Case Theory in Business and Management: Reinventing Case Study Research
Publication Year: 2017
Setting out to dispel the argument that case study research lacks the science, theory, and therefore validity of other forms of research, Evert Gummesson combines many decades of experience as both a renowned scholar and a reflective practitioner to effectively bridge the divide between case theory and how it is applied in practice. Bringing the fundamental strengths of cases to the fore, Gummesson introduces the “Case Theory” concept as an expanded version of case study research which includes both methodology and the types of results that emerge by: • Guiding the reader in the theoretical and philosophical underpinning • Demonstrating how to translate theory to pertinent research practice that address the real and consequential issues in business and management today. Case Theory in Business and ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: From Case Study Research to Case Theory
- Chapter 2: The Business and Management Context
- Chapter 3: The Complexity Paradigm
- Chapter 4: Knowledge – or Noledge?
- Chapter 5: What Should Research and Science Be?
- Chapter 6: Theory Generation – and Testing
- Chapter 7: Interactive Research
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© Evert Gummesson 2017
First published 2017
Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form, or by any means, only with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016947048
British Library Cataloguing in Publication data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978-1-44621-062-8 (pbk)
Editor: Delia Martinez-Alfonso
Assistant editor: Lyndsay Aitken
Production editor: Sarah Cooke
Marketing manager: Alison Borg
Cover design: Shaun Mercier
Typeset by: C&M Digitals (P) Ltd, Chennai, India
Printed in the UK
To our granddaughters Sophie and Louise, born during the writing of this book and who added a perspective on how human beings learn and thus indirectly helped me write this book.
Praise for Case Theory in Business and Management[Page vi]
‘I trust ... brilliant practitioners of market and management research who have based their cumulative theories as much on proprietary data as on published data ... I trust the management theories of Peter Drucker ... and the market theories of Evert Gummesson ... which are based on both kinds of data.’Hans L. Zetterberg, Professor Emeritus in Sociology; former owner of Sifo AB, Sweden’s leading institute for political polls and market and social research; past President of the World Association for Public Opinion Research. (Source: Zetterberg, 2013, p. 77).
‘This meticulous book submits research and the research process to deep scrutiny. It debunks the unhelpful dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative research and highlights the great value of multi-method and interactive research, approaches that have greatly deepened our thinking. Evert Gummesson combines many decades of experience in research as both a renowned scholar and a reflective practitioner effectively bridging the divide of theory and practice. This is the best book on case theory and case study research in decades.’Professor Adrian Payne, University of New South Wales, Australia and Professor Pennie Frow, University of Sydney, Australia.
‘As theory informs practice, so can methodology advance both. More than ever, practitioners and researchers alike need better methodology for data-driven decision making. Gummesson’s new book provides the roadmap and the springboard to reinvigorate our methodologies for the 21st century.’Jim Spohrer, PhD (computer science and artificial intelligence), Director, Understanding Cognitive Systems, IBM, and one of the 100 Innovation Champions of IBM.
Lists of Boxes, Figures and Tables[Page xi]Boxes
- 2.1 The 2010 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences 35
- 2.2 Absolut Persona 38
- 3.1 Unpacking Complexity and Pinning Down the Elusiveness of Strategy 50
- 4.1 Marketing Metrics: Generating True or Illusory Knowledge? 88
- 4.2 Norwegian Oil and Swedish Methanol: Two Cases Compared 97
- 6.1 Peter Drucker 145
- 6.2 Examples of Widespread Mid-range Theory 154
- 6.3 Due Diligence: Mid-range Theory for Practical Purposes 156
- 6.4 Theory Generation Primarily Based on Cases 160
- 6.5 Theory Generation and Syntheses of Extant Theory Fragments 162
- 6.6 Mixed Methods Approaches 165
- 6.7 Testing a Strategic Planning Model through Management Action Research 167
- 7.1 Interaction in Field Research Practice 172
- 7.2 Using Network Theory to Structure a Fuzzy Industry 182
- 7.3 Healthcare as a Network of Service Systems 187
- 7.4 Machines as Service Systems: The Case of Airbus and Boeing 188
- 8.1 Examples of Problem Definitions, Research Questions and Purpose 198
- 9.1 Getting Access to David Rockefeller 208[Page xii]
- 9.2 Multiple Cases and Mixed Methods 208
- 9.3 The Enron Case 219
- 9.4 Interviewing in Chinese Guanxies 230
- 9.5 Interviewing Several Stakeholders 232
- 9.6 Combining Preunderstanding, Theoretical Sensitivity and Presence 235
- 9.7 Retrospective Action Research for Theory Generation 241
- 9.8 Wallraffing: Covert Action Research 243
- 9.9 Understanding Cigarette Consumption by Uncovering the Brain’s Deepest Secrets 245
- 10.1 Business and Management Concepts Developed in GT Studies 267
- 11.1 Rotten Rejections 290
- 11.2 Poking Fun at Science 298
- 12.1 Structured Abstracts for Emerald Journal Articles: A Checklist 316
- 3.1 A linear environment 53
- 3.2 A non-linear environment 54
- 3.3 Types of set definitions 66
- 3.4 The research edifice 67
- 4.1 The conventional view: knowledge expands and ignorance decreases 81
