Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research

Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research

To provide a alternative perspective to the claims made by Professor Billsberry in regards to the usefulness of case studies, we will for next week have a paper by Professor Bert Flyvbjerg. The paper is called, “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research” and it was suggested to me by Malin. Thanks Malin!

Professor Flyvbjerg (Chair of Major Programme Management) is currently at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. In 2006, when this paper was originally published, he was however active at Aalborg University, Denmark. You will find more information about professor Flyvbjerg here.


This article examines five common misunderstandings about case-study research: (a) theoretical knowledge is more valuable than practical knowledge; (b) one cannot generalize from a single case, therefore, the single-case study cannot contribute to scientific development; (c) the case study is most useful for generating hypotheses, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building; (d) the case study contains a bias toward verification; and (e) it is often difficult to summarize specific case studies. This article explains and corrects these misunderstandings one by one and concludes with the Kuhnian insight that a scientific discipline without a large number of thoroughly executed case studies is a discipline without systematic production of exemplars, and a discipline without exemplars is an ineffective one. Social science may be strengthened by the execution of a greater number of good case studies.

Keywords: case study; case selection; critical cases; validity in case studies

The full paper can be downloaded here.