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Research Methodology - Introduction

Case Study Research

   Posted On :  20.05.2018 09:50 pm

The method of exploring and analyzing the life or functioning of a social or economic unit, such as a person, a family, a community, an institution, a firm or an industry is called case study method.

Case Study Research:
The method of exploring and analyzing the life or functioning of a social or economic unit, such as a person, a family, a community, an institution, a firm or an industry is called case study method. The objective of case study method is to examine the factors that cause the behavioural patterns of a given unit and its relationship with the environment. The data for a study are always gathered with the purpose of tracing the natural history of a social or economic unit, and its relationship with the social or economic factors, besides the forces involved in its environment. Thus, a researcher conducting a study using the case study method attempts to understand the complexity of factors that are operative within a social or economic unit as an integrated totality. Burgess (Kothari, 1988) described the special significance of the case study in understanding the complex behaviour and situations in specific detail. In the context of social research, he called such data as social microscope.

Criteria For Evaluating Adequacy Of Case Study:

John Dollard (Dollard, 1935) specified seven criteria for evaluating the adequacy of a case or life history in the context of social research. They are:

1. The subject being studied must be viewed as a specimen in a cultural set up. That is, the case selected from its total context for the purpose of study should be considered a member of the particular cultural group or community. The scrutiny of the life history of the individual must be carried out with a view to identify the community values, standards and shared ways of life.

2. The organic motors of action should be socially relevant. This is to say that the action of the individual cases should be viewed as a series of reactions to social stimuli or situations. To put in simple words, the social meaning of behaviour should be taken into consideration.

3. The crucial role of the family-group in transmitting the culture should be recognized. This means, as an individual is the member of a family, the role of the family in shaping his/her behaviour should never be ignored.

4. The specific method of conversion of organic material into social behaviour should be clearly demonstrated. For instance, case-histories that discuss in detail how basically a biological organism, that is man, gradually transforms into a social person are particularly important.

5. The constant transformation of character of experience from childhood to adulthood should be emphasized. That is, the life-history should portray the inter-relationship between the individual’s various experiences during his/her life span. Such a study provides a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s life as a continuum.

6. The ‘social situation’ that contributed to the individual’s gradual transformation should carefully and continuously be specified as a factor. One of the crucial criteria for life-history is that an individual’s life should be depicted as evolving itself in the context of a specific social situation and partially caused by it.
7. The life-history details themselves should be organized according to some conceptual framework, which in turn would facilitate their generalizations at higher levels.
These criteria discussed by Dollard emphasize the specific link of co-ordinated, related, continuous and configured experience in a cultural pattern that motivated the social and personal behaviour. Although, the criteria indicated by Dollard are principally perfect, some of them are difficult to put to practice.
Dollard (1935) attempted to express the diverse events depicted in the life-histories of persons during the course of repeated interviews by utilizing psycho-analytical techniques in a given situational context. His criteria of life-history originated directly from this experience. While the life-histories possess independent significance as research documents, the interviews recorded by the investigators can afford, as Dollard observed, “rich insights into the nature of the social situations experienced by them”.
It is a well-known fact that an individual’s life is very complex. Till date there is hardly any technique that can establish some kind of uniformity, and as a result ensure the cumulative of case-history materials by isolating the complex totality of a human life. Nevertheless, although case history data are difficult to put to rigorous analysis, a skilful handling and interpretation of such data could help in developing insights into cultural conflicts and problems arising out of cultural-change.
Gordon Allport in (Kothari 1988) has recommended the following aspects so as to broaden the perspective of case-study data:
1. If the life-history is written in first person, it should be as comprehensive and coherent as possible.
2. Life-histories must be written for knowledgeable persons. tThat is, if the enquiry of study is sociological in nature, the researcher should write it on the assumption that it would be read largely by sociologists only.
3. It would be advisable to supplement case study data by observational, statistical and historical data, as they provide standards for assessing the reliability and consistency of the case study materials. Further, such data offer a basis for generalizations.
4. Efforts must be made to verify the reliability of life-history data by examining the internal consistency of the collected material, and by repeating the interviews with the concerned person. Besides this, personal interviews with the persons who are well-acquainted with him/her, belonging to his/her own group should be conducted.
5. A judicious combination of different techniques for data-collection is crucial for collecting data that are culturally meaningful and scientifically significant.
6. Life-histories or case-histories may be considered as an adequate basis for generalization to the extent that they are typical or representative of a certain group.
7. The researcher engaged in the collection of case study data should never ignore the unique or typical cases. He/she should include them as exceptional cases.
Case histories are filled with valuable information of a personal or private nature. Such information not only helps the researcher to portray the personality of the individual, but also the social background that contributed to it. Besides, it also helps in the formulation of relevant hypotheses. In general, although Blummer (in Wilkinson and Bhandarkar, 1979) was critical of documentary material, he gave due credit to case histories by acknowledging the fact that the personal documents offer an opportunity to the researcher to develop his/her spirit of enquiry. The analysis of a particular subject would be more effective if the researcher acquires close acquaintance with it through personal documents. However, Blummer also acknowledges the limitations of the personal documents. According to him, such documents do not entirely fulfill the criteria of adequacy, reliability, and representativeness. Despite these shortcomings, avoiding their use in any scientific study of personal life would be wrong, as these documents become necessary and significant for both theory-building and practice.

In spite of these formidable limitations, case study data are used by anthropologists, sociologists, economists and industrial psychiatrists. Gordon Allport (Kothari, 1988) strongly recommends the use of case study data for in-depth analysis of a subject. For, it is one’s acquaintance with an individual that instills a desire to know his/her nature and understand them. The first stage involves understanding the individual and all the complexity of his/her nature. Any haste in analyzing and classifying the individual would create the risk of reducing his/her emotional world into artificial bits. As a consequence, the important emotional organizations, anchorages and natural identifications characterizing the personal life of the individual might not yield adequate representation. Hence, the researcher should understand the life of the subject. Therefore, the totality of life-processes reflected in the well-ordered life-history documents become invaluable source of stimulating insights. Such life-history documents provide the basis for comparisons that contribute to statistical generalizations and help to draw inferences regarding the uniformities in human behaviour, which are of great value. Even if some personal documents do not provide ordered data about personal lives of people, which is the basis of psychological science, they should not be ignored. This is because the final aim of science is to understand, control and make predictions about human life. Once they are satisfied, the theoretical and practical importance of personal documents must be recognized as significant. Thus, a case study may be considered as the beginning and the final destination of abstract knowledge.

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