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Yes, They Are: The Generalizability of Case Studies

Yes, They Are: The Generalizability of Case Studies

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Published by Jane Gilgun
This article shows that the findings of case studies are generalizable. The details of a case are not generalizable. The findings of cases are. Astute researchers can draw learnings from a single case study and show how this learning is useful in other situations. An illustration of this point is a case of a 6 year-old boy who went into shock when he received a blood transfusion from donors who had eaten peanuts. The boy was allergic to peanuts. From this single case, medical professionals learned that blood products can transmit allergens associated with peanuts. This is an important finding not only for persons who have peanut allergies but supplies lines of inquiry about other kinds of allergies that may be present in donated blood. Furthermore, Einstein developed his theory of relatively from observations of cases. His findings are generalizable.
This article shows that the findings of case studies are generalizable. The details of a case are not generalizable. The findings of cases are. Astute researchers can draw learnings from a single case study and show how this learning is useful in other situations. An illustration of this point is a case of a 6 year-old boy who went into shock when he received a blood transfusion from donors who had eaten peanuts. The boy was allergic to peanuts. From this single case, medical professionals learned that blood products can transmit allergens associated with peanuts. This is an important finding not only for persons who have peanut allergies but supplies lines of inquiry about other kinds of allergies that may be present in donated blood. Furthermore, Einstein developed his theory of relatively from observations of cases. His findings are generalizable.

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Published by: Jane Gilgun on May 24, 2011
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Current Issues in Qualitative Research
 An Occasional Publication for Field Researchers from a Variety of Disciplines
 _____________________________________________________________________________________________ 
Volume 2, Number 4 May 2011 _____________________________________________________________________________________ 
YesTheyAre:TheGeneralizabilityofCaseStudies
byJaneF.Gilgun
singlecasestudycanchangelong-heldunderstandings.Thelatestexampleisacaseofa6year-oldboywhowentintoanaphylacticshockafterhereceivedabloodtransfusion.Hebrokeoutinarash,haddifficultybreathing,andhisbloodpressuredropped.Promptactionledtohisrecovery.Hehadreceivedbloodplateletsfromfivedonors.Hismothertoldthemedicalteamthathersonhadexperiencedthesamereactionswhenheatepeanutsfiveyearsearlier.Hehadhadnopeanutssince.Abloodtestshowedthattheboyhadexperiencedanallergicreactiontopeanuts.Theteamcontactedthefivedonors.Threeofthemhadsnackedonpeanutsthenightbeforetheygaveblood.Theteamthattreatedtheboyreportedthecaselastweekinthe
NewEnglandJournalofMedicine
.MembersoftheteamfromamedicalcenterintheNetherlandsthoughtthatthe“consumptionofpeanutsbythedonorsbeforeblooddonationprovidethetriggerforthispatient’stransfusionreaction.”Theypointedoutthatotherpatientsmayhavehadsimilarreactions,butnooneknewhoworwhy.“Itispossiblethatallergenstransferredinbloodproductshaveledtoreactionsthathavegoneunexplainedandunreported,”theywrote.
CaseStudiesandGeneralizability
Thiscasestudyandthelessonlearnedfromitshowhowimportantcasestudiesare.Manyresearchersbelievethatcasestudiesarenotgeneralizable.Theyare.Thiscaseshowsthegeneralizabilityoflessonslearnedfromonecase.Themedicalteamlearnedthatallergensrelatedtopeanutconsumptioncanbetransferredthroughbloodtransfusions.Thisisalearningthatcanbeappliedtoothersituations.Inthefuture,bloodbanksthroughouttheworldwillaskpotentialdonorsiftheyhaveeatenpeanutsrecently,oratleasttheyshould.Ifdonorshave,theirbloodproductswouldbesolabeled.Somebloodbanksmaynottakebloodfrompersonswhohaveeatenpeanutsrecently.Ifdonorsforgettheyhaveeatenpeanutsorlieaboutit,thenrecipientswithpeanutallergiesmaygointoshock.Ifthishappens,medicalteamswillknowrightawaythatpeanutsmaybethecause.Medicalteamwillalsoaskifcandidatesforbloodtransfusionshaveallergies,suchasthoserelatedtopeanuts.Theywillknowtoavoidproductsthatmaycontaintracesofpeanuts.
GeneralizabilitytoOtherSituations
A
 
