Qualitative Case Study Research: An Initial Primer

Qualitative Case Study Research: An Initial Primer

Rochell R. McWhorter (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA) and Andrea D. Ellinger (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5164-5.ch012


This chapter introduces the concept of qualitative case study research as a prevalent form of empirical inquiry. It begins by defining what a case study is, and articulates the purposes, intentions, and types of case studies. It then describes how to determine if a qualitative case study is an appropriate approach for conducting research. The essential steps associated with designing qualitative case study research are presented and the role of literature and theory are discussed. Approaches for collecting and analyzing case study data are presented along with a focus on contemporary techniques including digital platforms. Writing up and presenting case study findings are discussed. The chapter then articulates how to avoid common pitfalls when engaging in qualitative case study research and concludes with the strengths and limitations associated with this form of empirical inquiry.
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Qualitative Case Study Research: An Initial Primer

According to Yin (2014, p. 19) and other scholars, case study research is a prevalent form of social science research and is a “distinctive form of empirical inquiry,” Case study research is widely used in many disciplines including psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work, nursing, healthcare, education, business, management, community planning, economics and political science (Baskarada, 2014; Merriam, 1998, 2009; Stake, 1995, 2010; Thomas, 2011; Yazan, 2015; Yin, 2003, 2012, 2014). Despite its prevalence, however, there remain several misconceptions, misunderstandings, and concerns associated with rigor (da Mota Pedrosa, Naslund, & Jasmand, 2012; Ellram, 1996; Flyvbjerg, 2006; Gibbert & Ruigrok, 2010; Rule & John, 2015; Runfola, Perna, Baraldi & Gregori, 2017; Tetnowski, 2015; Thomas, 2011; Yin, 2014).

With regard to misconceptions, Ellram (1996) identified some of the common misconceptions which include: case study research and the use of teaching cases as being closely related; that case studies are only appropriate at the exploratory phase of an investigation and cannot be used to describe or test propositions (Yin, 2014); issues associated with lack of rigor; case studies requiring large numbers to provide meaningful results which are not generalizable; and, that anyone case do a case study (p. 94).

Similarly, five common misunderstandings articulated by Flyvbjerg (2006) include: that context-independent knowledge is more valuable than context-dependent knowledge; that individual case studies cannot be generalized and therefore do not make contributions; that they are most useful for generating hypotheses, not for hypotheses testing and theory building; that they tend to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions; and, that it is challenging to develop general propositions and theories from specific case studies (p. 221). Lastly, case study research is also critiqued for a lack of attention to rigor regarding issues associated with validity and reliability (Gibbert, Ruigrok, & Wicki, 2008; Gibbert & Ruigrok, 2010; da Mota Pedrosa et al., 2012). In contrast, Gibbert and Ruigrok (2010, p. 711) contended that “case studies have provided the management field with some of its most ground-breaking insights.” Further, Siggelkow (2007, p. 21) suggested that there are three valuable uses of cases. He indicated that immersion in rich case data can inspire new ideas, can sharpen existing theory by identifying gaps, and can serve as illustrations.

Consequently, the intentions of this chapter are to define what case study is, and is not, the purposes, intentions, and types of case study research, when case study is the preferred approach, and the roles of literature and theory in case study research. It will also address issues associated with rigor, considerations for how to design case studies, how to collect and analyze case study evidence, the use of technology to assist with data management, and how to report findings. In particular, a qualitative perspective will be undertaken with regard to case study research to enable students, researchers and practitioners to more effectively and rigorously develop and evaluate qualitative case study research.

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