In This Chapter

Case Study Research on Higher Education for Sustainable Development

Epistemological foundation and quality challenges

Authored by: Regula Kyburz-Graber

Routledge Handbook of Higher Education for Sustainable Development

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415727303
eBook ISBN: 9781315852249
Adobe ISBN: 9781317918110


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Case study research offers a range of accounts for in-depth research in fields of higher education, in the sense of identifying relevant issues for promoting sustainable development and creating knowledge within and between different groups (Wals et al. 2013), in and outside higher education institutions. This chapter about case study research is aimed at contributing to increase the reliability and credibility of case study research and to establish it as a methodology with high potential for analysing social situations. In a first step we have to be distinctive about the terms ‘case’, ‘case study’ and ‘case study research’. In literature on environmental education and education for sustainable development the terms ‘case’ and ‘case study’ are quite commonly used (e.g. Karim et al. 2013; Togo and Lotz-Sisitka 2013; Evans et al. 2012; Svanström et al. 2012; James and Card 2012; Chapman 2011; Sanusi and Khelghat-Doost 2008; Baumgartner and Zabin 2008; Van Petegem et al. 2007; Newman 2005; Fisher 2003; Castillo et al. 2002). Not all authors do clearly differentiate between ‘case’ and ‘case study’ and related intentions and procedures.‘Case’ is often used as a synonym for ‘example’ without claiming any research intentions. According to O’Leary (2010) a case is ‘a bounded system, or a particular instance or entity that can be defined by identifiable boundaries’ (O’Leary 2010: 174). ‘Case study’ is prevalently used whenever a confined system, a specific situation or a process is analysed and the findings are presented in a comprehensive way. The intention of such a process is the description of the case as closely as possible to give readers a picture and an understanding of the situation in question. O’Leary defines case study as ‘a method of studying elements of the social through comprehensive description and analysis of a single situation or case, e.g. a detailed study of an individual, setting, group, episode, or event’ (O’Leary 2010: 174).

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