Stake Case Study Understanding the Case

Stake, R. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Introduction: An Intensive Study of Case Study Research Methods

  • "Case study is the study of the particularity and complexity of a single case, coming to understand its activity within important circumstances (xi)."

Chapter 1: The Unique Case

  • "The case is a specific, a complex, functioning thing (p. 2)."
  • A case has boundaries.
  • "The case is an integrated system (p. 2)."
  • Stake offers a more refined definition of a case in his 1994 chapter "Seeking Sweet Water." See resource below.
  • Intrinsic and Instrumental Study

    • Stake identifies three types of case study: intrinsic case study, instrumental case study, and collective case study.
    • An intrinsic case study occurs when the researcher has an intrinsic interest in the case.
    • An instrumental case study occurs when we need to understand the case in order to understand the bigger research question at hand. The purpose of this case study is to understand something else by understanding it.
    • A collective case study is the selection of multiple cases in an instrumental case study. The cases in a collective case study require coordination among them.
  • Selection of Cases

    • "...we need to pick cases which are easy to get to and hospitable to our inquiry, perhaps for which a prospective informant can be identified and with actors willing to comment on certain draft materials (p. 4)."
    • The selection of the case should be based upon what can be learned from the case. The case should maximize what can be learned.
  • Producing Generalizations

    • Certain generalizations can be drawn when they appear again and again in the data.
    • "Seldom is an entirely new understanding reached but refinement of understanding is (p. 7)."
    • "Grand generalizations also can be modified by case study (p. 7)."
    • "The real business of case study is particularization, not generalization (p. 7)."
  • Emphasis on Interpretation

    • Progressive focusing, termed by Malcolm Parlett and David Hamilton in 1976, is when the design is altered because early questions are not working or new issues arise.
    • Assertions: "On the basis of observations and other data, researchers draw their own conclusions (p. 9)."
    • "For assertions, we draw from understandings deep within us, understandings whose derivation may be some hidden mix of personal experience, scholarship, assertions of other researchers (p. 12)."
    • "By custom, researchers are privileged to assert what they find meaningful as a result of their inquiries. Their reports and consultations will include strictly determined findings and loosely determined assertions (p. 12)."
    • "We tout case study as being noninterventive and empathic. In other words, we try not to disturb the ordinary activity of the case, not to test, not even to interview, if we can get the information we want by discrete observation or examination of records. We try hard to understand how the actors, the people being studied, see things. Ultimately, the interpretations of the researcher are likely to be emphasized more than the interpretations of those people studied, but the qualitative case researcher tries to preserve the multiple realities, the different and even contradictory views of what is happening (p. 12)."


  • Maanen, J. V. (1988). Tales of the field: On writing ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Parlett, M., & Hamilton, D. (1976). Evaluation as illumination: A new approach to the study of innovative programmes. In G. Glass (Ed.), Evaluation Studies Review Annual, 1, 140 - 157.
  • Stake, R. (1994). Case study. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 236-247). Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage.