Case Study vs. Ethnography

What's the difference.

Case study and ethnography are both research methods used in social sciences to gain a deeper understanding of a particular phenomenon or group of people. However, they differ in their approach and focus. A case study typically involves an in-depth examination of a single individual, group, or event, aiming to provide a detailed analysis of a specific situation. On the other hand, ethnography involves immersing oneself in a particular culture or community over an extended period, observing and interacting with its members to understand their beliefs, behaviors, and social dynamics. While case studies provide detailed insights into specific cases, ethnography offers a broader understanding of the cultural context and social interactions within a community.

Further Detail

Introduction.

Case study and ethnography are two research methods commonly used in social sciences and other fields to gain a deeper understanding of a particular phenomenon or group of people. While both methods aim to provide rich and detailed insights, they differ in their approach, scope, and data collection techniques. In this article, we will explore the attributes of case study and ethnography, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Definition and Purpose

Case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination of a specific individual, group, or event. It aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of a particular case, often focusing on a unique or rare occurrence. On the other hand, ethnography is a qualitative research method that involves immersing the researcher in the natural environment of a group or community to observe and understand their culture, behaviors, and social interactions.

Scope and Generalizability

One key difference between case study and ethnography lies in their scope and generalizability. Case studies are typically more focused and specific, aiming to provide detailed insights into a particular case or situation. The findings of a case study may not be easily generalized to a larger population due to the uniqueness of the case being studied.

On the other hand, ethnography aims to capture the broader cultural and social dynamics of a group or community. By immersing themselves in the natural setting, ethnographers can observe and document the behaviors, beliefs, and practices of the group. Ethnographic research often seeks to uncover patterns and themes that may be applicable to similar groups or communities, allowing for a higher level of generalizability.

Data Collection

Another important aspect to consider when comparing case study and ethnography is their data collection techniques. In case studies, researchers often rely on multiple sources of data, including interviews, surveys, observations, and document analysis. These various data sources help provide a comprehensive understanding of the case being studied.

On the other hand, ethnography primarily relies on participant observation, where the researcher actively engages with the group being studied, often for an extended period. This immersive approach allows the researcher to gain firsthand experience and insights into the culture, norms, and practices of the group. Ethnographers may also conduct interviews and collect artifacts or documents to supplement their observations.

Time and Resources

Case studies and ethnography also differ in terms of the time and resources required to conduct the research. Case studies are often more time-efficient, as they focus on a specific case or event. Researchers can collect data relatively quickly and analyze it in a shorter timeframe. However, the depth of analysis and the level of detail may vary depending on the complexity of the case.

On the other hand, ethnography is a time-consuming process that requires a significant investment of time and resources. Researchers need to spend an extended period in the field, building rapport with the community, and gaining their trust. The immersive nature of ethnography allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the group, but it also demands a longer-term commitment from the researcher.

Analysis and Interpretation

Both case study and ethnography involve a detailed analysis and interpretation of the collected data. In case studies, researchers often employ various analytical frameworks or theories to make sense of the data and draw conclusions. The analysis may involve identifying patterns, themes, or causal relationships within the case being studied.

Similarly, ethnographic research involves a rigorous analysis of the collected data. Ethnographers often engage in a process called coding, where they categorize and organize the observations, interviews, and other data sources. This coding process helps identify recurring themes, cultural practices, and social dynamics within the group. Ethnographers may also use theoretical frameworks to interpret their findings and provide a deeper understanding of the observed phenomena.

Applications

Both case study and ethnography have diverse applications across various disciplines. Case studies are commonly used in psychology, business, medicine, and law to examine individual cases, diagnose specific conditions, or understand unique situations. They provide valuable insights into complex phenomena that cannot be easily replicated or studied through other research methods.

On the other hand, ethnography finds its applications in anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, and other social sciences. Ethnographic research allows for a holistic understanding of different cultures, communities, and social groups. It helps uncover the underlying meanings, values, and practices that shape the lives of individuals within a specific cultural context.

In conclusion, case study and ethnography are two distinct research methods that offer valuable insights into specific cases or cultural contexts. While case studies provide a detailed analysis of a particular case, ethnography allows for a broader understanding of social and cultural dynamics. Both methods have their strengths and limitations, and the choice between them depends on the research objectives, scope, and available resources. By employing these research methods appropriately, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of human behavior, culture, and society.

