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A case study involves an up-close, in-depth, and detailed examination of a particular case or cases, within a real-world context. For example, case studies in medicine may focus on an individual patient or ailment; case studies in business might cover a particular firm's strategy or a broader market; similarly, case studies in politics can range from a narrow happening over time (e.g., a specific political campaign) to an enormous undertaking (e.g., a World War). Generally, a case study can highlight nearly any individual, group, organization, event, belief system, or action. A case study does not necessarily have to be one observation (N=1), but may include many observations (one or multiple individuals and entities across multiple time periods, all within the same case study). Case study research has been extensively practiced in both the social and natural sciences.


Case Study Research Designs

As with other social science methods, no single research design dominates case study research. Case studies can use at least four types of designs. First, there may be a "no theory first" type of case study design, which is closely connected to Kathleen M. Eisenhardt's methodological work. A second type of research design highlights the distinction between single- and multiple-case studies, following Robert K. Yin's guidelines and extensive examples. A third design deals with a "social construction of reality", represented by the work of Robert E. Stake. Finally, the design rationale for a case study may be to identify "anomalies". A representative scholar of this design is
Michael Burawoy Michael Burawoy (born 1947) is a British sociologist working within Marxist Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that uses a materialist interpretation of historical development, better known as historical materialism, to understand ...

Michael Burawoy
. Each of these four designs may lead to different applications, and understanding their sometimes unique
ontological Ontology is the branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Ph ...

ontological
and
epistemological Epistemology (; ) is the Outline of philosophy, branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemologists study the nature, origin, and scope of knowledge, epistemic Justification (epistemology), justification, the Reason, rationality o ...

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assumptions becomes important. However, although the designs can have substantial methodological differences, the designs also can be used in explicitly acknowledged combinations with each other. While case studies can be intended to provide bounded explanations of single cases or phenomena, they are often intended to theoretical insights about the features of a broader population.


Case Selection and Structure

Case selection in case study research is generally intended to both find cases that are a representative sample and which have variations on the dimensions of theoretical interest. Using that is solely representative, such as an average or typical case is often not the richest in information. In clarifying lines of history and causation it is more useful to select subjects that offer an interesting, unusual or particularly revealing set of circumstances. A case selection that is based on representativeness will seldom be able to produce these kinds of insights. While random selection of cases is a valid case selection strategy in large-N research, there is a consensus among scholars that it risks generating serious biases in small-N research. Cases should generally be chosen that have a high expected information gain. For example,
outlier In statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data Data (; ) are individual facts, statistics, or items of information, often numeric. In a ...

outlier
cases (those which are extreme, deviant or atypical) can reveal more information than the potentially representative case. A case may also be chosen because of the inherent interest of the case or the circumstances surrounding it. Alternatively it may be chosen because of researchers' in-depth local knowledge; where researchers have this local knowledge they are in a position to "soak and poke" as
Richard Fenno Richard Francis Fenno Jr. (December 12, 1926 – April 21, 2020) was an American political scientist known for his pioneering work on the U.S. Congress and its members Member may refer to: * Military jury, referred to as "Members" in military ...
put it, and thereby to offer reasoned lines of explanation based on this rich knowledge of setting and circumstances. Beyond decisions about case selection and the subject and object of the study, decisions need to be made about purpose, approach and process in the case study. Gary Thomas thus proposes a typology for the case study wherein purposes are first identified (evaluative or exploratory), then approaches are delineated (theory-testing, theory-building or illustrative), then processes are decided upon, with a principal choice being between whether the study is to be single or multiple, and choices also about whether the study is to be retrospective, snapshot or diachronic, and whether it is nested, parallel or sequential. John Gerring and Jason Seawright list seven case selection strategies: # Typical cases are cases that exemplify a stable cross-case relationship. These cases are representative of the larger population of cases, and the purpose of the study is to look ''within'' the case rather than compare it with other cases. # Diverse cases are cases that have variation on the relevant X and Y variables. Due to the range of variation on the relevant variables, these cases are representative of the full population of cases. # Extreme cases are cases that have an extreme value on the X or Y variable relative to other cases. # Deviant cases are cases that defy existing theories and common sense. They not only have extreme values on X or Y (like extreme cases), but defy existing knowledge about causal relations. # Influential cases are cases that are central to a model or theory (for example, Nazi Germany in theories of fascism and the far-right). # Most similar cases are cases that are similar on all the independent variables, except the one of interest to the researcher. # Most different cases are cases that are different on all the independent variables, except the one of interest to the researcher. For theoretical discovery, Jason Seawright recommends using deviant cases or extreme cases that have an extreme value on the X variable.
Arend Lijphart Arend d'Angremond Lijphart (born 17 August 1936, Apeldoorn, Netherlands) is a political scientist specializing in comparative politics, elections and voting systems, Democracy, democratic institutions, and ethnicity and politics. He received his ...
, and Harry Eckstein identified five types of case study research designs (depending on the research objectives), Alexander George and Andrew Bennett added a sixth category: # In atheoretical (or configurative idiographic) case studies the goal is to describe a case very well, but not to contribute to a theory. # In interpretative (or disciplined configurative) case studies the goal is to use established theories to explain a specific case. # In hypothesis-generating (or heuristic) case studies the goal is to inductively identify new variables, hypotheses, causal mechanisms and causal paths. # In theory testing case studies the goal is to assess the validity and scope conditions of existing theories. # In plausibility probes the goal is to assess the plausibility of new hypotheses and theories. # In building block studies of types or subtypes the goal is to identify common patterns across cases. In terms of case selection, Gary King,
Robert Keohane Robert Owen Keohane (; born October 3, 1941) is an American academic An academy ( Attic Greek: Ἀκαδήμεια; Koine Greek Ἀκαδημία) is an institution of secondary or tertiary higher learning, research, or honorary membership. ...
, and
Sidney VerbaSidney Verba (May 26, 1932 – March 4, 2019) was an American political scientist Political science is the scientific study of politics. It is a social science dealing with systems of governance Governance comprises all of the processes of gov ...
warn against " selecting on the dependent variable". They argue for example that researchers cannot make valid causal inferences about war outbreak by only looking at instances where war did happen (the researcher should also look at cases where war did not happen). Scholars of qualitative methods have disputed this claim, however. They argue that selecting on the dependent variable can be useful depending on the purposes of the research. Barbara Geddes shares KKV's concerns with selecting on the dependent variable (she argues that it cannot be used for theory testing purposes), but she argues that selecting on the dependent variable can be useful for the purposes of theory creation and theory modification. King, Keohane and Verba argue that there is no methodological problem in selecting on the explanatory variable, however. They do warn about
multicollinearity In statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional to begin wit ...

