Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Recommendations for Using the Case Study Method in International Business Research

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Recommendations for Using the Case Study Method in International Business Research

Article excerpt

Introduction

The case study method has been used in several areas of international business (IB) research. For instance, the "Uppsala model" which is well-known to those researching internationalization is based on four Swedish cases introduced by Jan Johanson and Finn Wiedersheim-Paul in 1975. (The Uppsala model states that in the initiation of international activities, firms lack market knowledge and thus begin their foreign market entry from comparatively similar and well-known countries and prefer exporting as it is easier than establishing sales or manufacturing subsidiaries abroad.) Despite the success of this multi-case study, several scholars have affirmed that quantitative methods are more often used in many business and management disciplines, even if case studies and other qualitative methods are sometimes more justified (for an overview, see Cassell, Symon, Buehring, & Johnson, 2006; Ellram, 1996; Macpherson, Brooker, & Ainsworth, 2000; Marschan-Piekkari & Welch, 2004; Woodside & Wilson, 2003). Consequently, the case study methodology still needs more systematic attention.

This paper aims to investigate the usefulness and limitations of case studies as a research methodology in IB and propose several ways for using the method more effectively. It starts from an overview of the literature on the strengths of single and multiple case studies. Then, the critique associated with this method is discussed. Moreover, the strengths and weaknesses of surveys are also briefly introduced, as this method is very often used in IB literature as an alternative or (sometimes) a complement to case studies. Finally, several opportunities for increasing the contribution of case studies are brought out.

This study mainly focuses on IB and case study research literature, but some ideas from management, logistics, and marketing are also included. I selected the IB area because this was the focus of my dissertation (Vissak, 2003) and most of my published articles have been written in this field. I have had experience both from conducting case studies (my Ph.D. dissertation was based on seven cases and I have also used this method in a large share of my articles) and surveys (my MA dissertation and some of my articles were based on econometric models constructed from survey data). I have reviewed a large number of journal articles and conference papers (using both quantitative and qualitative methods) and also have been a discussant at several doctoral tutorials. In this article, I share my experience as an author, a reviewer, and a discussant.

The Strengths of Case Studies

Case study research is a very useful method as it allows expanding and generalizing theories by combining the existing theoretical knowledge with new empirical insights (Yin, 1994). This is especially important in studying topics that have not attracted much previous research attention. The application of this method can be useful for transcending the local boundaries of the investigated cases, capturing new layers of reality, and developing new, testable and empirically valid theoretical and practical insights (Eisenhardt, 1989; Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007; Ghauri, 2004; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Stuart, McCutcheon, Handfield, McLachlin, & Samson, 2002; Tsoukas, 1989; Voss, Tsikriktsis, & Frohlich, 2002). Case studies are especially helpful for discovery, description, mapping and relationship building, but they may also be used for theory testing, refutation, refining (Gummesson, 2005; Hillebrand, Kok, & Biemans, 2001; Johnston, Leach, & Liu, 1999; Tsoukas; Voss et al.; Woodside & Wilson, 2003; Yin), illustration (Otley & Berry, 1998; Siggelkow, 2007), classification, hypothesis development (Bensabat, Goldstein, & Mead, 1987; Tellis, 1997b), prediction (Woodside & Wilson) and identification of further research needs (Halinen & Tornroos, 2005; Siggelkow, 2007; Simon, Sohal, & Brown, 1996). …

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