Saturday, 30 March 2013

Case studies and storytelling

Our readings for week 11 really helped focus case studies for me. Yin (1981) does a great job by explicitly distinguishing between evidence type, data collection method, and research strategy (case studies are a research strategy, by the way). Yin also helpfully points out when case studies make a good research strategy (when the phenomena and the context being studied are intertwined). Beaulieu, Scharnhorst and Wouters (2007) say that case studies are good for deconstructing the scientific method and the claims of universality that are produced as a result. This is backed up by Knight (2002), who says that they can powerfully counteract over-generalization.

 What really struck me, though, was the quote of Miles, in Yin (1981), that asserted that the qualitative research done in his area of study (organizations) "cannot be expected to transcend story-telling" (p. 58). I thought to myself, what's wrong with storytelling? Stories are powerful tools for conveying information, helping the reader become engaged with the material like nothing else. Just because a narrative is being told does not mean that it is the result of shoddy research or lazy scholarship.

Works Cited

Beaulieu, A., Scharnhorst, A., & Wouters, P. (2007). Not another case study: A middle-range interrogation of ethnographic case studies in the exploration of e-science. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 32(6), 672-692.

Knight, P.T. (2002). Small-scale research: Pragmatic inquiry in social science and the caring professions. London: SAGE Publications.

Yin, R.K. (1981). The case study crisis: Some answers. Administrative Science Quarterly, 26(1), 58-65.


  1. I agree with your outlook on story telling. Personal recollection is an important source of qualitative research and information. With an increasing amount of research being conducted online through simple "yes-and-no" surveys, I wonder if the world of information is at risk of having future qualitative data that are less nuanced than those from the pre-digital era, when a complex, spoken conversation would have been recorded and transcribed.

  2. Upon further reflection, I realize that the main reason that Miles might have dismissed story-telling as a reliable research method is that it is an older one. Story-telling was used long before the written word to convey knowledge from one generation to the next. The first scientists were probably the priests in the settlements in the fertile valleys of India, China, and the Middle East. The priests were likely among those members of the village that had sufficient leisure time to observe and study the natural world (Bynum, 2012, p. 2). They did not have the technologies we use today, but Bynum succinctly explains why we should not judge the methods these priests used:

    “What hasn’t changed is the curiosity, imagination, and intelligence of those doing science. We might know more today, but the people who thought deeply about their world 3,000 years were just as smart as we are” (Bynum, 2012, p. 1).


    Bynum, W. (2012). A little history of science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.