multicollinearity
(choosing two or more explanatory variables that perfectly correlate with each other).King, Gary/ Keohane, Robert O./ Verba, Sidney: ''Designing Social Inquiry. Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research''. Princeton University Press, 1994.


Uses and Limits


Uses

Case studies have commonly been seen as a fruitful way to come up hypotheses and generate theories. Case studies are also useful for formulating concepts, which are an important aspect of theory construction. The concepts used in qualitative research will tend to have higher conceptual validity than concepts used in quantitative research (due to conceptual stretching: the unintentional comparison of dissimilar cases). Case studies add descriptive richness. Case studies are suited to explain outcomes in individual cases, which is something that quantitative methods are less equipped to do. Through fine-gained knowledge and description, case studies can fully specify the causal mechanisms in a way that may be harder in a large-N study. In terms of identifying "causal mechanisms", some scholars distinguish between "weak" and "strong chains". Strong chains actively connect elements of the causal chain to produce an outcome whereas weak chains are just intervening variables. Case studies of cases that defy existing theoretical expectations may contribute knowledge by delineating why the cases violate theoretical predictions and specifying the scope conditions of the theory. Case studies are useful in situations of causal complexity where there is
equifinalityEquifinality is the principle that in Open system (systems theory), open systems a given end state can be reached by many potential means. Also meaning that a goal can be reached by many ways. The term and concept is due to Hans Driesch, the developm ...
, complex
interaction effectsIn statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional to begin with a ...
and path dependency. Case studies can identify necessary and insufficient conditions, as well as complex combinations of necessary and sufficient conditions. They argue that case studies may also be useful in identifying the scope conditions of a theory: whether variables are sufficient or necessary to bring about an outcome.


Limitations

''
Designing Social Inquiry ''Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research'' (or KKV) is an influential 1994 book written by Gary King (political scientist), Gary King, Robert Keohane, and Sidney Verba that lays out guidelines for conducting qualitati ...
'', an influential 1994 book written by Gary King,
Robert Keohane Robert Owen Keohane (; born October 3, 1941) is an American academic An academy ( Attic Greek: Ἀκαδήμεια; Koine Greek Ἀκαδημία) is an institution of secondary or tertiary higher learning, research, or honorary membership. ...
, and
Sidney VerbaSidney Verba (May 26, 1932 – March 4, 2019) was an American political scientist Political science is the scientific study of politics. It is a social science dealing with systems of governance Governance comprises all of the processes of gov ...
, primarily applies lessons from regression-oriented analysis to qualitative research, arguing that the same logics of causal inference can be used in both types of research. The authors' recommendation is to increase the number of observations (a recommendation that
Barbara Geddes Barbara Geddes (born October 15, 1944) is an American political science, political scientist. One of the main important theorists of authoritarianism and empirical catalogers of authoritarian regimes, she is currently a full professor at the Depar ...
also makes in ''Paradigms and Sand Castles''), because few observations make it harder to estimate multiple causal effects, as well as increase the risk that there is
measurement error Observational error (or measurement error) is the difference between a measured value of a quantity and its true value.Dodge, Y. (2003) ''The Oxford Dictionary of Statistical Terms'', OUP. In statistics Statistics is the discipline t ...
, and that an event in a single case was caused by random error or unobservable factors. KKV sees process-tracing and qualitative research as being "unable to yield strong causal inference" due to the fact that qualitative scholars would struggle with determining which of many intervening variables truly links the independent variable with a dependent variable. The primary problem is that qualitative research lacks a sufficient number of observations to properly estimate the effects of an independent variable. They write that the number of observations could be increased through various means, but that would simultaneously lead to another problem: that the number of variables would increase and thus reduce
degrees of freedom Degrees of Freedom (often abbreviated df or DOF) refers to the number of independent variables or parameters of a system. In various scientific fields, the word "freedom" is used to describe the limits to which physical movement or other physical ...
. The purported "degrees of freedom" problem that KKV identify is widely considered flawed; while quantitative scholars try to aggregate variables to reduce the number of variables and thus increase the degrees of freedom, qualitative scholars intentionally want their variables to have many different attributes and complexity. For example, James Mahoney writes, "the Bayesian nature of process tracing explains why it is inappropriate to view qualitative research as suffering from a small-N problem and certain standard causal identification problems." By using
Bayesian probability Bayesian probability is an interpretation of the concept of probability, in which, instead of frequentist probability, frequency or propensity probability, propensity of some phenomenon, probability is interpreted as reasonable expectation represe ...
, it may be possible to makes strong causal inferences from a small sliver of data. A commonly described limit of case studies is that they do not lend themselves to generalizability. Some scholars, such as Bent Flyvbjerg, have pushed back on that notion. As small-N research should not rely on random sampling, scholars must be careful in avoiding selection bias when picking suitable cases. A common criticism of qualitative scholarship is that cases are chosen because they are consistent with the scholar's preconceived notions, resulting in biased research. Alexander George and Andrew Bennett note that a common problem in case study research is that of reconciling conflicting interpretations of the same data.


