individual cases.

Eckstein’s four other types of case study, meanwhile, promote a more nomothetic (and positivist) usage. As described, disciplined-configurative studies were essentially about the use of pre-existing general theories, with a case acting “passively, in the main, as a receptacle for putting theories to work” (Eckstein, 1975: 136). As opposed to the opportunity this presented primarily for theory application, Eckstein identified heuristic case studies as explicit theoretical stimulants – thus having instead the intended advantage of theory-building. So-called plausibility probes entailed preliminary attempts to determine whether initial hypotheses should be considered sound enough to warrant more rigorous and extensive testing. Finally, and perhaps most notably, Eckstein then outlined the idea of crucial case studies, within which he also included the idea of ‘most-likely’ and ‘least-likely’ cases; the essential characteristic of crucial cases being their specific theory-testing function.

Whilst Eckstein’s was an early contribution to refining the case study approach, Yin’s (2009: 47-52) more recent delineation of possible single case designs similarly assigns them roles in the applying, testing, or building of theory, as well as in the study of unique cases[3]. As a subset of the latter, however, Jack Levy (2008) notes that the advantages of idiographic cases are actually twofold. Firstly, as inductive/descriptive cases – akin to Eckstein’s configurative-idiographic cases – whereby they are highly descriptive, lacking in an explicit theoretical framework and therefore taking the form of “total history”. Secondly, they can operate as theory-guided case studies, but ones that seek only to explain or interpret a single historical episode rather than generalise beyond the case. Not only does this therefore incorporate ‘single-outcome’ studies concerned with establishing causal inference (Gerring, 2006b), it also provides room for the more postmodern approaches within IR theory, such as discourse analysis, that may have developed a distinct methodology but do not seek traditional social scientific forms of explanation.

Applying specifically to the state of the field in contemporary IR, Bennett and Elman identify a ‘third generation’ of mainstream qualitative scholars – rooted in a pragmatic scientific realist epistemology and advocating a pluralistic approach to methodology – that have, over the last fifteen years, “revised or added to essentially every aspect of traditional case study research methods” (2010: 502). They identify ‘process tracing’ as having emerged from this as a central method of within-case analysis. As Bennett and Checkel observe, this carries the advantage of offering a methodologically rigorous “analysis of evidence on processes, sequences, and conjunctures of events within a case, for the purposes of either developing or testing hypotheses about causal mechanisms that might causally explain the case” (2012: 10).

Harnessing various methods, process tracing may entail the inductive use of evidence from within a case to develop explanatory hypotheses, and deductive examination of the observable implications of hypothesised causal mechanisms to test their explanatory capability[4]. It involves providing not only a coherent explanation of the key sequential steps in a hypothesised process, but also sensitivity to alternative explanations as well as potential biases in the available evidence (Bennett and Elman 2010: 503-504). John Owen (1994), for example, demonstrates the advantages of process tracing in analysing whether the causal factors underpinning democratic peace theory are – as liberalism suggests – not epiphenomenal, but variously normative, institutional, or some given combination of the two or other unexplained mechanism inherent to liberal states. Within-case process tracing has also been identified as advantageous in addressing the complexity of path-dependent explanations and critical junctures – as for example with the development of political regime types – and their constituent elements of causal possibility, contingency, closure, and constraint (Bennett and Elman, 2006b).

Bennett and Elman (2010: 505-506) also identify the advantages of single case studies that are implicitly comparative: deviant, most-likely, least-likely, and crucial cases. Of these, so-called deviant cases are those whose outcome does not fit with prior theoretical expectations or wider empirical patterns – again, the use of inductive process tracing has the advantage of potentially generating new hypotheses from these, either particular to that individual case or potentially generalisable to a broader population. A classic example here is that of post-independence India as an outlier to the standard modernisation theory of democratisation, which holds that higher levels of socio-economic development are typically required for the transition to, and consolidation of, democratic rule (Lipset, 1959; Diamond, 1992). Absent these factors, MacMillan’s single case study analysis (2008) suggests the particularistic importance of the British colonial heritage, the ideology and leadership of the Indian National Congress, and the size and heterogeneity of the federal state.