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Comparing case study and ethnography as qualitative research approaches

Research output : Contribution to journal › Article › Research › peer-review

Access to Document

  • 10.24002/jik.v5i1.221

T1 - Comparing case study and ethnography as qualitative research approaches

AU - Suryani, Anne

N2 - This article reviews several differences between case study and ethnography in terms of definitions, characteristics, strengths and limitations. It provides current information by comparing these approaches from various social researchers' perspectives. Although each method has strong points, they both have differences in conducting observation and interview as data collection techniques; choosing the length of time of data gathering and reporting details of a particular reality.

AB - This article reviews several differences between case study and ethnography in terms of definitions, characteristics, strengths and limitations. It provides current information by comparing these approaches from various social researchers' perspectives. Although each method has strong points, they both have differences in conducting observation and interview as data collection techniques; choosing the length of time of data gathering and reporting details of a particular reality.

U2 - 10.24002/jik.v5i1.221

DO - 10.24002/jik.v5i1.221

M3 - Article

SN - 1829-6564

JO - Jurnal Ilmu Komunikasi

JF - Jurnal Ilmu Komunikasi

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Home » Education » Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography

Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography

Main difference – case study vs ethnography.

Case studies and ethnographies are two popular detailed, qualitative studies used in the field of social science . Although there are certain similarities between these two methods such as their holistic nature, and the extended time period, there are also some differences between the two. The main difference between case study and ethnography is their focus; ethnography aims to explore cultural phenomenon whereas case studies aim to describe the nature of phenomena through a detailed investigation of individual cases.

Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography - Comparison Summary

What is a Case Study

A case study is a detailed investigation of a single event, situation or an individual in order to explore and unearth complex issues. Yin (1984) defines case study as “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used.” Although case studies are always associated with qualitative research, they can also be quantitative in nature. They are often used to explore community-based issued such as poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, prostitution, and drug addiction.

A successful case study is context-sensitive, holistic, systematic, layered and comprehensive. The process of a case study involves,

  • Identifying and defining the research questions
  • Selecting the cases and deciding techniques for data collection and analysis
  • Collecting data in the field
  • Evaluating and analysing the data
  • Preparing the report

Data collection methods in a case study may involve interviews, observations, questionnaires, checklists, analysis of recorded data and opinionnaires. Case studies can also be divided into different categories. Exploratory, descriptive and explanatory case studies are three such categories.

Case studies are preferred by many researchers in the field of social sciences since they offer detailed and in-depth information about a particular phenomenon. However, it is difficult to use the data obtained from a case study to form generalisation since it only focuses on a single event or phenomenon.

Main Difference - Case Study vs Ethnography

Figure 1: Questionnaires are one method of data collection in a case study.

What is an Ethnography

Ethnography is a detailed and in-depth study of everyday life and practice. In other words, it is the systematic study of people and cultures. A researcher who is engaged in ethnography is known as an ethnographer . Ethnographers explore and study culture from an insider’s point of view (emic perspective).

Ethnography traditionally involved focusing on a bounded and a definable race, ethnicity or group of people; for example, study of a particular African tribe. However, modern ethnography also focus on different aspects of the contemporary social life.

Ethnographic research mainly involves field observations, i.e., observations of behaviour in a natural setting. The researchers have to spend a considerable amount of time inside a community in order to make such observations. Information about particular socio-cultural phenomena in a community is typically obtained from the members of that particular community. Participant observation and interviews are two of the main data collection methods in this type of studies. Ethnographic studies take a longer period of time than other types of research since it takes long-term involvement and observation to understand the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours of a community.

Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography

Figure 2: Observation and participant interviews are main data collection methods in ethnography.

Definition 

Case Study: A case study is a detailed investigation of a single event, situation or an individual in order to explore and unearth complex issues.

Ethnography: An ethnography is the detailed and systematic study of people and cultures.

Case Study: Case studies focus on a single event, incident or individual.

Ethnography: Ethnography observes cultural phenomenon.

Case study: Case study intends to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants.

Ethnography: Ethnography aims to describe the nature of phenomena through detailed investigations of individual cases.

Data Collection Methods

Case Study: Case studies may use interviews, observations, questionnaires, checklists, analysis of recorded data and opinionnaires.