Teaching case studies

Teachers may prepare a case study that will then be used in classrooms in the form of a "teaching" case study (also see
case method The case method is a teaching approach that uses decision-forcing cases to put students in the role of people who were faced with difficult decisions at some point in the past. It developed during the course of the twentieth-century from its origin ...
and
casebook methodThe casebook method, similar to but not exactly the same as the case method, is the primary method of teaching law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules ...
). For instance, as early as 1870 at
Harvard Law School Harvard Law School (HLS) is the law school A law school (also known as a law centre or college of law) is an institution specializing in legal education Legal education is the education of individuals in the principles, practices, and ...
,
Christopher Langdell Christopher Columbus Langdell (May 22, 1826 – July 6, 1906) was an American jurist A jurist is a person with expert knowledge of law; someone who analyses and comments on law. This person is usually a specialist legal scholarnot necessaril ...
departed from the traditional lecture-and-notes approach to teaching
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and began using cases pled before courts as the basis for class discussions. By 1920, this practice had become the dominant pedagogical approach used by
law schools in the United States In the United States, a law school is an institution where students obtain a professional A professional is a member of a profession or any person who earns a living from a specified professional activity. The term also describes the standards ...
. Outside of law, teaching case studies have become popular in many different fields and professions, ranging from business education to science education. The
Harvard Business School Harvard Business School (HBS) is the graduate Graduate refers to someone who has been the subject of a graduation, namely, someone who has completed the requirements of an academic degree. Education * Graduate, an alumnus * Graduate diploma, ...
has been among the most prominent developers and users of teaching case studies. Teachers develop case studies with particular learning objectives in mind. Additional relevant documentation, such as financial statements, time-lines, short biographies, and multimedia supplements (such as video-recordings of interviews) often accompany the case studies. Similarly, teaching case studies have become increasingly popular in science education, covering different biological and physical sciences. The National Center for Case Studies in Teaching Science has made a growing body of teaching case studies available for classroom use, for university as well as secondary school coursework.


See also

*
Casebook methodThe casebook method, similar to but not exactly the same as the case method, is the primary method of teaching law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules ...
*
Case method The case method is a teaching approach that uses decision-forcing cases to put students in the role of people who were faced with difficult decisions at some point in the past. It developed during the course of the twentieth-century from its origin ...
* Case competition *
Case report In medicine Medicine is the science Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something, such as facts ( descriptive knowledge), sk ...


References


Further reading

* * Bartlett, L. and Vavrus, F. (2017). ''Rethinking Case Study Research.'' Routledge. * * * George, Alexander L. and Bennett, Andrew. (2005) ''Case studies and theory development in the social sciences''. MIT Press. * Gerring, John. (2005) ''Case Study Research''. New York: Cambridge University Press. * * * Ragin, Charles C. and Becker, Howard S. Eds. (1992) ''What is a Case? Exploring the Foundations of Social Inquiry''. Cambridge University Press. * Scholz, Roland W. and Tietje, Olaf. (2002) ''Embedded Case Study Methods. Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Knowledge''. Sage. * Straits, Bruce C. and Singleton, Royce A. (2004
''Approaches to Social Research''
4th ed. Oxford University Press. . * *


External links

{{Authority control Evidence Evaluation methods
Scientific method A scientific method is a sequence or collection of processes that are considered characteristic of scientific investigation and the acquisition of new scientific knowledge based upon physical evidence Evidence, broadly construed, is anything p ...