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Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An

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Case study research and network theory: birds of a feather
Evert Gummesson

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Evert Gummesson, (2007),"Case study research and network theory: birds of a feather", Qualitative
Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, Vol. 2 Iss 3 pp. 226 - 248
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Case study research and network

theory: birds of a feather
Evert Gummesson


Stockholm University School of Business, Stockholm, Sweden


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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to advocate that case study research needs to renew itself and
employ its full potential as an innovative theory-generating methodology in management disciplines;
and to propose that a viable strategy for such renewal is to exploit the power of case study research
and network theory as supplementary methodologies.
Design/methodology/approach The paper is a reflective and synthesising comparative study.
Findings If one steps down from the tip of the iceberg and inspects the underwater properties of
case study research and network theory a common core is found: the recognition of complexity. The
methodologies supplement each other, case study research primarily using verbal language and
qualitative data, while network theory uses a nodes-and-links language that opens up for verbal,
graphic and mathematical treatment. Case study research is primarily associated with qualitative
research in social sciences and network theory with quantitative research in both social and natural
sciences. By abolishing the unfortunate categories of qualitative/quantitative and natural
sciences/social sciences that have been set against each other, and letting them join forces for a
common goal to learn about life people open up for methodological creativity.
Originality/value By comparing case study research with network theory on a fundamental level,
the paper offers a novel perspective on research. It is a contribution to an overriding desire to improve
the understanding of management and society.
Keywords Innovation, Quality, Case studies, Complexity theory, Research methods
Paper type Research paper

Qualitative Research in Organizations

and Management: An International
Vol. 2 No. 3, 2007
pp. 226-248
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/17465640710835373

After long experience with case study research, I have begun to feel increasingly
uncomfortable. The feeling is that case study research does not develop as a research
methodology. Over several decades, I have also devoted my research to relational
aspects of marketing. This has progressively led up to network theory and its
application to marketing. I have realized that it is all about life. I am not a student of
marketing, I am a student of life through marketing. Embracing a broad qualitative
and humanities-oriented world-view, I believe you can study life through anything; life
exists in each cell, each galaxy, each event and each discipline, irrespective of how
mundane or grand it may appear. I discovered that network theory and case study
research are birds of a feather. As such, they should flock together but so far they
do not.
The paper is an invitation to dialogue rather than an effort to tell the reader how
things are or should be. Put in internet lingo, there is an open-source code like the
Linux operative system which invited computer geeks to develop an initially crude
concept and has continued to do so since 1991; and the more recent Wikipedia,
presenting itself as the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit. Our increased
understanding of customer participation and customer-to-customer interaction (C2C),
the explosion of user-controlled web sites and communities and the idea about the

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future internet as a platform for user participation (Web 2.0), and the current interest in
a new service-dominant logic (Vargo and Lusch, 2004; Lusch and Vargo, 2006) support
the customers role as co-creators of our economies. The same role duality applies to
scholars as they swing between being producers of science and consumers of science.
Dialogical orientation (Ballantyne and Varey, 2006) should outrank the hard sell,
win-lose debates and defence of established but often outdated concepts, theories and
The term management will be used henceforth as the collective designation for
business administration (or increasingly just business) and public administration. It
includes a series of subdisciplines, among them organization, leadership, accounting,
finance and marketing.
In the centre of the paper is a treatise of the two methodologies case study research
and network theory. They have basic properties in common; above all they address
complexity. As case study research is known among qualitative researchers, only some
specific aspects, which I consider less known and in need of dialogue and rethinking,
are presented. In contrast, network theory is less practiced in management research,
particularly when you consider the contributions from natural sciences. The paper
presents links between case study research and network theory and offers an overview
of network properties. I do not as yet feel the time is ripe to offer a more structured
comparison but rather to draw the readers attention to an opportunity for exciting
developments in research methodology. The paper ends with conclusions and
A mainstream dividing line in research is whether one should test extant theory or
generate new theory. Let me initially establish my conviction that management is in
need of more innovative and daring research, quantum leaps and paradigm shifts. As
social scientists look up to the scientific approaches in physics, it may be appropriate to
quote Einstein: To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from
a new angle, requires imagination and marks real advances in science. This is a
broader, overriding alternative to the current piecemeal contributions where tiny
details and simplistic causal relationships between two or a few variables are studied
in a contextual vacuum, deprived of real life complexity and dynamics. The current
research tradition is more rituals-oriented in an effort to stand out as scientific, and it is
less result-oriented. This is unnecessary as the demarcation line between theory testing
and theory generation is artificial and superfluous. By emphasising innovation and
continuous improvements, theory-in-use will be constantly exposed to comparison
with new theory. So, may the best one win and the loser withdraw with no
hard feelings.
The two methodologies could be combined, using network theory within case
studies as both a way to generate and structure data and as an analytical technique.
Case study research speaks a verbal language while network theory speaks a
nodes-and-links language and provides a foundation for graphical, mathematical and
computer processing without rejecting verbal language. Network theory offers
traditionally narrative case study the option to take a leap forward by introducing a
different type of data generation and processing. Those who master verbal language
and write well can offer both rigour and freedom in expression and interpretation. By
being different but with the same interest in complexity, cross-fertilization between the
two is possible.

Case study
research and
network theory


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Case study research

Is the quality of case study research in management disciplines higher today than
20 years ago?
There is no straightforward answer to the question. An evaluation could include
three aspects. The first is whether case study methodology has improved, through
incremental polishing and/or quantum leaps. The second is whether researchers have
become more skilled in applying the methodology. Has education in case study
research improved? Have supervisors of term papers all the way to PhD theses become
better coaches? The third concerns examiners, reviewers of journal articles, and
members of promotion, grants and certification committees. Do they have adequate
knowledge of case study research and qualitative methods in general or are their minds
mainly formatted by a statistical paradigm?
Assessing these quality issues and possible changes requires specific study. Even
so, it will not be easy to come up with unambiguous conclusions. In an empirical study
of the status of qualitative research in the management field, Cassell et al. (2006) found
indications that qualitative research was often assessed by the wrong criteria
(inappropriate procedural correctness) and inconsistent use of criteria. On the training
side, they found a bias in favour of quantitative approaches. Other indicators of
inadequate knowledge and training are that Flybjerg (2006) finds it called for to
explain five misunderstandings about the basics of case study research; should not
these have reached the mainstream by now? Personally, I have found it necessary to
structure case study research in management into five foci, all elementary but not yet
well applied (Gummesson, 2007).
I consider cases central in management research. In my home country, Sweden
cases constitute the most important empirical base for masters and PhD theses at
business schools; in many other countries, they are the exception. Case study research
is criticized by quantitative researchers for being just conceptual, useful at an
exploratory stage but not for proving anything, lacking in rigour, and offering
journalism and anecdotal evidence with non-generalisable outcomes. Let us hope that
a falling number of researchers will remain mesmerized by the hubris of quantitative
researchers who take their superiority for granted, allowing little reflection but endless
fundamentalist rhetoric.
In the absence of further studies and more conclusive evidence, I will discuss some
of my favourite ideas related to the three aspects noted above, and based on several
decades of case study research experience. These ideas come under two headings:
complexity and quality/productivity.

