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The Paradox of the Case Study

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-240
JournalCambridge Journal of Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2004


One of the advantages cited for case study research is its uniqueness, its capacity for understanding complexity in particular contexts. A corresponding disadvantage often cited is the difficulty of generalising from the single case. Such an observation assumes a polarity and stems from a particular view of research. Looked at differently, from within a holistic perspective and direct perception, there is no disjunction. What we have is a paradox, which if acknowledged and explored in depth, yields both unique and universal understanding. This paper revisits this problem in case study research. It argues that, with the pressure for quantification and the growth of multi‐site case study design in policy research, the original vision and utility of case study for understanding complex educational phenomena has been clouded and thereby an opportunity diminished for new ways of knowing

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