Misunderstandings and Learnings from Case Study Research

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Case study’s can give valuable insights for the researcher, but there are many preconceptions about this research methodology, like being too subjective or having a too small sample size to deduce any relevant information.This is also how Flyvbjerg (2006) starts his paper on the “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research“.
He therefore claims the following misunderstandings:

  • General, theoretical (context-independent) knowledge is more valuable than concrete, practical (context-dependent) knowledge.
  • One cannot generalize on the basis of an individual case; therefore, the case study cannot contribute to scientific development.
  • The case study is most useful for generating hypotheses; that is, in the first stage of a total research process, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building.
  • The case study contains a bias toward verification, that is, a tendency to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions.
  • It is often difficult to summarize and develop general propositions and theories on the basis of specific case studies.

He then explains the arguments to clear these misunderstandings.
For example, studies show that cases are central for human learning and many universities are using them to teach their students (Even though there are multiple views on this; e.g. German universities usually not teach on a case basis).
Furthermore he claims that cases can also be useful validate theoretical hypothesis developed with another scientific method. Case selection is therefore a very important aspect of a case, the main concepts there are random and information oriented selection. Where information oriented selection deliberately searches for cases for special purposes (extreme cases, maximum variation, critical cases or paradigmatic cases).

In the case of Supply Chain Risk Management case studies can serve multiple purposes:

  • Laying the foundation for a relatively new SCM research area (already done by several authors)
  • Getting existing business knowledge into the scientific literature
  • Improving current business practices through insights gained in research (eg. Fisher et al. 1994)

I think it is very important to foster exchange between business and scientific research and case studies are a good way to do so.


Flyvbjerg, B. (2006). Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research Qualitative Inquiry, 12 (2), 219-245 DOI: 10.1177/1077800405284363

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