Business is in constant flux and it is only partially predictable. A research method
therefore must allow the study of change processes. Snapshot at one point of time
(statics) may be totally inadequate and a series of discrete snapshots (comparative
statics) may be more adequate but not enough to satisfy business reality. For an
extreme case that contains all the ingredients of a Shakespearean play, follow the
developments of the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and the intricacies in
designing, financing, producing and marketing its new super-jumbo passenger jet and
its race with the market leader, the American Boeing. The drama is continually

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reported in the business press. Even the brief media reports offer enough material to
create respect for the complexity that has to be tackled. Our methodology must be
responsive to complexity, or research in management will neither make a contribution
to theory, nor to practice. An example of such responsiveness is Bakir and Bakir (2006)
who apply grounded theory to the elusive concept of strategy. They do not buy the
conventional and rationalistic simplifications but dive right into the complexity of
strategy through multiparadigm inquiry.
Case study research tries to respond to complexity by providing rich and thick
descriptions in the sense suggested by Geertz (1973). But the genome of case study
research stretches beyond such descriptions. It allows the study of complexity, context,
ambiguity and chaos. It allows a holistic, systemic approach with an unlimited number
of variables and links. It allows an inductive approach without considering extant
theory, but can also be deductive or a combination of the two. It offers freedom in the
choice of data generation and analytical techniques with little regulation. It is
innovative, entrepreneurial and non-bureaucratic. It endorses the urgency of access to
reality and has validity and relevance in focus. Access may be denied for social,
physical, or resource reasons, but should not be impaired by the imposition of
approved but insensitive data collection and analysis techniques.
Complexity will be used as a term to represent all those factors, links and other
circumstances that make research difficult and uncertain. Although accepted in
natural sciences, the social sciences quantitative mainstream, including management
disciplines, feels uncomfortable with complexity.
Being complex means that multiple factors and relationships are interdependent.
Context therefore is a major dimension of complexity. With reference to quantum
theory, Zohar (1997, p. 46) points out that To be known, to be measured, to be used, a
quantum entity must always be seen within the larger context of its defining
relationships. Pick one or two factors from a context and insulate them and you
regress to the mechanical idea that if you study all the details you can screw them
together like they were parts of an engine and there is the whole! The
Humpty-Dumpty syndrome, derived from the old nursery rhyme in which Humpty
Dumpty fell off a shelf and went to pieces, shows in common-sense language that
. . . resembles all the kings horses and all the kings men tackling the puzzle created by the
fragments of Humpty Dumptys broken body. . . Despite the fragmentation in professional
specialties, professionals and managers are expected to somehow put their and only their
pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together again. Further, they are to accomplish this task
without really understanding what Humpty Dumpty looked like in the first place, or what the
other professions can do to make him whole again (Waddock and Spangler, 2000, p. 211).

The fact that Humpty Dumpty was an egg and assuming that it was raw and not
hard-boiled, makes the dilemma even more obvious. How do you put a broken egg
together? It is an organic, live phenomenon whose elements mix and merge after a
crash and quickly degenerate much like an organization or a market.
We will now proceed to the assessment of quality and productivity of case study
research and how management research can leave behind routinely applied quality
criteria and learn from industry.

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Quality and productivity

It is often said in texts based on cases that the cases illustrate something. You can
probably find examples that seem to support any absurdity but such exampling is
not proof of anything (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). However, examples can facilitate the
understanding of theoretical constructs and complex argumentation by relating them
to everyday experiences and familiar metaphors and theory. For scholars, the task of
genuine case study research is the provision of empirical data for analyses and
conclusions; practitioners have to go further and make decisions, initiate action and
achieve results. It is correct, as is often pointed out, that one or a few cases cannot
answer the questions of how often, how much, and how many. But is it not better to
understand a phenomenon in depth than to know how often the not understood
phenomenon occurs?
Excellence in case study research requires skills to access data and to analyze and
interpret documents, interviews, observations and experiences. It requires that you are
critical to the data offered by your sources but constructively critical. A respondents
answers and comments are always slanted, unknowingly and without malice or
deliberately, and with various motives and power behind it. Increasingly which
should be obvious to those who are in accounting, corporate strategy or marketing, and
to economists and political scientists politicians, reporters, public relations people
and lobbyists manipulate our perception of what is going on or what happened.
Politicians are considered liars, it seems, by a majority of people; salespeople are
known to be overpromising; and accountants help cook the books. The phenomenon
is not new but today spinning of information has become a profession. Consultants
are hired to promote certain facts and suppress others and their only loyalty is to
those who pay their invoices. The distortion of fact can be skilfully disguised as
documentaries on television or scientific columns in journals. Truth in the classic
sense is for the weak and gullible. A majority of the professionals probably does not
even know what the truth is and if they are lying and distorting fact.
In the paper scripts I get for review the most common references on case study
research are Yins (1984) book, originally from 1984 and lightly revised for later
editions, and article from Eisenhardt (1989). Although these sources offer important
insights and guidance they seem all too often to be routinely applied as if they were
complete and forever valid. If nothing has happened with case study research since the
1980 s, we had better watch out. I also fear that not every author has read Yin and
Eisenhardt in depth but settled for them because of their ubiquity in reference lists;
they are a safe choice. Increasingly, reference lists become mere name-dropping that
bring referencing into a vicious circle: the more a reference is listed the more it is listed
whether it is the most suitable reference for a specific script or not. A new reference
by an unknown author in a second tier journal stands little chance. References become
a social rather than an intellectual dimension of the researchscape.
Objectivity could not do without subjectivity and intersubjectivity. The ultimate
decision to release a wine on the market is taken by a single person or a small group of
connoisseurs, each with a superior nose and tongue. They snuff and taste. No better
method has been found, which frustrates bureaucratic technology freaks: why cannot
we get a machine do it, an objective system with quantitative indicators? The
assessment of the quality of academic research is no more scientific than the
assessment of wine quality; it is also largely a nose-and-tongue exercise.