Most-likely cases, as per Eckstein above, are those in which a theory is to be considered likely to provide a good explanation if it is to have any application at all, whereas least-likely cases are ‘tough test’ ones in which the posited theory is unlikely to provide good explanation (Bennett and Elman, 2010: 505). Levy (2008) neatly refers to the inferential logic of the least-likely case as the ‘Sinatra inference’ – if a theory can make it here, it can make it anywhere. Conversely, if a theory cannot pass a most-likely case, it is seriously impugned. Single case analysis can therefore be valuable for the testing of theoretical propositions, provided that predictions are relatively precise and measurement error is low (Levy, 2008: 12-13). As Gerring rightly observes of this potential for falsification:

“a positivist orientation toward the work of social science militates toward a greater appreciation of the case study format, not a denigration of that format, as is usually supposed” (Gerring, 2007: 247, emphasis added).

In summary, the various forms of single case study analysis can – through the application of multiple qualitative and/or quantitative research methods – provide a nuanced, empirically-rich, holistic account of specific phenomena. This may be particularly appropriate for those phenomena that are simply less amenable to more superficial measures and tests (or indeed any substantive form of quantification) as well as those for which our reasons for understanding and/or explaining them are irreducibly subjective – as, for example, with many of the normative and ethical issues associated with the practice of international relations. From various epistemological and analytical standpoints, single case study analysis can incorporate both idiographic sui generis cases and, where the potential for generalisation may exist, nomothetic case studies suitable for the testing and building of causal hypotheses. Finally, it should not be ignored that a signal advantage of the case study – with particular relevance to international relations – also exists at a more practical rather than theoretical level. This is, as Eckstein noted, “that it is economical for all resources: money, manpower, time, effort… especially important, of course, if studies are inherently costly, as they are if units are complex collective individuals” (1975: 149-150, emphasis added).

Limitations

Single case study analysis has, however, been subject to a number of criticisms, the most common of which concern the inter-related issues of methodological rigour, researcher subjectivity, and external validity. With regard to the first point, the prototypical view here is that of Zeev Maoz (2002: 164-165), who suggests that “the use of the case study absolves the author from any kind of methodological considerations. Case studies have become in many cases a synonym for freeform research where anything goes”. The absence of systematic procedures for case study research is something that Yin (2009: 14-15) sees as traditionally the greatest concern due to a relative absence of methodological guidelines. As the previous section suggests, this critique seems somewhat unfair; many contemporary case study practitioners – and representing various strands of IR theory – have increasingly sought to clarify and develop their methodological techniques and epistemological grounding (Bennett and Elman, 2010: 499-500).

A second issue, again also incorporating issues of construct validity, concerns that of the reliability and replicability of various forms of single case study analysis. This is usually tied to a broader critique of qualitative research methods as a whole. However, whereas the latter obviously tend toward an explicitly-acknowledged interpretive basis for meanings, reasons, and understandings:

“quantitative measures appear objective, but only so long as we don’t ask questions about where and how the data were produced… pure objectivity is not a meaningful concept if the goal is to measure intangibles [as] these concepts only exist because we can interpret them” (Berg and Lune, 2010: 340).

The question of researcher subjectivity is a valid one, and it may be intended only as a methodological critique of what are obviously less formalised and researcher-independent methods (Verschuren, 2003). Owen (1994) and Layne’s (1994) contradictory process tracing results of interdemocratic war-avoidance during the Anglo-American crisis of 1861 to 1863 – from liberal and realist standpoints respectively – are a useful example. However, it does also rest on certain assumptions that can raise deeper and potentially irreconcilable ontological and epistemological issues. There are, regardless, plenty such as Bent Flyvbjerg (2006: 237) who suggest that the case study contains no greater bias toward verification than other methods of inquiry, and that “on the contrary, experience indicates that the case study contains a greater bias toward falsification of preconceived notions than toward verification”.