Thefindingsofcasestudies,therefore,aregeneralizable.Thecaseitselfisunique,butthelearningscanbeappliedtoothersituations.Sometimesthiskindofgeneralizabilityiscalledtransferability.Sometimesitiscalledanalyticgeneralizability.Itisnotstatisticalgeneralizability.Personswhoclaimthatthefindingsofcasestudiesarenotgeneralizabledonotunderstandthatthereismorethanonetypeofgeneralizability.Theybelievethatonetypeofgeneralizabilityfitsallofresearch.Thisisnotso.LeeCronbachsaidmanyyearsagothatanyfinding,nomatterwhichtypeofresearchitwasdevelopedupon,canbeusefulinothersettings.Thisisgeneralizability.Healsosaidthatwemusttestthesefindingsforfitwhenwewanttoapplytheminnewsituations.Thismeansthatinsituationswhereindividualsaretoreceivedonatedbloodproducts,medicalteamsmustknowifpatientshaveallergiestopeanutsandifthebloodproductscontaintracesofpeanuts.Makingtheseapplicationswillinitiatepreventionstrategies.Theyalsowillhelpexplainreactionsthatuntilnowhavegoneunexplained.Researchersusecasestudiestodevelopandtesttheory
Discussion:LearningsfromCasesareGeneralizable
Eachcaseisunique,justaseachpersonandeachsituationareunique.Whatisnotuniquearetheconceptsandideasthatwedrawfromcasestudies.Theseconceptsandideasaregeneralizabile.Researchersandpeoplelivingtheireverydaylivesdonotneedrandomsamplesinordertolearnsomethingfromparticularsituations.Whattheyneedisimaginationandcapacitiestoabstractideasfromparticularcases.Thentheyneedimaginationandattentiontodetailtoseeifwhattheylearnedfromothersituationsfitsnewsituations.Probabilisticgeneralizabilityrequiresrandomsamples.Generalizalingfromonecasetoanotherdoesnot.Thereismorethanonetypeofgeneralizability.Casestudiesareimportantsourcesofknowledge.Findingsfromcasestudiesaregeneralizable.
 AbouttheAuthor
JaneF.Gilgun,Ph.D.,LICSW,isaprofessor,SchoolofSocialWork,UniversityofMinnesota,TwinCities,USA.SeeProfessorGilgun’sotherarticles,books,andchildren’sstoriesonscribd.com,AmazonKindle,andiBooks.
References
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Symbolicinteractionism.(pp
(pp.140-152)Berkeley:UniversityofCaliforniaPress.OriginallypublishedinVol.XIXin
TheAmericanSociologicalReview.
Bryant,Antony&KathyCharmaz(Eds.)(2007).
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Chicago:UniversityofChicagoPress.
 
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1-4. Available athttp://www.scribd.com/doc/27352636/Coffee-with-Anselm.Gilgun, Jane F. (in press). Qualitative family research: Enduring themes and contemporary variations. InGary F. Peterson & Kevin Bush (Eds.),
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(3rd ed.) (pp. 219-261). New York: Plenum.Gilgun, Jane F. (2011). Theory and case study research.
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Thispaperwaspresentedatthe31stAnnualTheoryConstruction&ResearchMethodologyWorkshopoftheNationalCouncilonFamilyRelations,Rochester,NY,November2001.Availableat
http://www.scribd.com/doc/56167556/Case-Based-Research-Analytic-Induction-and-Theory-Development-The-Future-and-the-Past 
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HandbookofMarriageandtheFamily
(2nded.)(pp.219-261).NewYork:Plenum.
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