- 4.2 The realistic view: the amount of data is soaring, and knowledge grows but at a slower rate than ignorance 81
- 4.3 The black box input-output model as fuzzy sets 84
- 4.4 Relationships between variables 85
- 4.5 The T-model illustrating specialist and generalist knowledge 107
- 6.1 Theory generation and testing as iterative processes 150[Page xiii]
- 7.1 The hernia customer’s position in a network of relationships 188
- 9.1 The researcher’s guanxishu 231
- 3.1 What you do in scientific research according to a positivistic top journal editor 48
- 3.2 The characteristics of the scientific narrative 72
- 3.3 Case theory in summary 77
- 7.1 Network theory concepts 178
- 9.1 Data-generation methods in case theory 215
- 9.2 Activities doing a statistical survey 224
- 9.3 Weak spots in statistical surveys 225
- 9.4 Data deficiencies 250
- 11.1 Quality/productivity problems in research 278
- 11.2 Problems with blind peer reviews 288
- 11.3 Points to ponder for authors 288
- 11.4 Case theory checklist for quality/productivity assurance and assessment 304
About the Author
By John Van Maanen, Erwin Schell Professor of Organization Studies, MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge, MA, USA
It is a distinct pleasure to write the Foreword for Evert Gummesson’s timely new book spelling out and indeed celebrating the importance, charm, eloquence, beauty and learning potential of the well-done case study. It is a form of social research that is again on the upswing partly as a response to the turbulence and change that mark the 21st century. Yet, case studies, and their affinity for narrative, particularity, context and, yes, uncertainty and ambiguity that the writers of the best of them display, may make some readers nervous for their embrace of anti-foundational precepts and suspicion for all types of essentialism. This is a misunderstanding that Case Theory in Business and Management is out to correct.
Understanding cases first means being clear as to what we take them to be. As Professor Gummesson suggests, this can be a troublesome matter because definitions of case studies differ and sometimes differ spectacularly. What they represent and how such representations contribute to our learning is of central interest here. One generic but abbreviated definition holds that cases are simply investigations of some particular social setting with a focus on the events that occur in and over that time setting. The more strictly bounded yet broadly and comparatively located the setting, the closer the writer to the events that occur in that domain, the more detailed and linked the elements of the descriptive work, the higher the quality of the case.
Creating the high-quality case is however no easy matter. Most cases are not well done. A typical business school case, for instance, falls at the low end of the scale since it often rests on a flying visit of short duration by a case-writing team to a self-selected organization to interview a small smattering of managers as to their handling of a particular problematic matter. Most cases in business school libraries – and perhaps most cases of all sorts – are quickly forgotten and shelved as superficial if not fictive versions of events chronicled for no apparent reason. It is their ad hoc and careless character, their lack of analytic bite or interest, their want of an identifiable perspective, their failure to properly situate [Page xvi]the case – by similarity or difference – in broader matters, their disguised character, their formulaic language and format that make them so intellectually vapid, dispensable and easy to satirize (e.g. ‘Leaning back from his cluttered desk and rubbing his temples, Richard Preston, head of Acme’s New Product Development department, closed his eyes and wondered what he had done to get himself in this mess’).
Moving up in quality are the various sorts of case studies produced by business and management researchers – and some journalists as well – where the authors, by intention, seek to extend a reader’s acquaintance with the particular setting the activities take place in. The aim and function of such work is basic: to familiarize readers with the complex cases of the world. This writing is rarely comparative or theoretical but it is precise, explicitly located, and takes readers where they have not been before. Such cases constitute travel over a field of study, and students of business and management who have never been in a military unit, a biological research lab, a police department, a Japanese assembly or a Swedish civil service agency have presumably missed something, such that whatever generalizations they are apt to make of organizational life will be based on too restricted a field. Cases that provide readers with a broader view of their respective areas of interest help prompt reflection and curb conceits.
But of most interest in this text are those case studies that are rich in detail, history, member perspectives, scholarly musings and set on solid temporal and spatial groundings. The writing displays apt analogies and comparative moorings with conclusions of a narrative sort not easily detachable or decontextualized from the story told. Whether it is the strange being made familiar or the familiar being made strange, new ways of seeing the world are put forth. These are cases that lead long lives and thus anchor the high end of the case study trade. And how such work is imagined and produced in the business and management milieu – along with the epistemic and methodological assumptions on which such work rests – is Professor Gummesson’s overriding concern.
