An interpretive approach to case study research: underlying philosophy and its implications for fieldwork

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Drawing on Cunliffe's (2011) framework of metatheoretical assumptions and research methodologies employed in organisational and management studies, the paper reviews extant literature on case study research and distinguishes between its two forms - a positivist inclined conventional approach (e.g. Eisenhardt, 1989; Gerring, 2004; Yin, 2009) and an interpretivist-inspired alternative approach (e.g. Flyvberg, 2006; Stake, 1995; Thomas, 2010, 2011). In comparison with past publications, the paper does not devote much attention to discussing the latter variety as a critique of the former. Instead it offers a detailed exploration of how the philosophical underpinnings of the interpretivist approach affect the practice of doing case study research. Interpretivist case study research is defined as a reflexive endeavour emphasising experiential knowledge extrapolated from research participants' accounts for the purpose of generating rich, holistic analyses rather than generalisable theoretical constructs. The paper then makes a much needed contribution to case study literature by offering comprehensive guidance on collecting interview, documentary and observational data during fieldwork, data analysis and writing-up of case reports in a manner consistent with the underlying philosophy of interpretivist case study research. Examples from the author's on-going multiple-case research project on the delivery of knowledge-intensive business services, which utilises interview and documentary data, are invoked and discussed to demonstrate how these guidelines can inform research design.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2017
Externally publishedYes
EventManchester Methods Exchanges Conference - Manchester Museum, Kanaris Theatre, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 May 2017 → … (Event programme.)


ConferenceManchester Methods Exchanges Conference
Abbreviated titleMethodsNW
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period10/05/17 → …
Internet address


  • case studies
  • case study
  • interpretivism
  • interpretivist methodology
  • qualitative research
  • qualitative methodology
  • qualitative
  • qualitative study


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