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There is also talk about productivity of research but quality and productivity are
interrelated in a complex web. What would a working trade-off between quality and
productivity look like? There is no general answer, only specific, context-dependent
answers. To force pseudo-productivity, for example measuring how many articles
faculty wrote last year, is detrimental over the long-term. Currently, those who want to
pursue and maintain an academic career are pressed to publish at least two articles per
year in blind-reviewed international journals, preferably in top journals. In a
benevolent interpretation, the number is a productivity measure, and the peer review
and journal status are quality indicators. Turned into points, scales and rankings,
however, a deceptive security is reached; we bury our heads in the sand in the belief
that we become invisible.
The demands on the researchers can be viewed as efforts to keep quality and
productivity under political and bureaucratic rather than scholarly control. In
academe, certification bodies and promotion committees have established elaborate
systems of credits that include, for example, the ranking of the journal in which you
published, if you wrote it alone or with co-authors, if these co-authors come from the
same department and the same university as you or from elsewhere, and if your name
is listed first, second, etc. This system has given birth to large publishing houses
specialising in journals for academic promotion rather than journals for disseminating
scientific advancements. From a marketing perspective, publishers are right; they fill a
need in the market.
There are many catches here which would take separate articles to discuss. Let me
just mention one or two. It is recommended that everybody should publish in
international top journals. To become a top journal usually takes decades and the
international top journals in management disciplines are American. European
journals are scornfully referred to as second tier journals. New journals covering
innovative research and being entrepreneurial are looked down upon.
The whole situation is a paradox but driven with ferocious blindness. For example,
in marketing everybody wants to publish in the Journal of Marketing (JM). In
approximate terms JM receives 300 new scripts per year and 100 scripts that come
back after revision. It can publish 30, meaning that very few academics can get a script
accepted in JM, even in a lifetime. Further, there is a backlog of several years.
A rejection does not automatically mean bad quality; it is also a matter of what the
editor considers a good fit in accordance with JMs mission, and an appealing mix of
articles in a certain issue. Each script is reviewed by three reviewers which are at
least in theory blind or anonymous and the editor. There are certain criteria but all
these require a series of judgement calls from each individual judge, meaning that the
review process is guided by a mix of objective, intersubjective, subjective, quantitative
and qualitative criteria in unknown proportions and with unknown weights. The good
news is that the real bad scripts are weeded out but the bad news is that the real good
ones may be as well. Innovation, breaking with a reigning paradigm, which is a
necessity for quantum leaps in science, by definition does not comply with mainstream
criteria. At the same time, we cry for innovation. The risk is that we get
more-of-the-same mediocrity, albeit the mediocrity is of high standard.
Quantitative research is a priori defined as superior to qualitative research, a claim
which is on such divine level that no evidence is necessary; it is a God-given fact.
A wide-spread rumour claims that you must include a quantitative part to get articles

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published and that one or a few cases are not enough. This is only partially true and
my prediction is that it is changing in favour of cases. The best thing with the plethora
of journals and conferences is that they open up an unregulated market with numerous,
decentralized decision-makers guided by different paradigms. People can still take
initiatives without being dependent on established, power-playing professors and
university bureaucrats, and innovation and entrepreneurship is given a chance.
Sometimes an abundance of data that has required numerous interviews, audio
recordings and transcripts during a lengthy period of time, is mistaken for high
quality. In a discussion with Barney Glaser, co-creator of grounded theory, he stated
that a research project should not take too long six months at the most. The quality
will not forever go up, but after a while starts to decline and so will productivity. Rich
descriptions can become filthy rich; thick ones can become overweight.
Academe can learn from business and government organizations where quality
management under different labels, including productivity and financial outcomes, is a
big issue. Belatedly, in the 1980s, it was realized in the Western World that quality and
productivity cannot be upheld without the concerted effort of every little detail in an
organization, its suppliers, distribution network, leadership, human resource
management, and so on. Among the quality systems are Lean Production,
Six Sigma, ISO, and the quality awards such as the European Quality Award and
the US Baldrige Award. They provide extensive lists of criteria, questions and
comments 40-50 pages which have to be considered by those who seek to improve
and maintain quality. They increasingly stress the outcome while initially the stress
was on following procedures and installing enablers. Compared to this variety and
richness, mainstream scientific quality criteria stand out as poor.
As uncovered in the study by Cassell et al. (2006), it is not unusual that ignorant
reviewers of case study research lean on criteria from statistics and hypotheses testing
in the conviction that these represent general criteria for scientific evaluation. Three
common quality criteria in science are validity, generalisability and reliability or some
variation of these. Validity in its generic sense is of cardinal importance in case study
research. Have the researchers been able to capture the phenomenon they are chasing
or have they studied something else? Generalisability is closely related to validity and
is sometimes called external validity. It can take place on many levels, from a narrow
generalization within a limited substantive area to universal validity. In applied
research and consulting, the interest is primarily in specific applications of research
results. However, it is desirable and sometimes mandatory that academic research
gives a contribution to science in general, albeit it may be a limited contribution.
The favourite of science is reliability. A study with high reliability can be replicated
by others and everyone should arrive at roughly the same result. This is usually not
attainable when you study complex phenomena, especially when change is a major
force. Still reliability can perform a few odd jobs in case study research: as a police
function (uncover dishonest research); as an intelligence test (are the scientists clever or
stupid); and as a validity crutch (validity seems beyond reach and reliability is
established and validity is assumed) (Gummesson, 2000).
Others have pointed out the need for contingent criteria to evaluate qualitative
research in management and that there are institutionalized biases in favour of
quantitative research (Lee, 2006). For example, Guba and Lincoln (1994) argued that
qualitative research should not be evaluated by means of reliability and validity

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alone those criteria were designed for quantitative research and suggest
trustworthiness, divided in four sub-criteria: credibility, transferability, dependability
and conformability. Seale (1999) lists several detailed efforts to establish general
quality criteria but advocates that such criteriology is non-productive. He sees
qualitative research as a craft skill in the same sense as the researchers experience and
personality are the most valuable instrument and that each methodology is affected by
that, including quantitative research. He wants to erase the borders between
philosophical, political and theoretical positions; research could benefit from whatever
there is, be it positivism, constructivism, or postmodernism. But, he is not as eclectic as
I am when I claim that we should include approaches from natural sciences as well.
This standpoint will be further explained in the section on network theory.
The first quality decision concerns what research to prioritize. It should follow the
industrial imperative: Do the right thing. But, who decides what is the right thing to
focus on? It creates a problem for innovative research as it may antagonize mainstream
supervisors, examiners, reviewers and funding bodies. They do not believe in it or they
simply do not grasp it. We have to accept that innovative research always involves
Although I have argued well over 20 years now that academe should listen to what
manufacturing, services and government have learnt about quality I seem to be crying
in a desert (Gummesson, 2000). But we are addressing quality in business and
management research and why cannot we learn from its practice? Is it still that
business schools only go to sociology and ethnography to learn about research and
science? It certainly seems so when looking at the references to articles. How then are
we going to establish methodology in business and management?
Having accepted the choice of a certain research topic, the quality focus moves to
the implementation and outcome of the project. In Table I my own efforts to combine
lessons from quality management in business and academe, quality criteria and
strategies have been assembled in a checklist. It can be used in two ways. The first is
during a research project to avoid that early mistakes are repeated and contaminate
future stages of the project. It follows another industry imperative Do it right the first
time. However, it is essential to note that quality management in industry is primarily
focused on systematic assessment of continuous and controlled activities and not on
innovation. One of the most innovative companies since decades is 3M. It has boasted a
creative culture and proved that it gives results. When a Six Sigma programme was
implemented profitability stock price and shareholder value rose, mainly because
productivity was improved (meaning short-term cost reduction). After a couple of
years, the creative environment had declined to a stage where it is now critical to
re-establish its vitality (Hindo, 2007). If innovation is restricted to certain rules, it dies
by definition, but at certain stages, it can include elements of discipline and standard
The second use is to assess the outcome of a project. Industry has gone from quality
control of the finished product to a focus on each element during the process. In
academe, there is a similar development albeit not as clear especially as a true research
project only contains a certain amount of repetitive behaviour and a larger element of
developmental behaviour. Research should not be the object of just a last minute
verdict. What is required is a delicate balance between making quality certain under
way without interfering with unorthodox and innovative thinking. The ideal is that a

