STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER
• What is a case study?
• Generalization in case study
• Reliability and validity in case studies
• What makes a good case study researcher?
• Examples of kinds of case study
• Why participant observation?
• Planning a case study
• Data in case studies
• Recording observations
• Writing up a case study
WHAT IS A CASE STUDY?
• A case study is a specific, holistic, often unique
instance that is frequently designed to illustrate a
more general principle;
• The study of an instance in action;
• The study of an evolving situation;
• Case studies portray ‘what it is like’ to be in a
• Case studies often include direct observations
(participant and non-participant) and interviews.
WHAT IS A CASE?
• A person;
• A group;
• An organization;
• An event;
ELEMENTS OF CASE STUDY
• Rich, vivid and holistic description (‘thick
description’) and portrayal of events, contexts and
situations through the eyes of participants
(including the researcher);
• Contexts are temporal, physical, organizational,
• Chronological narrative;
• Combination of description, analysis and
• Focus on actors and participants;
• Let the data speak for themselves (don’t over-
TYPES OF CASE STUDY
• Exploratory (pilot);
• Descriptive (e.g. narrative);
• Intrinsic case studies: (to understand the case in
• Instrumental case studies (examining a particular
case to gain insight into an issue or theory);
• Collective case studies (groups of individual
studies to gain a fuller picture).
DESIGNS IN CASE STUDY
• Single-case design
– a critical case, an extreme case, a unique case, a representative or
typical case, a revelatory case (an opportunity to research a case
• Embedded, single-case design
– more than one ‘unit of analysis’ is incorporated into the design, e.g.
a case study of a whole school might also use sub-units of classes,
teachers, students, parents, and each of these might require
different data collection instruments.
• Multiple-case design
– comparative case studies within an overall piece of research, or
replication case studies.
• Embedded multiple-case design
– different sub-units may be involved in each of the different cases,
and a range of instruments used for each sub-unit, and each is
kept separate to each case.
KEY QUESTIONS IN CASE STUDY
• What exactly is the case(s)?
• How are cases identified and selected?
• What kind of case study is this (what is its
• What is reliable evidence?
• What is objective evidence?
• What is an appropriate selection to include from
the wealth of generated data?
• What is a fair and accurate account?
• Under what circumstances is it fair to take an
exceptional case or a critical event?
• What kind of sampling is most appropriate?
KEY QUESTIONS IN CASE STUDY
• To what extent is triangulation required and how
will this be addressed?
• What is the nature of the validation process in the
• How will the balance be struck between
uniqueness and generalization?
• What is the most appropriate form of writing up
and reporting the case study?
• What ethical issues are exposed in undertaking
the case study?
DATA IN CASE STUDIES
• Observations (structured to unstructured);
• Field notes;
• Interviews (structured to unstructured);
ROLE OF RESEARCHER
STRENGTHS OF CASE STUDIES
• Can establish cause and effect;
• Rooted in real contexts;
• Regard context as determinant of behaviour;
• The whole is more than the sum of the parts
• Strong on reality;
• Recognize and accept complexity,uniqueness and
STRENGTHS OF CASE STUDIES
• Lead to action (link to action research);
• Can focus on critical incidents;
• Written in accessible style and are immediately
• Practicable (can be done by a single researcher);
• Can permit generalizations and application to
GENERALIZATION IN CASE STUDY
• From the single instance to the class of
• From features of the single case to classes
with the same features;
• From the single features of part of the case to
the whole of the case;
• From a single case to a theoretical extension
or theoretical generalization.
RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY IN
• Construct validity
• Internal validity
• External validity
• Concurrent validity
• Convergent validity
• Ecological validity
• Avoidance of bias
THE NEED FOR A CHAIN OF EVIDENCE
A GOOD CASE STUDY
RESEARCHER MUST BE . . .
• An effective questioner, listener and prober
• An effective observer
• Able to make informed inferences
• Adaptable to changing and emerging
• Versed in research methods
• Able to collate and synthesize data
• Able to maintain confidences and to act with
discretion and confidentiality
• Versed in relevant subject knowledge
WHY PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION?
