Coinciding with the signposting in your textbook, here you will find a combination of links to selected external sites, downloadable documents featuring case studies and extra examples, as well as author-created group activities
Descriptive case studies
William F. Whyte’s (1943/1955) Street Corner Society is a classic example of a descriptive case study. It focuses on a single, deprived, immigrant neighbourhood in Boston, USA. Using ethnographic methods over an extended period (including 18 months living with one of the families), it follows a series of interpersonal events over time, describing various groups and communities within the neighbourhood, detailing a subculture that had previously been little researched.
Explanatory case studies
Explanatory case studies seek to explain ‘how’ and/or ‘why’ a phenomenon occurs, considering operational links that are traced over time. Graham Allinson’s (1971) Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, is a famous example of such case studies, and shows that even single case studies can serve explanatory purposes. The study drew on a vast amount of data, including government documents and interviews with a large number of officials.
The difference between intrinsic and instrumental case studies
Boys in White: Student Culture in Medical School (Becker et al., 1961) is an example I use with students to demonstrate the difference between ‘intrinsic’ and ‘instrumental’ case studies. This book describes a study conducted by Howard Becker and colleagues that was based at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, and explored how ‘boys in white’ – medical students – became doctors. The authors describe their aim as:
to discover what medical school did to medical students other than giving them a technical education … Our original focus then was on the medical school as an organization in which the student acquired some basic perspectives on his later activity as a doctor. (Ibid.: 17–18, my emphasis)
Therefore, whilst the case study focused on the Kansas School of Medicine, the authors’ interest was not intrinsic to that school but on the school as instrumental in studying the wider phenomenon.
Collective case studies
Peter Szanton’s (1981) Not Well Advised: The City as Client – An Illuminating Analysis of Urban Governments and their Consultants is a good example of collective case studies and their underlying replication logic. The book analyses the experiences and attempts of various academics and other consultants in the USA in advising public officials during the so-called urban crisis of the 1950s and 1960s, often without success. Szanton conducted four groups of case studies, using literal replication within each group, and theoretical replication across the four groups, to come to the conclusion that city governments may have very particular needs and constraints that might limit their ability to put recommendations for change into practice.