On the meaning of a case study

I am currently trying to draft a research framework for my PhD and especially what might be the basic unit of analysis.

Ragin (2000) in discussing case orientated research (COR) raises the key question: a case of what is being researched? In turn, this problematises the notion of a population in COR. One approach may be for case populations can be defined by the research question which in turn highlights the interplay of population definition and causal validity. For example, using Orr’s (1996) analysis of work there may be two approaches to a COR ‘population’: (a) work as a series of employment relations and (b) work as day-to-day activities. My study is interested in work as (b) so not necessarily bounded by particular organisation specific employment relations

Howard (2002) discusses field settings as specific organisations or physical spaces but also as ‘nodal events’ that are socially significant to a community. His research focus was on a specific professional community. Maier & Thalman (2008) discuss the impacts of web 2.0 for knowledge workers in terms of deinstitutionalisation through, for example, individualisation and interaction. The implications of these arguments for case study research that focuses on informal learning practices in the workplace is that a significant proportion of such learning is supported by the individual’s own networks of contacts and trusted sources. Organisational boundaries are arguably less relevant, and access to data ‘held’ by the organisation may provide only a partial picture in the area of interest. Rather, informal learning may be better understood through a focus on ‘nodal events’ that can be seen as being interactions occurring within and between communities and/ or networks.

But this raises further issues of how to enter and/ or bound a network? What is or is not a network? Employing some aspects of Actor Network Theory, how tentative, dynamic and unstable can a series of connections be while still a network?

Howard, P.N. (2002) Network ethnography and the hypermedia organization: new media, new organizations, new methods. New Media and Society. 4 (4), 550 – 574
Maier, R. and Thalmann, S. (2008) Informal learner styles: Individuation, interaction, in-form-ation.
Orr, J.E. (1996) Talking About Machines: an ethnography of a modern job. New York: Cornell University Press
Ragin, C.C. (2000) Fuzzy-set social science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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