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CASE STUDY. © LOUIS COHEN, LAWRENCE MANION & KEITH MORRISON. 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?

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  2. 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

  3. 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 particular situation; • Case studies often include direct observations (participant and non-participant) and interviews.

  4. WHAT IS A CASE? • A person; • A group; • An organization; • An event;

  5. 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, institutional, interpersonal; • Chronological narrative; • Combination of description, analysis and interpretation; • Focus on actors and participants; • Let the data speak for themselves (don’t over-interpret).

  6. TYPES OF CASE STUDY • Exploratory (pilot); • Descriptive (e.g. narrative); • Explanatory. Stake: • Intrinsic case studies: (to understand the case in question); • 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).

  7. 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 heretofore unresearched. • 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.

  8. 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 purpose)? • 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?

  9. 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 case study? • 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?

  10. DATA IN CASE STUDIES • Observations (structured to unstructured); • Field notes; • Interviews (structured to unstructured); • Documents; • Numbers.

  11. TRIANGULATION • Time; • Place; • Methodologies; • Instrumentation; • Researchers; • Participants; • Theory (interpretive paradigms/lenses).


  13. 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 (holism); • Strong on reality; • Recognize and accept complexity,uniqueness and unpredictability;

  14. STRENGTHS OF CASE STUDIES • Lead to action (link to action research); • Can focus on critical incidents; • Written in accessible style and are immediately intelligible; • Practicable (can be done by a single researcher); • Can permit generalizations and application to similar situations;

  15. GENERALIZATION IN CASE STUDY • From the single instance to the class of instances; • 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.

  16. RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY IN CASE STUDIES • Construct validity • Internal validity • External validity • Concurrent validity • Convergent validity • Ecological validity • Reliability • Avoidance of bias THE NEED FOR A CHAIN OF EVIDENCE

  17. 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 situations • 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

  18. 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.

  19. PLANNING A CASE STUDY CONSIDER: • 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.

  20. PLANNING A CASE STUDY CONSIDER: • The conduct of the study including: • The use of primary and secondary sources; • The opportunities to check data; • Triangulation; • Peer and respondent validation; • Reflexivity; • Data collection methods; • Data analysis and interpretation; • Theory generation; • Writing the report • Consequences of the research (and for whom).

  21. STAGES IN CASE STUDY • Start with a wide field of focus; • Progressive focusing; • Draft interpretation/report (avoid generalizing too early).


  23. DATA TYPES IN CASE STUDY • Documents • Archival records • Interviews • Direct observation • Participant observation • Physical artifacts • Actual data gathered, recorded and organized by entry, and the researcher’s ongoing analysis/report/comments/narrative on the data.

  24. RECORDING OBSERVATIONS • Record the notes as quickly as possible after observation. • 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 event.

  25. 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). • Followa simple sequence or chronology, interspersed with commentaries, interpretations and explanations. • Have a structure that follows theoretical constructs or a case that is being made. • Order by main issues. • Consider rival explanations.

  26. PROBLEMS WITH CASE STUDIES • Difficult to organize; • Limited generalizability; • Problems of cross-checking; • Risk of bias, selectivity and subjectivity;

  27. AN EXAMPLE OF A CASE STUDY:LEARNING TO LABOURWillis, P. (1977) Purpose: to find out how working class kids get working class jobs and others let them Considerations: • 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 macro sense.

  28. PROCEDURE • 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 • Study of their behaviour in school and how it feeds into their choice of post-school occupations

  29. ELEMENTS OF LADS’ CULTURE • Opposition to authority and rejection of conformity: clothing; smoking and lying; drinking; • Celebration of the informal group; • Excitement is out of school; • Rejection of the literary tradition; • Sexism; • Racism.

  30. SHOP-FLOOR CULTURE • Masculine chauvinism – sexism; • Attempt to gain informal control of the work process; • Rejection of the conformists in the factory; • Rejection of ‘theory’ and certification; • Rejection of the coercion which underlines the teaching paradigm; • 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 manual labour.

  31. MAIN FINDINGS • 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-school; • 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-school.

  32. CONCLUSION Working class kids get working class jobs because that is what they choose and what they are driven to choose by the values that they hold.

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