• Observation studies are superior to
experiments and surveys when data are
being collected on non-verbal behaviour.
• Investigators can discern ongoing behaviour
as it occurs and are able to make appropriate
notes about its salient features.
• Researchers can develop more intimate and
informal relationships with those they are
observing, and in natural environments.
• Case study observations are less reactive
than other types of data-gathering methods.
• Direct observation is faithful to the real-life, in
situ and holistic nature of a case study.
PLANNING A CASE STUDY
• The particular circumstances of the case:
– The possible disruption to individual
participants that participation might entail;
– Negotiating access to people;
– Negotiating ownership of the data;
– Negotiating release of the data.
PLANNING A CASE STUDY
• The conduct of the study including:
– The use of primary and secondary sources;
– The opportunities to check data;
– Peer and respondent validation;
– Data collection methods;
– Data analysis and interpretation;
– Theory generation;
– Writing the report
• Consequences of the research (and for whom).
STAGES IN CASE STUDY
• Start with a wide field of focus;
• Progressive focusing;
• Draft interpretation/report (avoid generalizing
CONTINUA OF DATA IN CASE STUDIES
DATA TYPES IN CASE STUDY
• Archival records
• Direct observation
• Participant observation
• Physical artifacts
• Actual data gathered, recorded and
organized by entry, and the researcher’s
on the data.
• Record the notes as quickly as possible after
• Discipline yourself to write notes quickly.
• Dictating rather than writing is acceptable.
• Word-processing field notes is vastly
preferable to handwriting.
• Keep backup copies of field notes.
• The notes ought to be full enough adequately
to summon up for one again, months later, a
reasonably vivid picture of any described
WRITING UP A CASE STUDY
• Executive summary followed by detail.
• A prose account is provided, interspersed with
relevant figures, tables, emergent issues,
analysis and conclusion.
• Examine the same case through two or more
lenses (e.g. explanatory, descriptive, theoretical).
• Follow a simple sequence or chronology,
interspersed with commentaries, interpretations
• Have a structure that follows theoretical
constructs or a case that is being made.
• Order by main issues.
• Consider rival explanations.
PROBLEMS WITH CASE STUDIES
• Difficult to organize;
• Limited generalizability;
• Problems of cross-checking;
• Risk of bias, selectivity and subjectivity;
AN EXAMPLE OF A CASE STUDY:
LEARNING TO LABOUR
Willis, P. (1977)
Purpose: to find out how working class kids
get working class jobs and others let them
• the need to link macro and micro sociology;
• The need to analyze schooling in terms of
macro-constraints and human agency
• The need to see schools as sites of contestation,
resistance and struggle in both a micro and
(a) Ethnographic study of a group of males ini their
final year of school and then in their first year
beyond school, working in factories and other
short-term, manual employment
(b) Study of their behaviour in school and how it
feeds into their choice of post-school
ELEMENTS OF LADS’ CULTURE
• Opposition to authority and rejection of
conformity: clothing; smoking and lying;
• Celebration of the informal group;
• Excitement is out of school;
• Rejection of the literary tradition;
• Masculine chauvinism – sexism;
• Attempt to gain informal control of the work
• Rejection of the conformists in the factory;
• Rejection of ‘theory’ and certification;
• Rejection of the coercion which underlines the
• Shirking work/absenteeism/taking time off;
• No break on the taboo of informing;
• Speaking up for yourself;
• Present oriented;
• Rejection of mental labour and celebration of
• The behaviours and values which the lads sought
and practised in school lead them into choosing
deliberately and positively those post-school
occupations that reinforce and let them practise
these behaviours and values;
• There is a continuity between the lads’ life styles at
school and their life styles out of school and post-
• The need for immediate cash, immediate
gratification, anti-authority behaviour, chauvinism,
rejection of mental labour, and celebration of the
informal group find expression in school and post-
Working class kids get working class jobs
because that is what they choose and what
they are driven to choose by the values that