Case study
research and
network theory


Readers should be able to follow the research

process and draw conclusions of their own

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As far as realistically feasible researchers

should present their paradigm and

The research should possess credibility

The researcher should have had adequate


Table I.
Checklist for quality
assurance of case study

Well written, intelligible report

A comprehensive account of the research process
A statement of the problem, purpose and research
questions of the study
A description of methods of data collection, coding,
analysis and interpretation procedures
A well documented and rich description of cases
Motives for the selection of cases
Limits of the research project
Clear presentation of results and conclusions
Information to the reader if taboo information has
been discovered but is made anonymous or
Personal and professional values and if these have
changed in the course of the research
Values of the system under analysis
Theories and concepts that govern the project
together with the reasons for the choice of these
theories and concepts
The researchers prior experience and other pertinent
information on the researcher
Correct data including correct rendering of
statements and views of informants
How analysis and interpretation are supported by
Demonstrated confidence in the theory, concepts and
conclusions that are used or generated in the
Honest presentation of alternative interpretations
and contradictory data
The avoidance of deliberate or unintentional
The conclusions should accord with one another
(internal logical consistency)
The actors in the cases should be able to recognize
what is presented in the report (external logical
Presentation of all relevant data and information
used in the case study
Selected methods and techniques should be
appropriate to the problem, purpose and research
Used methods and techniques that ensured adequate
access to the processes under study
Account of any difficulties in deploying desired
access methods
Account of any problems and limitations which
arose through denied access
Account of any problems and limitations in access
which arose through time and money constraints
How access limitations have possibly impaired the

An assessment on the generality and validity

of the research

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The research should make a contribution

The research process should be dynamic

The researcher should possess certain

personal qualities

To what areas the results apply

How closely the research represents the phenomenon
which the researcher aimed to study
If other research confirms or disconfirms the
If results bear out or disagree with extant theories
and concepts
Contribute to increased knowledge
Deal with relevant problems
Optimize the trade-off between methods, techniques
and results
Be of value to the scientific community, the client,
and the public
Actively be made available to the scientific
community, the client, and the public
The extent to which the researcher has continuously
learnt through own reflection and dialogue with
Demonstrated creativity and openness to new
information and interpretations
The ability to switch between deep involvement and
A demonstrated awareness of changes of research
design, methods application and so on during the
research process
Commitment to the task of research
Integrity and honesty, being able to voice his or her
Flexibility and openness, being able to adjust to
changed conditions and new even disturbing

Source: Gummesson (2000) reproduced with permission

project should not need any quality checks when finished; it has been taken care of
during the journey. That is what supervisors are for; they are coaches.
Nobody can score high on each issue; such a demand would inhibit innovation. The
goal should be to reach a satisfactory level with regard to the type of research and the
imperfections that occur in the practice of research. However, procedural adherence
I followed the rules and did it by the book is not sufficient; it will promote research
ritual over results.
The outcome of the quality assessment therefore is a weighted impression through
examiner reflection and dialogue. For example, a precise statement of the researchers
paradigm (point 2 in Table I) may be premature if the researcher is experimenting with
a new paradigm. It may not be clear what premises guided the researcher; this requires
further study in a new project. If the demand is initially too strict, it would impede
innovation. Another example is the demand for adequate access (point 4). There can be
many impediments in getting access but the awareness of access failures helps to
assess validity (point 5).

Case study
research and
network theory

Table I.


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As case study research handles complexity, it seems natural that the assessment of
quality and productivity is complex, too. I mentioned earlier that the mere listing of
criteria and questions on quality applied to organizations soliciting quality awards
requires 40 to 50 pages. Mine is not that long but could of course be expanded. In its
current form, it is a manageable compromise and it is far beyond what is recommended
in methodology handbooks.
Ideally, the checklist should also include productivity and the links between
productivity and quality and the generation of new knowledge. However, nobody so
far has been able to find guidelines for such a trade-off. It is possible to establish
simplistic demands like two articles per year in blind reviewed top scientific journals
and books do not count. Although such statements may seem rock solid and
hands-on, they promote rigidity and tie the hands of scientists rather than stimulate
quality, productivity and innovation. They encourage risk avoidance, me-too
mainstream research and robot-like testing of extant theory, and they impose
arbitrary constraints on what is amenable to research all because this is convenient
to measure. It encourages ritual over results. The ritual should be a supportive enabler,
it should facilitate the researchers survival in a messy world, but the enabler is just a
means, not the end. Strict ritualism discourages true search which includes risk-taking
but can result in discovery and improved knowledge. At the end of the day even with
this convenient rigidity the overall assessment rests with the personal feelings of the
judges and their nose-and-tongue perception of the world. Objective criteria are
preferable (if they exist in a truly objective form) and intersubjective, peer-approved
criteria can facilitate research during a period (but not for ever). Researchers must also
be trusted with the ability to understand what is right.
Further, we have to acknowledge that the bulk of knowledge has not yet been
communicated because it lacks words or numbers. It is experienced by individual
researchers or research teams; it is tacit knowledge. Hopefully, it may some day
become explicit knowledge but that may take its time. Demanding immediate clarity is
the kiss of death before birth. To scorn intuition, sound judgment, common sense,
and experience is an expression of academic snobbism. Even these academic
bureaucratic and snob scientists end up with nose-and-tongue overall assessments,
where the tipping-point in one direction or the other may be no more than a personal
and emotional whim.
Network theory
Establishing the link between cases and networks
My first encounter with network theory came through sociograms in the 1960 s. They
described how Laura related to John, how John related to Richard, and so on. Since, the
1970 s, interorganizational networks have been successfully tried on, for example,
business-to-business marketing (B2B). These applications stayed with me and kept
pleading for attention. In the early 2000 s, I suspected that one of the big problems with
relationship marketing, customer relationship management (CRM), and one-to-one
marketing was their focus on the dyad, the relationship between a single supplier and a
single customer, rather than on the whole context in which the dyad is embedded.
I decided to write a book about networks in marketing. It first came out in Swedish
under the title Many-to-many Marketing with the subtitle From one-to-one to
many-to-many in the marketing of the network economy (Gummesson, 2004).