Just why case studies seem to have recaptured our attention these days requires commentary. I have 3 intertwined accounts in mind, all of which are fleshed out in far greater depth in the pages to follow. First, consider the sorry state of unifying theories. Across the social sciences, from psychology to economics, the very idea of discovering and validating highly general covering laws – akin to the laws of physics or chemistry – is slip-sliding away (and fast). Postmodernism (and all the post-toasty variants such as post-structuralism, post-positivism, post-Marxism, post-colonialism and so forth) has put grand narratives on the run. Modernism stresses coherence and order, postmodernism emphasizes competing perspectives, contests of meaning, contextual modifiers, and the always uncertain processes of signification. Increasingly, narrow paradigms are out and variation and difference are in. Thus, it will do us well to make sure the cases we do have are good ones, composed with [Page xvii]patience and skill. Case studies of a careful and trustworthy sort in the business and management sphere must today treat theory with gentle hands and make few (and usually tentative) claims to generality. Conceptual imperialism is (justifiably) out of fashion these days, making Professor Gummesson’s restraint and modesty quite appealing.
Second, fragmentation and disorder are more than a characterization of our scholarly worlds. They attach to contemporary life. We live everywhere in unsettled times. To wit, communication and transportation technologies cut into the social and cultural singularity of societies. Human migrations change the character of villages, cities, regions and nations. Multinational organizations cross borders with impunity, seeking new markets and remaking, sometimes obliterating, old ones. Global contrasts are omnipresent as people become increasingly aware of how things are done elsewhere. In changing times, previously unquestioned cultural understandings and traditions unravel. Stories conveyed by cases are therefore vital – perhaps all we have in an uncharted world.
Third, the promise of case studies probably rests in part on some old-fashioned pragmatism and a little preaching or beseeching. There are many good things to say for the practicality of case studies. The ease, comfort, relatively low cost and timeliness in which such studies can be conducted have much to recommend them in these times of rapid change, scarce resources and pinched research budgets. Case studies are typically small, flexible and nimble endeavours. To my mind, they are rather attractive counterparts to the elaborately designed, big budget, statistically governed and over-controlled studies where the findings are sometimes obsolete before they reach print. Equally important is that the case study remains something of a solo act and thus the work and results are filtered through 1 head rather than many and hired-hand problems are not a concern. A consistent point of view, a sense of moral and ethical responsibility that comes from personal identification and interest, and a set of craft-like norms are more likely to be in place and respected when a study is conducted by a single scholar.
All this is to say that I believe case studies are important, and perhaps more important than ever. The goals of this work are to expand our horizons, to reflect seriously and intimately on the events that surround us here, there and everywhere, and to increase the range of human possibilities for both thought and action. By learning how and sometimes why real people, in real places, at real time act as they do, these aims can be advanced. In short, the case for case theory – as argued, presented and illustrated by Evert Gummesson – is a compelling and formidable one.
Preface and Acknowledgements[Page xviii]
A privilege when writing about the methodology and philosophy of scientific research is that I can hobnob with the greatest of the past and of today. I have a daily dialogue with Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci, just to mention a few, and of course with colleagues in my international network. I have been to conferences, universities and business firms all over the world and learnt good things and bad things. Meeting the people in person and making friends is a seminal part of my development as a scholar. When the Internet was introduced, the hype said that online contact would take over and physical meetings would be redundant. It was dead wrong. There have never been so many conferences as there are today! Networking is both high-touch physical interaction and high-tech computer-mediated contact. High tech or high touch, these meetings with you have all taught me something. I am not listing you here but many of you will find your publications in the references and citations. I thank you all!
Very early on, I was puzzled by science and research methodology. Sometimes it felt far beyond my comprehension but sometimes it felt shallow and in conflict with my experience and judgement. Working both in industry and academia, I soon lost my faith in surveys, except as a technique to be used in very special instances. Since then surveys have grown enormously in quantity and technical sophistication. They fit academic career plans. But my conclusion is that they contribute very little to scientific development. I lost interest in quantitative techniques and case study research especially became a priority. Glaser and Strauss, Patton, Van Maanen, Yin and many others put me on a new track. I wanted to expand on these sources and let my own experience from business, academic research and as a consumer and citizen come out. I did so in Qualitative Methods in Management Research, first written in 1983, then published in Swedish in 1985 and in English in 1990 by Sage. It has been revised and reprinted several times. After 30 years it is more cited than ever. When asked by Sage to make yet another revision, I found there was nothing I wanted to change.
John Van Maanen of MIT who had come out as an early supporter asked me to write a book on case study research. This inspired me and I started working on it in the 1990s. The book was postponed and postponed and postponed. [Page xix]I wasn’t ready and the time was not ripe. I now feel ready and consider the time ripe. But it has been a hard struggle. How I survived the hardships of those years travelling in Methodologyland I don’t know. It is ever so impenetrable and wild as a jungle. The writing became a passion. It was felt in my whole body; it was more than an intellectual adventure and led to the discovery of case theory.
Special thanks to my editor Delia Alfonso. Without her kind and patient enthusiasm, this book would never have become reality. Many thanks also to Lyndsay Aitken, Alison Borg and Sarah Cooke.Djursholm, Sweden[Page xx]
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