Case studies emerged as the most popular type of qualitative research published in SAGE journals in 2017. After that broad-brush assessment, I wondered what types of case studies, researchers were conducting and how they defined them. Did they use Robert Yin’s (2014) categories for case study types: single or multiple, holistic or embedded case designs (p. 50)? Did published researchers conduct descriptive, explanatory, or exploratory cases as Yin defines them? Or did they discuss one of the nine case approaches described by Malcolm Tight (2017)?
Did they discuss the ways they bounded their unique cases, and the conceptual framework and researcher roles, using Robert Stake’s classic work (1995)? Or, did these researchers develop some new interpretations of the case study methodology? Alas, after reviewing over 100 articles from 2017 with “case study” in the title, I am still wondering.
The vast majority of articles titled as case studies did not include any discussion of the type of case study or specific methodological foundations. Beyond the mention of “case study” in the title, researchers offered no further explanation about the type, or how they defined or bounded a particular case. Some mentioned other approaches such as “ethnographically inspired case study” (Virve, 2017), or “historical method” (Vesna & Ivana, 2017) which sound intriguing. However, no definitions, explanations, or references were given to provide the reader with some understanding about how the research was conducted.
After this review, I have more questions than answers. It appears that the term “case study” is being used to broadly describe a study that is conducted in an particular setting, such as a school or organization. It seems that many of these studies could also be termed “exploratory,” since they were not designed to fit within a specific methodology. It would also seem that editors and peer reviewers did not find the use of the term “case study” as indicative of a type of bounded inquiry Yin and Stake have mapped out as an approach to study contemporary phenomenon within some real-life context that is explored by triangulating multiple data sources.
What do you think? Has the term “case study” jumped the bounds that previously defined this kind of inquiry? Do we need new terminology? Or expanded methods sections in articles that allow for more detailed descriptions of the approaches used?
Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
Vesna, Đ., & Ivana, V. (2017). The importance of documenting and including traditional wisdom in community-based ecotourism planning: A case study of the nature park ponjavica in the village of Omoljica (Serbia) SAGE Open, 7(1), 2158244016681048. doi:10.1177/2158244016681048
Virve, P. (2017). Bad enough ergonomics: A case study of an office chair. SAGE Open, 7(1), 2158244016685135. doi:10.1177/2158244016685135
Yin, R. K. (2014). Case study research: Design and methods (Fifth ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.