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Network theory became enormously helpful to better understand relationships and

to design many-to-many marketing. I gradually realized that life is a network of
relationships in which interaction takes place. This must of course show in each
specific facet of life, including management. An observation that intrigued me was that
network theory is both a theory of life and a methodology to explore life. Sometimes
I hear that network thinking is just a metaphor which can be intriguing and
enlightening but hardly demands commitment. I am willing to defend a contrary
standpoint: networks are the real thing. If I am exposed to reasons to abandon the
network paradigm, I will be happy to do so. Until then, as network theory as no other
scientific approach is helping me to discover a new world, I will remain loyal. Network
theory is universal and can be applied to anything.
Setting out on my network Odyssey, I had no clue that network theory had such
wide capacity to handle complexity. Complexity is derived from the Latin verb
complecti (to twine together) and the noun complexus (network). The word system is
derived from the Greek systema, meaning a whole composed of many parts.
Complexity, including networks and systems thinking, has started a natural science
family, complexity theory. Its members embrace complexity instead of shunning it.
Among them are quantum physics, chaos theory, autopoiesis (self-organizing
systems), fractal geometry and string theory. I would like to bring case studies into the
complexity theory family, thus transcending the boundaries between social and
natural sciences.
Natural scientists promote visionary thinking in elevating theory to new heights.
They have even the audacity to suggest a theory of everything (Barrow, 1992). Social
scientists expose an inferiority complex to natural sciences and the physics envy to
use a Freud-inspired term, is widespread. This is unfortunate as social scientists rarely
have any idea what modern physics and mathematics are about. Greenwood and Levin
(2005, p. 53) say that Everyone is supposed to know by now that social research is
different from the study of atoms, molecules, rocks, tigers, slime molds, and other
physical objects. However, they have mainstream physics in mind which has its
place but they do not refer to modern physics and controversial, yet exciting visions
such as string theory.
How about medicine and psychology? Do they not clearly embrace both the
physical, mental and social sides of life? Orthodox western medicine likes to see itself
as a natural science. Social medicine, psychiatry and other border subdisciplines rank
low in the pecking order of medical doctors; hard core physically oriented doctors like
surgeons and cancer specialists reside in the top positions. Although Hippocrates
once founded medical science on seven cases and Freuds psychoanalysis is based on
five cases, orthodox western medicine today rejects clinical cases and condescendingly
stamps them as anecdotal. They want evidence-based medicine an extremist,
narrow form of contextless, statistical cause and effect research ground through a
bureaucratic apparatus.
There is nothing to stop us from using quantitative elements in case study research.
For example, a case of a merger can include spread-sheet analyses of financial data
from a series of years, and a statistical survey of how employees perceived the merger.
Coviello (2005) combines case study research with network theory and classifies the
former as qualitative and the latter as quantitative. This is so in her specific application
but the classification is not universally valid.

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I have found close affinity between case study research and network theory, but the
grammar is different. Case study research is not a theory. It is usually a verbal,
narrative description sometimes supplemented by graphs, pictures and quantitative
elements that matures into analysis and conceptualization. There is an art and science
of text interpretation (hermeneutics) offering guidelines but not strict rules. The
grammar of networks is nodes and links.
It was not until recently that it dawned on me how close the two methodologies are
in addressing the complexity of masses of data, contextual dependency, dynamic
situations, and fuzzy variables. It became clear to me that the two are not in conflict but
supplement each other.
Buchanan (2003, p. 6) makes a connection between social networks and natural
Networks that have grown up under different conditions to meet markedly different needs
turn out to be almost identical in their architecture. Why? A new theoretical perspective is
helping to answer this question and is enabling researchers in almost every area of science to
begin tackling some of their most challenging and important problems.

He concludes that the network perspective has come into its own:
Physicists have entered into a new stage of their science and have come to realize that physics
is not only about physics anymore, about liquids, gases, electromagnetic fields, and physical
stuff in all its forms. At a deeper level, physics is really about organization it is an exploration
of the laws of pure form (p. 165, italics added).

As a physicist, Barabasi (2002, p. 200, p. 208) underscores the application to markets:

. . . understanding network effects becomes the key to survival in a rapidly evolving
new economy and In reality, a market is nothing but a directed network.
Properties and concepts of network theory
Network theory has a long history in social sciences (on social network analysis, see
Scott (1991), Degenne and Forse (1999) and Kilduff and Wenpin (2003); on applications
of networks and relational thinking, see Granovetter (1973, 1978, 1985), Schluter and
Lee (1993, 2003), Castells (1996), Gladwell (2000), Rosen (2002) and Tanner (2003). It
also has a long history in natural sciences in which there is currently a keen interest in
general network theory and the dissolution of boundaries between natural and social
sciences (Barrow, 1992; Zohar, 1997; Capra, 1997, 2002; Barabasi, 2002; Buchanan,
2003; Stacey, 2007). Network theory is used in organization theory (for a state-of-the-art
theoretical account see Czarniawska and Hernes (2005); for a practical application, see
Lipnack and Stamps (1994), and in marketing (Iacobucci, 1996; Moller and Wilson,
1996; Achrol and Kotler, 1999; Christopher et al., 2002; Gummesson, 2004; Coviello,
Next is an account of concepts and properties of network theory that I have
encountered in either or both social and natural sciences, but there is more from natural
sciences. Why this expose and why its length? The rationale is that I want to draw the
attention of researchers in management disciplines, who most likely limit their search
for methodology to the social sciences literature, to extend their search to modern
natural sciences from the past century and to those authors who already transcend the
boundaries between the two. The account is primarily extracted from sources given in

