What is the Case Study?
A case study is a study of an entity as it exists in its natural occurring environment (a person, a classroom, a program, a school, an agency, or an institution). For example a case study of a single learner may give us a good idea about the strategies employed by that learner and the influence of variables such as attitudes, motivation, and personality type on learning outcome. A researcher may investigate a single case or may examine several cases to compare them. Case studies are often qualitative, naturalistic, and longitudinal.
Adelman et al. suggest that the case study is the study of an 'instance in action'. In other words one selects an instance from the class of objects and phenomena one is investigating (e.g. a Second Language Learner) and investigates the way this instance functions in context. From this description, there may seem to be little distinguishable difference between ethnography and case study, and, indeed, some researchers appear to see the case study as a limited type of ethnography.
Case study resembles Ethnography in its philosophy, methods, and concern for studying phenomenon in context.
Differences with Ethnography
- The case study is generally more limited in scope than ethnography.
- The focus of the research (ethnography is essentially concerned with the cultural context and cultural interpretation of phenomena under investigation.
- While the case study, like ethnography, can utilise qualitative field methods, it can also employ quantitative data and statistical methods.
Case Study as a “Bounded System”
Smith, cited in Stake (1988), admits that the definition of the case study is ambiguous, but states that the term bounded system defines the method for him.
‘The crux of the definition is having some conception of the unity or totality of a system with some kind of outlines or boundaries. For instance, take a child with learning disabilities as the bounded system. You have an...