Case study in Research Methodology


Case study is a method of studying social phenomena through the thorough analysis of an individual case. The case may be a person, a group, an episode, a process, a community, a society, or any other unit of social life. All data relevant to the case are gathered and all available data are organized in forms of the case. The case study method gives a unitary character to the data being studied by inter-relating a variety of facts to a single case. This approach rests on the assumption that the case being studied is typical to cases of certain type, so that through intensive analysis generalizations may be made which will be applicable to other cases of the same type.


Case study is an intensive analysis of an individual unit such as a person, group or event stressing developmental factors in relation to context. A case study can also be defined as the analysis of persons, events, decisions, periods, projects policies institutions or other systems that are studied holistically by one or more methods, the case that is the subject of the enquiry will be an instance of a class of phenomena that provides an analytical frame which is an object within which the study is conducted and which the case illuminates and explicates.

Another suggestion is that case study should be defined as a research strategy, an enquiry that investigates a phenomenon within its real life   context. Case study report can mean single or multiple sources of evidence and benefits from the prior development of theoretical propositions.

       An average or typical case is often not the richest in information. In clarifying lines of history and causation, it is more useful to select subjects that offer an interesting, unusual or particularly revealing set of circumstances. A case selection that is based on representativeness will seldom be able to produce these kinds of insights. When selecting a subject for a case study, researchers will therefore use information oriented sampling as opposed to random sampling because a typical cases reveals more information than the putatively representative case.

Alternatively, a case may be selected as a key case chosen because of the inherent interest of the case or the circumstances surrounding it. It may be chosen because of the researchers’ in-depth local knowledge, where researchers have this local knowledge they can offer reasoned lines of explanation based on this rich knowledge of setting and circumstances. Three types of case may be thus distinguished:

– Key cases

– Outlier cases

– Local knowledge cases,

Whatever the frame of reference for the choice of the topic or subject of the case study [key, outlier local knowledge] there is a distinction to be made between the subject and the object of the case study.

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– The subject is the practical, historical unity through which the theoretical focus of the study is being viewed.

– The object is, is the analytical frame. Thus for example, if a researcher were interested in U.S. resistance to communist expansion as a theoretical focus, then the Korean war might be taken to be the subject, the case study through which the theoretical focus, the object could be viewed and explicated.


A critical case is defined as having strategic importance, importance in relation to the general problem. A critical case allows the following type of generalization, “If it is valid for this case, it is valid for all (many) cases. In its negative form, the generalization would be, “if it is not valid for this case, then it is not valid for any (or only focus) cases.

       The case study is also effective for generalizing using the type of test that Karl proper called falsification which forms part of critical reflexity.

Falsification is one of the most rigorous tests to which a scientific proposition can be subjected. If just one observation does not fit with the proposition it is considered not valid generally and must therefore be either revised or rejected.

Karl proper himself used the now famous of: “all swans are white” and proposed that just as one observation of a single black swan would falsity this proposition and in this way have general significance and stimulate further investigations and theory building. The case study is well suited for identifying “black swans” because of its in-dept approach. What appears to be white often turns out on closer examination to be black.

       Galileo Galilei’s rejection of Aristotle’s law of gradity was based on a case study selected by information oriented sampling and not random sampling. The rejection consisted primarily of a practical one; these experiments with the benefit of hindsight are self evident.

Nevertheless, Aristotle’s incorrect view of gravity dominated scientific enquiry for nearly two thousand years before it was falsified. In his experimental thinking, Galileo reasoned as follows: It two objects with same weight are released from the same height at the same time, they will hit the ground simultaneously, having fallen at the same speed, if the two objects are then stuck together into one, this object will have double the weight and will and will according to the Aristotelian view therefore all faster than the two individual objects. The only way to avoid the contradiction was to eliminate weight as a determinant factor for acceleration in free fall.

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       Galileo’s experimentalism did not involve a large random sample of trials of object falling from a wide range of randomly selected heights under varying wind conditions and so on, Rather it was a matter of a single experiment, that it is a case study.


It is generally believed that the case study method was first introduced into social science by Frederic le play in 1829 as a handmaiden to statistics in his studies of family budget.

The use of case studies for the creation of new theory in social sciences has been further developed by the sociologist, Barney Glaser and anselm Straus who presented their research method- Grounded theory in 1967.

The popularity of case studies in testing hypotheses has developed only in recent decades. One of the areas in which case studies have been gaining popularity is education and in particular educational evaluation.

Therefore case study or clinical method is an intensive investigation of a single participant or group which involves the testing of a hypothesis against evidence. Case study is used to study case- effect relationship especially if the researcher appreciates the need to test casual hypothesis repeatedly usually to investigate a rare phenomenon or unusual behaviour. Thus the behavior of the subject is put under surveillance for a long time in order to understand the peculiarities of his behavior over-time.

       Example: A monkey was used by cognitive philosophers; they called it executive monkey or sultan.

This monkey was caged in a room, they hung banana on top of the high ceiling of the room, which was far from the reach of the monkey and the monkey was very hungry, he is angry and was seeing food but have no access to the banana up there. But inside the cage, there are some materials or items, which are: A rope, two sticks (I long and I short stick) and three empty crates or boxes.

The monkey picked one of the stick, point it and jumped towards the banana but it does not reach the banana. He brought one box, went on-top, point the stick again but it doesn’t reach the banana, he then brought the 3 boxes, heap them one on top another, tie those sticks to the log rope and flinged it towards the position of the banana and he was able to get it. He ate the banana, got satisfied and he stood up, beat his chest and said “I did it” Thus the monkey has insight; he was able to find solution and solve his problems.

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       Thus the study and close examination of this single monkey’s response to his problems can lead to the generalization that all monkey’s can do the same and that is what case study research methodology means. The above illustration further portrays case study as a research design that takes its subject or a single case or few selected examples of a social entity, such as communities, social group, employers, events life- histories, families, work teams roles or relationships and employs a variety of methods to study them. The critical which inform the selection of the case or cases for study are a crucial part of the research design and its theoretical rigor. In General case study makes no claim to be representative. A case study involves the detailed examination of a single example of something and is therefore bound to lack external validity. Thus a case study could involve the study of a single institution, community, social group, an individual person, a particular historical event or a single social action.

       Howard Becker (1970) has described one aim of case studies as the attempt to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the group under study: However, case study can be used to as becker claims to develop more general theoretical statements about regularities in social structure and process which means that a case study of a particular society can be used to falsify a general theory about social life, Example steve craines (1997) study of school leavers in machnester was able to falsify the belief of some theorists that an under class culture was passed down from generation to generation.

       Case studies may be useful for generating new hypotheses which can than be tested against other data or in later studies. Case studies can be seen as intensive analysis where the quality of the theoretical reasoning is more important than the representativeness of the sample.

       A major draw back to case study is that it is not possible to generalize on the basis of its findings. It is impossible to determine how far the findings of a study into one example of a social phenomenon can be applied to other examples.

       But one way to overcome this problem is to carry out or use a number of case studies of the same type of phenomenon.


1- David .J. Luck and Ronal .S. Robin (1996) marketing Research (9th Edition).

2- Nwadinobi, Ken. Afamefule (2005) Basic concept in Social Science Research and Data Analysis.

3- Haralambos and Holborn (2006) Sociology: Themes and perspectives (7th Edition).

4 – Geoffrey Keppel (1991) Research Design and Analysis.

5- WWW. Answer. Com.

6- WWW. Google.Com


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