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the previous paragraph, but in some instances specific references are given. To
contribute to the overview, Table II exhibits an index of the concepts and properties.
Nodes, hubs (highly connected nodes), links and interaction are the basic elements
of all networks. The nodes can represent anything of importance to describe and
explain a phenomenon. Often, a node is a person or an organization but it can just as
well be a concept, an event or a machine; it is a matter of researcher discretion. For
management disciplines which deal with both people and technology, especially
information technology that is now brought into every corner of society, it is essential
that both human and technological elements can be shown in interaction. One example
is the concept of high tech/high touch, saying that when technology becomes more
intense in our lives we need to compensate that with human touch. It can also be used
to emphasize the need for technological and human balance. High tech and high-touch
interact and are supplementary.
The network builds up the whole and the parts at the same time, offering an explicit
and orderly way of doing so. It is systemic or holistic and thus caters for the basic
property of context. It allows the study of fragmented detail but offers techniques to
put detail into context and not leave it hanging as does conventional statistical
Each specific network applies the elements and properties in an individual way.
Networks therefore come in many shapes and are shaped by many forces. Examples
are the centralized network (one hub), the decentralized network (many hubs) and the
distributed network (no hub). The topology of networks refers to the network
landscape, its size and the structure of nodes and links.
Structured descriptions are usually linear, presenting events in steps like a chain
(an example is the well known value chain) or chronologically. Networks are
independent of sequence; they are nonlinear and allow iterations, the jumping back and
forth between the elements of a phenomenon. Linear equations require that anomalies
and other disturbing phenomena are sedated and toned down or the equation cannot
be solved but gone is validity.
Cascading failure
Centralised networks
Cluster coefficient
Critical state
Degree exponent
Distributed networks
Error tolerance
Note: For explanation, see the text

High tech/high touch
Phase transition
Planned network
Power law
Preferential attachment

Random network
Scale-free network
Six degrees of separation
Small world
Spreading rate
Tipping point

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Table II.
Network theory index in
alphabetical order


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In early network theory, networks were treated as random. Randomness in the

mathematical sense exists in nature and social life as special cases but not as a general
characteristic. Business networks can include random dimensions but they are
primarily planned networks, modified by the intentions and behaviour of numerous
companies and consumers, by governments and others. The structures and
processes of networks have to be selective to be manageable. This becomes
particularly obvious when a network grows. A dyad includes two people and one link.
Double it to four people and the number of potential links increases to six; double it to
eight people and the potential links will be 28, and so on at an exponential rate. In
principle, networks are scale-free meaning that their size has no limit. In practice, they
are limited by specific conditions and circumstances such as a company owners
objectives, the size of the market, access to capital, and government regulations.
Clusters are dense groupings of nodes and links within which everybody can easily
reach everybody. The cluster coefficient is a measure of closeness. If the coefficient is
1.0 all members of the cluster are in contact with each other. It is zero when one
member is related to all but the others only relate to this one member. If in a cluster of
four, which allows a maximum of six links, only four links exist the coefficient becomes
0.66. Granovetters (1973) concept the strength of weak ties shows that society consists
of highly connected clusters which are linked to each other by weak but yet important
ties. His concept of embeddedness (Granovetter, 1985) everything is embedded in
networks and thus connected supports the notion of the small world, popularly
expressed as six degrees of separation (nobody is more than six steps away from
everybody else in the world).
Hubs (or connectors) are organizations or people with a particular gift or position to
attract others and build contacts with them. Becoming a hub is essential in business.
For example, the more people who visit your web site, the more visible you become and
the more you can sell. The number of hits and orders a web site receives is an indicator
of hub status. Marketing management then could be described as nodes fighting for
links. Studies of webpages show that they follow the mathematical power law. It says
the same as the well known 80/20 rule or Pareto optimal distribution. For example,
80 per cent of the links in a network go to 20 per cent of the nodes, that is, to the
powerful hubs. It can be expressed mathematically by the degree exponent which for
most systems varies between two and three. A study showed that the incoming links to
webpages had a degree exponent close to two telling us how many highly popular links
there were relative to the less popular (Barabasi, 2002, p. 68). It has been shown that the
more links a hub has, the more likely it is that this hub will be preferred by newcomers;
it is known as preferential attachment. It is an inherent growth factor the bigger you
are, the quicker you grow expressed as the rich-get-richer syndrome. In business,
large hubs kill small hubs through competition or swallow them through mergers and
acquisitions. This is claimed to be an unavoidable consequence of the networked
economy and growth strategies governed by natural laws (Barabasi, 2002, p. 200).
Not only size but also fitness explain the attractiveness of a hub. A dominant hub
with the most links can be overtaken by a new kid on the block with greater fitness.
Very rapidly, Google passed established search engines such as Alta Vista; fitness
compensated for the lack of hubs. At a slower rate and thanks to fitness, the Linux
open code operative system has become a threat to the Microsoft monopoly. The
fit-get-rich network is scale-free with many hubs. A few big hubs co-exist with

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numerous links to a large number of small hubs with fewer links; it is oligopoly. The
winner-takes-all network leaves little to others and a single hub controls the bulk of the
links; it is monopoly. Once IBM was close to monopoly in computer hardware and only
intervention from anti-trust laws stopped them. Airlines are obvious networks and in
Europe the upstart Ryanair in 2007 passed the long established British Airways in size.
The reason was fitness, manifested in low price and overall efficiency.
Networks are traditionally perceived as structures but they are as much the
processes going on in the structures and the processes of changing the structures.
So network theory allows change, the dynamics that characterize life in general and is
a pressing issue in business. Phase transition is about transfer from disorder to order.
Power laws take over in phase transitions and the laws are general to behaviour in
nature and society. For example, there are parallels between atoms and consumers. At a
critical point, we have to stop viewing atoms as individuals as they group themselves
in communities where the atoms act in unison. We recognize this in marketing: going
from the individual to communities or segments that buy the same things for the same
reasons. Free capitalist markets are self-organizing when millions of consumers make
choices, not independently because they are influenced by the context of network
belonging, but the variation is so huge that the choices can only be loosely and
temporarily controlled. Companies try to exert control through individual
relationship-building; parasocial relationship-building though symbols such as
brands and storytelling; availability and distribution networks; and even the
creation of physical addiction (examples are medication and sugar). Companies are
trapped between order and chaos and the dream is to reach the state of zero degrees
Celsius when the rather disordered liquid water customers suddenly changes into
a perfectly ordered state ice.
Natures ecosystem has a greater topological robustness and error tolerance than
human-made systems. It can sustain basic functions even if many nodes and links go
bust. Cascading failure refers to a breakdown in one part of a network that builds up
and spreads throughout the network. While sometimes a small node or link can make
all the difference, sometimes the breakdown of a large number of nodes and links does
not incapacitate a network. There is a tipping point, meaning that events accumulate
and reach a point of sudden change. We may not note the signs of the gradual process
because we understand too little of network behaviour. The breakdown of a large hub
may cause instant failure. If the focus by business, government and the media is on big
corporations, the gradual disappearance of small firms and the slowing down of
start-ups and entrepreneurial activity will not be noted underway. Having reached the
tipping point, the process may be irreversible and the effect can hit hard.
When an epidemic or an innovation spreads we want to know the spreading rate
the likelihood that a person will adopt it and the critical threshold, which is the
quantity determined by the properties of the network in which it spreads. If the
spreading rate is below the critical threshold it will die out; if it is above, the number of
adopters will grow exponentially. The thresholds of individuals vary widely, but a
single persons behaviour can trigger collective behaviour and cause unexpected
and sudden events (Granovetter, 1978). We do not know why mobile phones suddenly
spread so fast and why other IT products did not or died. In management, we rely on
plausible explanations and storytelling about events and their links. New theory of

