The role of context in case study selection (Poulis, Poulis, and Plakoyiannaki, 2013)

A lovely paper by Poulis and colleagues (2013) sent to me by one of the authors, Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki. Set in the research world of international business, it is a fine account of the application of casing and reflection on this methodology. For Charles Ragin casing, or the evolving case in the research, is a methodological practice that seeks to work out the relation between ideas and evidence.

Casing is at the heart of the strategy I propose in my book for sampling and choosing cases in qualitative research. It is reassuring (and nice) to see other authors making the same points quite independent of my work.

Poulis and colleagues think about casing and context as two parts of the same problem. They point out that contextualisation takes place at many stages in the research process. Case sampling and contextualisation are combined and emergent decisions made throughout the research, rather than treated as discrete and separate task undertaken in some notional linear progress of doing research.

What is more, these authors suggest that understanding context requires the application of diverse tools and approaches. In their examples they discuss using pilot cases, direct observation, purposeful sampling strategies, and secondary data. They stress that these ‘tools assisted … towards context-sensitive case selection, emphasising that they chose these tools because they were most fitting to their study’ (pg. 306).

In my book I use slightly different language. I talk about purposive work leading to purposeful sampling, but the principle is the same. The working out of the relation between ideas and evidence drives forward the choice of cases, never evidence alone.

I also make much of MQ Patton’s observation that there is nothing convenient about purposeful sampling. So too, Poulis and colleagues insist that information rich cases ‘deal with contextual challenges and avoid a convenience-sampling logic […] diverse information from multiple contexts [represents] a response to emerging sampling challenges’ (pg. 308).

And these challenges of case selection are always creative. Methodologies are bent to the peculiarities of the research setting. As Poulis and colleagues (2013) emphasise, the notion of casing and their paper, ‘demonstrates the iterative thinking, dynamic reflection, and multiple sources of information can only lead to discovering critical dimensions’ (pg. 312) which might otherwise go unnoticed.

Poulis K, Poulis E, & Plakoyinnaki E (2013). The role of context in case study selection: an international business perspective. International Business Review, 22 304-314.

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