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Case study 

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In the case study, sometimes called a monograph, we study only one event, process, person, unit of organization, or object. 

  • The case is unique: only one such evidence exists, and it is essential and worth studying. Typical such objects or phenomena are momentous historical events, prominent men and women, statesmen, great thinkers, and artists, renowned political and religious organizations, works of art, or engineering. The purpose is often to document the case before information about it gets lost.
  • The case is complicated, typically a person and his activity, and he must study it thoroughly.
  • The case belongs to a class of practically identical cases, for example, an industrial product of a given type and model. It would be useless to study more than one instance because all the results of it can be generalized.

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Usual targets in case studies are:

  1. Describe the object or phenomenon - not only its external appearance but also its internal structure, and perhaps even its previous development.
  2. Explain the reasons why the object is as it is or its previous development.
  3. Predict the future of the object.
  4. Plan improvements to the object or other similar objects, or gather opinions about it, that is, a normative approach.


Descriptive case study

In planning empirical research, it is generally advisable to base the work on an existing theoretical model, because a model, even preliminary, can often go a long way in helping the work. An exploratory study, in other words, not basing the review on any previous model or theory, is generally difficult, time-consuming, and uncertain, so you will usually want to avoid such an approach if possible. The standard method is to start with a careful search of the literature to find usable theoretical models.

On the other hand, there may be reasons not to base the study on any previous model or theory, for example:

  •  It becomes necessary when a valuable cultural purpose is in danger of being lost in the future. The aim of the documentation is not so much to analyze the use but simply to collect as many facts about it as possible
  • Bringing ideas from earlier theories could muddle this description.


Choosing an exploratory approach

that is to say, with no theoretical basis, for a descriptive case study may thus be a deliberate decision, or a necessity because there is no convenient theory or model available. You then have to start with a somewhat vague impression of what to study, and it is also impossible to make a detailed plan of work in advance, nor to begin by defining the concepts of the study. During the exploratory research project, these emerging concepts will gradually improve.

In the absence of proven models and defined concepts, you should begin the exploratory study of what you have: the object of the study. It is common that at the beginning of the exploratory research, you will take a holistic look at the purpose, gathering as much information about the objects as possible. You don't want to restrict your study to just a few characteristics of the object before you know which questions are important. You thus postpone the task of deleting unnecessary data until you get a better picture of what is needed.

Any object can be viewed from several different points of view, or as belonging to different contexts. It can often be a good idea to start the alternating study point of view, as in the diagram on the right.

After you have spent a few days experimenting with various views of the object, you will probably be able to specify the final position for your study and explain how you understand or "take" the purpose.

The progress of a study project becomes more comfortable once we have defined our point of view and problem. After this, we will need to gather only that empirical knowledge related to the question; This will allow us to minimize the material that we will have to analyze. 

As soon as an impressive structure or invariant in the object becomes apparent, you can omit all matter that is not related to this structure, and compress the remaining, relevant information.

Rarely will it be possible to divide the qualitative study into phases as bright as those that are common in quantitative work? 


Describe a case based on theory. 

In established fields of research, you can often select your problem so that you can handle it as a particular case or as an extension of the existing theory in this field, created by previous researchers. Such practice facilitates the start of a new study and is common in academic studies.

Furthermore, you can often approach the problem so that you combine views of two or more fields of science, which can reveal interesting new aspects to the subject, in the same way as a hermeneutical study of literature.

Using views parallel to a single object is logical and easy to organize if several researchers cooperate in the project. 

An exploratory researcher working alone can instead use the method of alternating point of view


Explanatory case study

The researcher often wants to continue the project on a deeper level than just the description: he wants to know why the object is as it is. 

Finding the reasons, or explaining the phenomenon, can be done in several ways. The following are some examples that are common in research as well as in daily life.

  • Explanation from the past. This alternative type of Explanation is called causal, for example: "The bridge collapsed due to strong winds and because the design was defective."
  • Contextual Explanation. Biologists sometimes explain an activity with the help of its role in the life of the group or species. For example, a bird sings to indicate its territory and to keep rivals away, to ensure food. The concurrent state of society often explains the products of human culture.


Of these types, contextual Explanation is simplified when studying man's activities and their results, such as industrial products and works of art. When one or more theories for Explanation are available, the logical approach is to test each of them and then come up with the Explanation that seems most plausible.

Perhaps the most usual contextual Explanation is the sociological approach: "You have to look at the designer as part of the surrounding society, and examine his work and values ​​regarding social, cultural and economic conditions ... We have to understand how and why design has developed and what interests it supports ".

Likewise, industrial products and works of art are often studied and explained based on social, economic, and ecological processes. Explanatory factors are, for example, changes in the demography of society, in the conditions of industry or the economy; on the other hand, the consequences of inventions, education, political changes, wars, and the acquisition or loss of colonies. Constant but regionally dissimilar factors are climate, availability of raw materials and energy, transportation channels, and local people's needs.


The Explanation for previous events requires a diachronic study, that is, it needs material from a more extended period. Duration varies - causally explainable physical phenomena often pass in less than a second. At the same time, the effects that various foods and their additives can cause to man can take many years before they appear. To prevent overgrowth, you have to consider demarcating the narrowest study population.

Then you should carefully inspect these time points and the events before and after them. Among these events, you can find perhaps plausible explanations for the changes that have occurred, and finally, for the present state of the object. 

Explanation from the future. People's intentions can be gathered through interviews, or from documents such as budgets, plans, and proposals from officials, politicians, entrepreneurs, and artists, as well as from these people's memories. Other sources are product concepts, specifications, plans, and evaluation documents.


Case study as the basis of prognosis

Recent data on these are obviously of primary importance as the basis for the estimate.

 A strong basis for forecasting is a model that explains the phenomenon, listing its reasons and its results, that is, defining the invariant dynamics of the process to be predicted. 


 Forecast on the weak basis or no theoretical basis: Forecast on the strong theoretical basis:

Data required: 

Data on the development of "interesting" features, from as long a period as possible. Recent data on "cool" features.

Also, recent data on the assumed independent variables, according to theory.


From case studies to the general theory

The knowledge that a case can produce concerns the evidence that was studied, and at first sight, it seems impossible to apply it to other situations or a class of cases. Logically, it would seem that to get knowledge about a level, you need a research project that takes the entire class as its object, not just a case of it.

Another logical procedure to gain generalizable knowledge could be combining the results of the study of several cases or objects that resemble each other. This generally valid knowledge then permeates your case study in the form of concepts, models, and variables that relate to the other cases in the class. All of this means that it becomes easier for other scientists - or laypeople - to generalize the conclusions of this case study if they want to treat it at their own risk.


Today, when there are so many research reports on every conceivable field of study, it is increasingly common to base a new case study on the hypothesis that the case will behave according to an existing theory. If it does, the area of ​​validity of this theory will expand, and in the opposite case, the researcher may perhaps modify this earlier theory. In both cases, the results of the new study may be scientifically or practically valuable.

Another advantage of this approach is that it will do the planning and conducting a case study much more comfortably, as explained elsewhere.


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