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critical states may in the future give other explanations, equally applicable to physical
and social phenomena (Buchanan, 2003, p. 106).
Several of the general law-like findings that we have discussed are partly
counterintuitive: the small world, the spreading rate, and the tipping point. It is
therefore essential that the outcome of studies in modern mathematics, physics and
other sciences is also tried on social phenomena. Much to the surprise of natural
scientists, certain network laws have been found to be universal and apply to such
differing phenomena as the foodweb of an ecosystem (who eats who), the connected
neurons in the human brain, the dissemination of innovation in consumer markets, the
breakdown of financial markets, and the growth of Google. The world wide web is
one of the largest human-made networks; it is an infrastructural network just like the
roads, the electricity grid and the telecom system. They all display general structures
and processes although the applications include specific features. There is obviously
some organizing principle of the world on a deeper level that transcends the boundaries
between social and natural sciences.
For example, history is usually associated with the humanities; it is the history of
people and nations. Anything that is exposed to change has a history and therefore not
only social sciences but also natural sciences are dependent on the past. Among them
are archaeology, evolutionary biology, geology and astronomy and the economic
sciences economic history, management, and economics. History, as we know it from
the school-books, is usually based on narrative efforts to link events, find possible
causality and make interpretations. The rationale for such storytelling is contingency;
unique events occur in unpredictable ways. If life is networks and there are laws that
control networks, sometimes mathematical laws can be found. As it is often claimed
that history at least in part determines the present and the future we need to be
able to chart events and their links better than just as accidents and qualitative
interpretations. It now seems as if the power laws and hubs of complex systems can
help us. It has been demonstrated that dominant web sites, mergers, globalization and
financial breakdowns obey the same laws as cells and fractals of self-similarity of river
networks and tree branches. General laws apply to some extent whether the object is
people, corporations, cells, galaxies or the internet.
Network theory offers several advantages to researchers. In a systematic and rigorous,
yet innovative fashion it can accommodate more dimensions than any other approach
that I have come across with case study research as the runner up.
First, network theory offers an attitude to management thinking. By accepting the
network lenses of nodes and links and all the other concepts and properties that
network theory has brought to the fore, we can see management in a new and
productive light. Second, the application of network theory to management is a
supplement to case study research. By trying out network thinking, we will increase
our understanding for its potential for research in management. Third, it allows us to
work on different levels of sophistication including verbal and theoretical discourses,
field studies, experiments, computer simulations, graphics all the way from
hand-drawn sketches to computer-generated patterns, and mathematical and
statistical studies. It can be applied intuitively and experientially but also in a
scientific and scholarly mode. It fits both theoretical and practical requirements.

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On the surface, cases and networks may seem very different. However, snorkelling
and diving into their underwater world has revealed a close kinship between the two.
They share the same mission: to uncover complexity. Case study research and network
theory are supplementary, and it is my contention that increased understanding of
networks will advance case study research. The two can make a marvellous team.
Case study research is associated with social sciences and qualitative research,
while network theory transcends the boundaries between social and natural sciences
and can be used both qualitatively and quantitatively. Social scientists do not seem to
tread on the turf of natural sciences while natural scientists, unabashedly offer
comments and conclusions on social phenomena. Network theory is used in social
sciences but to a lesser degree than case study research. Business schools in general are
not well-versed in network theory, some not even in case study research. However,
I sense quicker development of network theory than of case study methodology.
To really understand a methodology, you need first-hand experience of applying it
to the complex reality of management and you need a good coach and a mentor to
guide you. Once, after everybody had talked about the difficulties to grasp all the
subtleties of grounded theory, its foremost advocate Barney Glaser got tired and said:
Just do it! I am of the same mind as Barney. Academics often elaborate endlessly and
eloquently on abstractions and details instead of getting started and learn in action.
A study reported by Johnson et al. (2007) found eight ways of perceiving qualitative
management research. Having a clear identity which obviously quantitative social
researchers believe they have may seem enviable but it can be a token of fear of
complexity, a way to cocoon itself from outside threats. If we deal with a fuzzy reality
we have to match that with research techniques that allow for fuzziness, and I think
this is what modern physics and mathematics have been doing during the past 100
years. This has gone unnoticed by quantitative social sciences.
The abundance of literature on methodology gives me an uncanny feeling of being
exposed to Harry Potter-like witchcraft and wizardry beyond my intellectual
comprehension. For example, The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research is 1,210
pages and it is a goldmine (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005). But gold does not come in pure
form; it is embedded in rock and the magic trick is to extract the gold grains or
occasionally even lumps. Despite the rich content, I often cannot find what I am looking
for and I get distracted by less precious metals. At the same time, I feel that it is too
much. It suffocates me through its wealth and it alienates me: do I belong here? Of the
59 authors of the handbook, 21 come from education, 17 from sociology, ten from
anthropology, eight from communications, and three from other areas. One chapter
claims that economics, sociology and political science receive the bulk of social science
research money and dominate social science publications (Greenwood and Levin, 2005,
p. 53). However, economics and political science are not in the book, and psychology
and management are marginally mentioned. At Stockholm University, Sweden,
management as measured by the number of students, constitutes half of social sciences
and is ten times bigger than economics. In this sense, the handbook is not
representative of social sciences. In reviewing the Second International Congress of
Qualitative Inquiry, Lee (2006) notes that out of about 200 sessions, only one was
dedicated to qualitative research in different management disciplines. He further says:

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This under-representation appeared to be more attributable to qualitative researchers in

management failing to look beyond their normal audiences, rather than any unwillingness of
the congress to provide space for people conducting qualitative research in management.

