September 25, 2016

Case study? Case–based strategy? Not a case–based strategy? What is it then?

Remember the time I posted up a post that began with remember the time when I said that my research design is complete? I’m saying it again: remember the time when I said that my research design is complete? Well, earlier in the day a thought literally struck my ideas of a case study down, stamped all over them, and performed some sort of war dance over them chanting in some intelligible language. So, I will not dance about and sing claiming that I have found my research design because, given that I am a critical realist, to claim that I have found an absolute research design would be complete and utter nonsense.


Regardless, the intention was never to implement a full case study design as the research uses a particular variant of the mixed methods methodology. Whilst mixed methods can be used within a case study design, I have come to realise that the type of mixed methods that I am proposing (an amended version of Creswell’s sequential exploratory to reflect better the theory refinement phase) and the types of methods being used is making me question the use and role of a case study approach.


So I began thinking about the idea of calling case implementation a case-based strategy for framing the research questions and acting as a general guide for guiding the mixed methods data collection and analysis sequences, but it was realised that this didn’t really make much sense because it would only apply to the qualitative aspect and not the quantitative aspect, and also from what I understand all phases of a sequential mixed methods approach would have to study the same participants because it is about studying a single case e.g., a group of people, an organisation and so on. Sequential exploratory calls for different population samples, though sharing the same basic characteristics, for both qualitative and quantitative strands.


A key question that has been playing on my mind is, is it really the right way to call something a case study or even a case study strategy if some of the key aspects of such an approach are not going to be utalised? Can you really mould and combine bits of different methodologies and methods and call it by a particular name e.g., is it really right to call my study an exploratory mixed methods case study on X phenomenon if most of the key functions of a case study shall not be used?


If not, then what can I call it? What does it all even mean?

Case-based?


Could my research be case-based? There are clear examples of cases existing, with a case being defined as simply an instance of a phenomenon of interest e.g., I am exploring a particular process of learning so a case would simply be defined as a separate but related instance of this phenomenon. In terms of Education think of a “case” as a classroom, or an individual student, or a group of learners.


A discussion on the academic site ResearcherGate included a comment suggesting that within a sequential mixed methods design, a case study can be used as part of the qualitative component but because my research design has been amended slightly to reflect theory refinement, it kind of goes beyond the limit of what a case study is supposed to achieve, in my opinion from what I can currently understand. Another debate revolves around if whether or not aspects of case study can really be used within a grounded theory exploration, and opinions on this appear to vary widely with some supporters of this idea whilst former Ph.D. candidates stated that their examiners were critical of this approach. An interesting comment suggests that if an approach uses an existing theoretical framework upon the data then it is difficult to call this grounded theory, because all versions of grounded theory does not work strictly within a theoretical framework. The commentator suggests that if a project contains more case study principles than grounded theory principles then it would be incorrect to call it a grounded theory study, which makes sense. If on the other hand, as another commentator alluded, and as my research appears to be leaning towards, the project contains more grounded theory elements than case study elements then it would be wrong to call that something like a case study grounded theory project, because it would not be adhering to case study principles.


So perhaps I have to think of my research in terms of it being case-based, and not actually call it a case study or even a case strategy. Interestingly I have just read a research paper that states that studying cases is not exclusive to case study research, but can be present in all approaches that adhere to qualitative assumptions and this includes grounded theory.


Ultimately, is there really a need for any reference to case study or case strategy if all what I need in reference to studying instances (cases?) qualitatively resides within a grounded theory approach?


Something to think about!


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