The third and arguably most prominent critique of single case study analysis is the issue of external validity or generalisability. How is it that one case can reliably offer anything beyond the particular? “We always do better (or, in the extreme, no worse) with more observation as the basis of our generalization”, as King et al write; “in all social science research and all prediction, it is important that we be as explicit as possible about the degree of uncertainty that accompanies out prediction” (1994: 212). This is an unavoidably valid criticism. It may be that theories which pass a single crucial case study test, for example, require rare antecedent conditions and therefore actually have little explanatory range. These conditions may emerge more clearly, as Van Evera (1997: 51-54) notes, from large-N studies in which cases that lack them present themselves as outliers exhibiting a theory’s cause but without its predicted outcome. As with the case of Indian democratisation above, it would logically be preferable to conduct large-N analysis beforehand to identify that state’s non-representative nature in relation to the broader population.

There are, however, three important qualifiers to the argument about generalisation that deserve particular mention here. The first is that with regard to an idiographic single-outcome case study, as Eckstein notes, the criticism is “mitigated by the fact that its capability to do so [is] never claimed by its exponents; in fact it is often explicitly repudiated” (1975: 134). Criticism of generalisability is of little relevance when the intention is one of particularisation. A second qualifier relates to the difference between statistical and analytical generalisation; single case studies are clearly less appropriate for the former but arguably retain significant utility for the latter – the difference also between explanatory and exploratory, or theory-testing and theory-building, as discussed above. As Gerring puts it, “theory confirmation/disconfirmation is not the case study’s strong suit” (2004: 350). A third qualification relates to the issue of case selection. As Seawright and Gerring (2008) note, the generalisability of case studies can be increased by the strategic selection of cases. Representative or random samples may not be the most appropriate, given that they may not provide the richest insight (or indeed, that a random and unknown deviant case may appear). Instead, and properly used, atypical or extreme cases “often reveal more information because they activate more actors… and more basic mechanisms in the situation studied” (Flyvbjerg, 2006). Of course, this also points to the very serious limitation, as hinted at with the case of India above, that poor case selection may alternatively lead to overgeneralisation and/or grievous misunderstandings of the relationship between variables or processes (Bennett and Elman, 2006a: 460-463).

Conclusion

As Tim May (2011: 226) notes, “the goal for many proponents of case studies […] is to overcome dichotomies between generalizing and particularizing, quantitative and qualitative, deductive and inductive techniques”. Research aims should drive methodological choices, rather than narrow and dogmatic preconceived approaches. As demonstrated above, there are various advantages to both idiographic and nomothetic single case study analyses – notably the empirically-rich, context-specific, holistic accounts that they have to offer, and their contribution to theory-building and, to a lesser extent, that of theory-testing. Furthermore, while they do possess clear limitations, any research method involves necessary trade-offs; the inherent weaknesses of any one method, however, can potentially be offset by situating them within a broader, pluralistic mixed-method research strategy. Whether or not single case studies are used in this fashion, they clearly have a great deal to offer.

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[1] The paper follows convention by differentiating between ‘International Relations’ as the academic discipline and ‘international relations’ as the subject of study.

[2] There is some similarity here with Stake’s (2008: 445-447) notion of intrinsic cases, those undertaken for a better understanding of the particular case, and instrumental ones that provide insight for the purposes of a wider external interest.

[3] These may be unique in the idiographic sense, or in nomothetic terms as an exception to the generalising suppositions of either probabilistic or deterministic theories (as per deviant cases, below).

[4] Although there are “philosophical hurdles to mount”, according to Bennett and Checkel, there exists no a priori reason as to why process tracing (as typically grounded in scientific realism) is fundamentally incompatible with various strands of positivism or interpretivism (2012: 18-19). By extension, it can therefore be incorporated by a range of contemporary mainstream IR theories.


Written by: Ben Willis
Written at: University of Plymouth
Written for: David Brockington
Date written: January 2013

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