It can be claimed that management has borrowed much of its methodology from other
sciences, not least statistics and sociology, and that the methods are universally
applicable. However, to productively deploy a method or research technique requires
preunderstanding of institutional conditions of the object under study. For example, to
use sampling techniques and make a survey inside a company or of its customers, to
interpret the data, and to transform them into decisions, action and eventually financial
results requires understanding of the profit concept and consumer behaviour. Market
research may be the only management area where the application of research
techniques has acquired a recognized identity. Another example, recognized only in
limited circles, is management action research (Gummesson, 2000; Coghlan and
Brannick, 2005). Originally inspired by Clark (1972), I adapted action research from
being a method to activate underprivileged groups to solve their own problems with
researcher support, to a method for management researchers to get privileged access
through close involvement as decision-makers and actors, simultaneously researching
the process for scholarly purposes. The key characteristic then is not primarily help
others help themselves but being involved in whats going on and understand it
through first hand experience.
Making research work requires both regulated procedure and judgment calls, both
preunderstanding and sensitivity to new data, both logical reasoning and
free-wheeling creativity. If too regulated research becomes mechanical, stifles the
minds of students, and makes them follow rituals that are against their experience and
beliefs, makes them simplify, reduce and even cheat to come to the finish of a study.
For the convenience of academics, a series of dubious strategies have become
mainstream; I am even inclined to refer to them as institutionalized deception. They
are part of intersubjective peer agreement and their application is little challenged;
critique may even jeopardize an academic career. As researchers, we may never have
understood the underpinning qualitative and subjective assumptions of what we do
our paradigm or we have forgotten how harmful assumptions can be if unwisely
chosen. Harmful and deceptive research strategies include routinely reducing human
beings to numbers, statistics, averages, distributions, probabilities, negligible
minorities (a negligible 0.1 per cent of Chinas population is 1.3 million individuals!),
side-effects, anomalies (irritating little things that disrupt approved theories or collapse
a beautiful structural equation), and contextless fragments. Further, straightforward
causality between an independent and a dependent variable is just a special case. It is
often no more than co-variation, and independent variables are the exception as they
are all embedded in a context. Delimitations by routinely excluding small factors and
weak links ignore the tipping point effect.
I agree with the claims of Greenwood and Levin (2005, p. 53) in their demand that
social sciences and universities must re-think their direction and mode of operation:
. . . one can only be amazed by the emphasis that so many conventional social scientists still
place on the claim that being scientific requires researchers to sever all relations with the
observed. Though epistemologically and methodologically indefensible, this view is largely
dominant in social science practice . . . This positivistic credo obviously is wrong and it leads
away from producing reliable information, meaningful interpretations, and social actions. . .

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They further say that the positivist credo . . . has been subjected to generations of
critique, even from within conventional social sciences. Yet it persists, suggesting that
its social embeddedness itself deserves attention (italics added).
This embeddedness in networks of relationships, its contextual dependency, has led
me to the psychology and sociology of science. It may be claimed that methods should
not be handled individually by each researcher, although researcher personality
always exerts an influence on their practice.
I refer to it as persona and researchscape embracing the individual personalities
who inhabit a discipline or a university department, and their behaviour (Gummesson,
2006). Behind the scientific front, the persona and researchscape of real life offer a
spectrum of human virtues and frailties. Scientists are no more or less moral and
dedicated than any other human species. They, too, are affected by the seven deadly
sins and the counteracting seven virtues (in brackets): pride/hubris (humility), envy
(satisfaction), wrath (patience), indifference/laziness (diligence), greed (generosity),
gluttony (abstinence), and lust (chastity). We can apply yin and yang on each of these
opposites and recognize that it is the tension between them that makes life vibrate.
For example, a dash of greed is necessary to make a profit but coupled with generosity
it makes life so much more pleasant for all stakeholders, and too much humility is just
as counterproductive as is too much pride. Exposing that the alleged objectivity of
scientific research is tinted by human persona, widens the understanding of the reality
of science. I recommend that every methods book should have a chapter on persona
and researchscape.
Western science is full of stereotyped categories. The tendency to turn categories
into foes rather than co-existing buddies is self-deceptive. One of the two is appointed
superior the winner and the other may be tolerated as a temporary alternative, but
is in essence a looser. Examples are qualitative/quantitative, natural sciences/social
sciences, theory generation/theory testing, goods/services, supplier/customer,
hierarchy/network, and competition/cooperation. These categories are neither rooted
in the concrete mud of reality they are pseudo-empirical; nor are they well
conceptualized on a higher level of abstraction they are pseudo-theoretical. They are
stuck in the middle offering sweeping generalizations and paradigmatic assumptions
that are taken for granted, often unknowingly. For example, goods and services have
become separated in literature and research without proper attention to their
interdependency (Gronroos, 2007).
The natural sciences/social sciences divide is counterproductive, and it has been
mentioned above that modern physics can be viewed as organization theory. The divide
is based on a notion that natural life and social life obey different laws. This is true with
mainstream social and natural sciences but not with their modern versions. Both, case
study research and network theory look for patterns but they approach them differently.
In similar vein, the qualitative/quantitative dichotomy in social sciences and
management is unfortunate. It can be used in select applications but not as a general
vantage point for the choice of techniques for data generation; the need for close access is
a healthier start (Gummesson, 2000). All quantitative research includes qualitative and
subjective assumptions and conclusions. Interestingly, modern natural sciences and
mathematics represent a shift from quantity to quality and they are more concerned with
qualitative features than with precise values of variables (Capra, 1997, p. 134).

Case study
research and
network theory


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Qualitative and quantitative, natural and social are not in conflict but they should be
treated in symbiosis.
Conclusions and recommendations
In summary, I would like to advance the following conclusions recommendations:
Further develop the quality and productivity of case study research as a
methodology, the way it is taught in classes and supervised for theses on all
levels, the way it is practiced, and the way it is assessed by examiners and others
who have the power to officially determine the quality of science.
Complexity in the broad sense in which it appears in complexity theory
including context, dynamics, nonlinearity and other related areas, and thus
addresses phenomena that are fuzzy, ambiguous, chaotic and unpredictable is
the core phenomenon which unifies case study research and network theory.
Consider network theory a supplementary and supportive companion to case
study methodology, start teaching it, and apply it in research, papers and theses
on all levels.
Management is in need of innovation and theory generation, more so than the
testing of contextless detail. Owing to their capacity to address complexity case
study research and network theory are ideal for creating better and more general
theory on a higher level of abstraction.
Bring in modern natural sciences and weed out old and inadequate mathematical
and statistical variants that are non-productive together with the pompous
declarations of being scientific when using numbers.
Accept that management and its subdisciplines constitute the bulk of social sciences
today and develop more textbooks, classes, and conference tracks that are based on
experience from research of management issues. Learn from the comprehensive
methodological developments in sociology, ethnography, education and other social
sciences but acknowledge that management has its own tradition of developing,
adapting and using methodology, and lift this to the fore.
Stimulate researchers create a scientific persona and researchscape that is less
dependent on bureaucratic regulations and cover-ups for human shortcomings
(such as defending status quo, a narrow world-view, rituals at the cost of results,
and greed and envy) and more dependent on a constructive will to contribute to
our understanding of management, with the ulterior motive to improve life
quality and offer a better society.
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About the author
Evert Gummesson is a Professor of Marketing at the Stockholm University School of Business.
His interests embrace services, quality management, relationship marketing and CRM, and
currently a network approach to a new logic of marketing, reflected in his latest book
Many-to-many Marketing. He is the author of several articles on methodology and theory
generation and one book, Qualitative Methods in Management Research. His article
(with Christopher Lovelock) Whither services marketing? in the Journal of Service Research,
won the American Marketing Associations Award for Best Article on Services in 2004.
Evert Gummesson can be contacted at:
To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail:
Or visit our web site for further details:

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