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Types of case studies in educational research

What is a case study and what is it good for? In this article, we review dominant approaches to case study research and point out their limitations. Next, we propose a new approach - the comparative case study approach - that attends simultaneously to global, national, and local dimensions of case-based research. We contend that new approaches are necessitated by conceptual shifts in the social sciences, specifically in relation to culture, context, space, place, and comparison itself.

Case Study; Research Methods; Comparison; Context Introduction Case study methodology is widely used across multiple disciplines and fields. But what is a case, and what is a case study? In his introduction to the fascinating edited volume called What Is a Case?

Case is often defined as place. In his essay, Ragin posed a series of provocative questions: What is the relationship between a case and a variable? Are there times when these mean the same thing? What is the difference between case-driven studies and variable-driven case studies? Is a case study constituted by empirical units e.

The answer to each of these questions has implications for how a researcher thinks about and uses case studies.

In this article, we offer an alterative conceptualization of case studies and the value of comparative case study research. We begin in the first section by discussing traditional conceptualizations of case studies.

  1. Current Issues in Comparative Education , v. The approach is aimed at exploring the historical and contemporary processes that have produced a sense of shared place, purpose, or identity.
  2. Stake, too, defined qualitative case studies as those that are holistic considering the interrelationship of phenomenon and context , empirical, interpretive, and empathic focused on meaning. In his essay, Ragin posed a series of provocative questions.
  3. As Gupta and Ferguson 1992, p.

We pinpoint the limitations of traditional models of case studies, focusing on the frequently narrow notions of culture, context, and comparison. We then explain why we favor process-oriented approaches and how they are more appropriate for a comparative case study CCS.

We provide details about the key ideas that undergird our comparative case study approach, which include: Traditional Case Study Approaches While a wide range of authors discuss case study methods, in this article we focus specifically on three who have been very influential in the United States.

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They include Robert Yin, a social scientist with a background in quantitative and experimental methods. A case study is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon the case in-depth and within its real-world context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context may not be clearly evident.

In other words, you would want to do case study research because you want to understand a real world case and assume that such an understanding is likely to involve important contextual conditions pertinent to your case. Yin emphasized the difficulty of distinguishing context and case, the importance of context, and a focus on contemporary events. For Stake 1995, p. Stake celebrated the particular and the unique, and, in comparison to Yin and his quite structured case study approach, Stake promoted a flexible design that shifts in the course of research.

Finally, we consider the work of Sharan Merriam, whose 1998 publication, Qualitative research and case study applications in education, is widely cited in the education literature. While we would agree with some of what Stake, Yin, and Merriam promote, their approaches suffer from serious limitations, which we outline in the next section.

Stake, too, defined qualitative case studies as those that are holistic considering the interrelationship of phenomenon types of case studies in educational research contextempirical, interpretive, and empathic focused on meaning.

In other words, they frame the immediate temporal and place-based elements of the study are the only ones seen as relevant.

This conflation of place and phenomenon relies on a misguided sense of holism. Holism is a concept linked to a traditional notion of culture and a functionalist theoretical stance. In its contemporary form, holism denotes a respect for context and contextual validity. However, the claim to value holism is an effort to distinguish, but ultimately conflates, case and context often defined as placeand it is premised upon a bounded view of culture.

It also defines out of the realm of study far-flung factors and processes that may be immensely relevant for understanding how a sense of boundedness is socially and historically produced. Holism is surprisingly limited and rather blind to historical, social, and economic trends.

For Yin 2011p. Once the general definition of the case has been established, other clarifications - sometimes called bounding the case - become important. If the unit of analysis is a small group, for instance, the persons to be included within the group must be distinguished from those who were outside of it… Similarly if the case is about the local services and a specific geographic area, you need to decide which services to cover….

To be fair, Yin did acknowledge that the research design might change over time 2011p. Case study methodologist Creswell 2013 also suggested bounding by time and activity, and Miles and Huberman 1994 recommended bounding by definition and context. Each insists that bounding the case maintains a reasonable and feasible scope for the study. It is an integrated system…. Its behavior is patterned.

  • Harvard Educational Review, Massachusetts, v;
  • To be fair, Yin did acknowledge that the research design might change over time 2011 , p;
  • How to find out how to do qualitative research;
  • Scale is often used to distinguish local, regional, national, and global levels, though critical geographers have argued forcefully against the tendency to conceptualize these as distinct and unrelated;
  • Attention to power and inequality is central to the CCS approach;
  • If the unit of analysis is a small group, for instance, the persons to be included within the group must be distinguished from those who were outside of it… Similarly if the case is about the local services and a specific geographic area, you need to decide which services to cover….

Coherence and sequence are prominent. It is common to recognize that certain features are within the system, within the boundaries of the case, and other features outside… are significant as context Stake, 2003p. Finally, like Yin and Stake, Merriam 1998p.

  1. Emphasizing change over time, we examined how the government of Tanzania has incorporated this perspective on teaching and learning into its education policies over the past 50 years. For Stake 2003 , p.
  2. An anthropologist by training who works in the field of International and Comparative Education, Professor Bartlett does research in literacy studies including multilingual literacies , migration, and educator professional development.
  3. Instead of this a priori bounding of the case, the CCS approach features an iterative and contingent tracing of relevant factors, actors, and features see Bartlett; Vavrus 2016.
  4. Stake celebrated the particular and the unique, and, in comparison to Yin and his quite structured case study approach, Stake promoted a flexible design that shifts in the course of research.

