Issues and Challenges of the Case Study Approach

Use of the case study approach in both teaching and research has been criticized for more than five decades. Indeed, unlike this reference book, many research and pedagogy guidebooks fail to include the case study approach in their discussions. The reasons for this are twofold. First, case study research has been criticized for: (1) its unscientific nature (because findings cannot be replicated) and (2) reliance on overgeneralizable findings. Key to overcoming this first limitation is triangulating a rigorous set of mixed method approaches to data collection and analysis and maintaining a chain of evidence to argue a case. The second criticism is best mitigated by using the findings from the case study to address and contribute to larger questions, issues, and theories in human geography.

Since almost all case studies involve the use of interview methodologies or ethnographic work, one of the strongest arguments for their validity is to emphasize that larger scale data sets often overlook or blur the significance of individual stories. Therefore, case study research has the potential to capture and analyze the lived experiences of people, and understand more about particular places on the ground. In sum, despite criticism related to studies that focus on specific places, groups, or issues, scaling up the findings from small scale projects to respond to larger research questions makes case study research and teaching critical in helping link local issues to larger global challenges.