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Are case studies more than sophisticated story telling? Methodological problems of case studies mainly based on semi-structured interviews

Diefenbach, Thomas (2009) Are case studies more than sophisticated story telling? Methodological problems of case studies mainly based on semi-structured interviews. Quality and Quantity, 43 (6). pp. 875-894. ISSN 0033-5177

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Qualitative empirical research and case studies have, like any other scientific method, their strengths and weaknesses. But how valid are the findings stemming from such research, particularly when they are base on data gained from interviews? This paper primarily deals with the methodological problems throughout the whole research process. Areas of concerns are: 1. Before collecting data and during the whole research process, 2. The process of collecting data, 3. Internal validity and making sense of data, 4. External validity of the data and findings, 5. Relation between the findings and social sciences as well as social practice. The analysis will reveal a mixed picture concerning the scientific value of qualitative case studies. There is some good news. There is more methodological freedom and room for creativity in qualitative research than it seems at first glance. On the other hand there is a need for a greater methodological awareness particularly concerning possible downsides of subjectivity, the generalisation of the findings, conscious and unconscious biases, influences of dominant ideologies and mainstream thinking. Above all, there is a great need for rational critique. There is great need for a more critical attitude towards (basic) assumptions - particularly, to challenge, question and criticise literally everything systematically and permanently and to put the findings sufficiently in relation to the wider historical context, i.e. epochal ideologies and societal structures. Social science research has to contribute much more to the discussion of values, interests, and ideologies that shape current and future social practices.