The single most defining characteristic of case study research lies in delimiting the object of study, the case. This focus on bounding is distinct from our spatially - and relationally - informed understanding of context and our processual notion of culture. We find this notion of bounding the case from the outset to be problematic.

It aligns more with a neo-positivist design, which predefines variables and hypothesizes relationships, than it does with the iterative, processual designs more common in qualitative work. We contend that boundaries are not found; they are made by social actors, including by researchers, whose demarcations can often seem quite arbitrary and can have the effect of sealing off the case hermetically from other places, times, and influences. Third, traditional approaches to case study research understate the value of case studies in social science research.

For example, Yin 2009 declared three types of case studies: Of these, we feel only an explanatory case rises to the level of significance expected of most social science research.

Cases that are merely descriptive or exploratory are rarely given much credence. For Stake 2003p. Similarly, Merriam defined three types of cases particularistic, descriptive, and heuristic, meant to increase understanding of the case and discovery of new meaning and three purposes for them descriptive, interpretive, and evaluative 1998, p.

These descriptions largely remain limited to the particularistic and descriptive, declaring a reduced aspiration for greater theoretical import.

Types of Case Studies

The traditional view that case study research is often exploratory or descriptive denigrates it as an approach to meaningful scholarship. Fourth, traditional approaches do not robustly defend the generalizability of case study findings.

Yin promoted a distinct notion of generalizability for single case studies. Generalization, he said, can be a lesson learned or hypothesis applicable to other situations 2011.

Yin warned against efforts to use single case studies for statistical generalization, as is common in quantitative studies 2011. We agree with his views of generalizing through theory; however, we worry that his conflation of phenomenon, context, and case limits the aspiration to generate theory or insights that will generalize to other cases.

While we eschew a neo-positivist notion of generalizability through statistics, we would certainly not wish to forsake a more appropriate understanding of how qualitative work generalizes through the generation of theoretical insights that transfer to other cases. Indeed, some argue that the question of generalizability is one of the main misunderstandings of case studies: We assert that, beyond falsification, cases generate rich theoretical insights that transfer to other times and places.

Fifth, we diverge from traditional approaches to case studies over the value of comparison. When addressing comparison, Yin urged replication to achieve external types of case studies in educational research.

Indeed, Yin considered replication to be the primary value of designs that include multiple case studies. Yin praised a tight, structured design for case studies and, in so doing, promoted concepts and approaches that are more appropriate for variance-oriented studies than the processual approach we advocate.

In his early work, Stake was circumspect about the value of comparison. Stake felt that comparison prompted the decomposition of cases into variables. In a later publication, Stake took a more sanguine view of comparison, acknowledging the value of the multiple case study. The quintain, then, is what is being sought across cases. Unfortunately, the concept as presented by Stake remains rather confusing.

At some moments, Stake referred to the quintain as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

It appears to be an ideal type types of case studies in educational research is reached inductively through review of cases. Yet, in his 2006 book, the quintain also appears to be something like the least common denominator, or the themes that are adequately present across the cases. Thus, for Stake, the comparison of multiple case studies illuminates some larger phenomenon as well as how context shapes social life. Our comparative case study heuristic would agree with Stake about the value of multiple cases.

Traditional approaches to case study research have had a far-ranging impact on research in numerous fields, including the fields of education and policy studies in which we primarily work.

However, we have noted some of their shortcomings. In sum, we question the conflation of phenomenon and context, and we critique their limited notion of context. We insist on generalizability through the generation of theoretical insights. Process-Oriented Approaches and the Comparative Case Study Approach As we have already hinted, the comparative case study approach diverges from established approaches in several important ways.

To begin, it adopts what Maxwell called a process orientation. Thus, the process-oriented comparison inherent to our notion of comparative case studies insists on an emergent design, one hallmark of qualitative research. As Becker 2009p. They start out with ideas, orienting perspectives, or even specific hypotheses, but once they begin, they investigate new leads; apply useful theoretical ideas to the sometimes unexpected evidence they gather; and, in other ways, conduct a systematic and rigorous scientific investigation.

Not fully pre-specifying these ideas and procedures, as well as being ready to change them when their findings require it, are not flaws, but rather two of the great strengths of qualitative research [….

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Because qualitative studies are emergent, researchers have to make explicit what Heath and Street 2008p. The CCS approach does not start with a bounded case. Comparative case studies resist the holism of many traditional case studies, which stubbornly refuse to distinguish phenomenon from context, often defined implicitly as place. It is essential to divorce the phenomenon of interest from the context in order to gain analytical purchase. As Geertz 1973p.

At the same time, even while including multiple sites and cases, comparative case studies seek not to flatten the cases by ignoring valuable contextual information or imposing concepts or categories taken from one site onto another Van der Veer, 2016. They seek to disrupt dichotomies, static categories, and taken-for-granted notions of what is going on Heath; Street, 2008.