Ethnography: Ethnographic studies use participant observations and interviews.

Special Requirements

Case Study: The researcher does not have to live in a particular community.

Ethnography: The researcher has to spend a considerable amount time inside that particular community.

Conclusion 

Case study and ethnography may have some similarities; however, there is a considerable difference between case study and ethnography as explained above. The main difference between case study and ethnography lies in their intent and focus; case studies intend to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants whereas ethnographic studies intend to describe the nature of phenomena through detailed investigations of individual cases. There are also differences between them in terms of data collection and analyis. 

  • Cohen, Arie. “Ethnography and case study: a comparative analysis.”  Academic Exchange Quarterly  7.3 (2003): 283-288.
  • Yin, Robert. “Case study research. Beverly Hills.” (1984).

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  • “Bronisław Malinowski among Trobriand tribe 3”  By Unknown (maybe Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1885-1939) (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

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ethnography case study differences

Difference between case study & ethnography

Maria Nguyen

Introduction

In the social sciences, case study and ethnography are two popular research methodologies. While there are similarities between the two, there are also differences in data collection and the overall purpose of the study. This article aims to clarify these differences.

A case study is an in-depth study of a particular instance, event, individual, or group. It can be explanatory or descriptive in nature, but its focus is on understanding the why’s and implications of the subject of study. Case studies draw conclusions based on prior research and systematic analysis of data.

Ethnography

Ethnography is the art and science of describing a group or culture. It is an investigative approach that requires the ethnographer to behave like a neutral observer, without imposing personal viewpoints or making subjective judgments. Participant observation is often used as a method of data collection in ethnography, where the ethnographer becomes a part of the group being studied and records observations without analysis.

Differences

– Ethnography focuses on describing a group or culture, while a case study focuses on a particular instance, event, individual, or group. – Ethnography requires participant observation as a data collection method, while it is not necessary for a case study. – A case study is more outward looking, focusing on the why’s and implications, whereas ethnography is more inward looking. – Ethnography takes a longer time to conduct than a case study.

In summary, a case study is an in-depth analysis of a specific subject, while ethnography is an in-depth study of a group or culture. The methods of data collection and the perspectives of analysis differ between the two methodologies.

Key Takeaways

1. The difference between a case study and ethnography is that ethnography is a study of a culture or ethnic group, while a case study investigates a particular instance, event, or individual. 2. Ethnography requires participant observation as a data collection method, while it is not necessary in a case study. 3. A case study is more outward-looking, focusing on the why’s and implications of an event, while ethnography is more inward-looking and focused on describing a group or culture.

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Music Education Research: An Introduction

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Music Education Research: An Introduction

10 Additional Qualitative Approaches: Ethnography, Grounded Theory, Narrative, and Phenomenology

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This chapter introduces four approaches to inquiry—grounded theory, narrative, phenomenology, and ethnography—that, together with case study, comprise five primary qualitative research designs. The purpose of grounded theory is to develop a unified theoretical explanation for a process, action, or interaction. The theory is “grounded” in data generated with participants who have experienced that process, as opposed to being adopted from existing literature. “Stories lived and told” are the focal point of narrative inquiry. Inquirers elicit, interpret, and report detailed stories of individuals’ life experiences in order to illuminate phenomena or raise questions for readers’ consideration. In phenomenological research, the study’s central phenomenon will be some kind of human experience, such as grief or enjoyment. Analysis focuses on identifying the essence of that phenomenon for individuals who have experienced it. In ethnography, the researcher describes and interprets the shared and learned patterns of a culture-sharing group. The product of inquiry is a rich, complex description of the culture-sharing group at the heart of the study. Exemplar studies drawn from music education illustrate the common types and key features of each design.

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In this paper we narrate a story of working on a large project funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage grant the ‘Keeping Connected: Young People, Identity and Schooling’ project. The purpose of the study is to consider the social connection and schooling of young people who have experienced long‐term chronic illness. While the research involves both quantitative and qualitative elements, the qualitative component is the largest and involves the most researcher time and diversity. At an early stage of the project, three of the researchers working on the qualitative team consider why the study was framed as a series of case studies rather than as ethnography. The second issue considered in this paper is the different approaches to data collection, data analysis and truth claims we might take.

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White, J. , Drew, S. and Hay, T. (2009), "Ethnography Versus Case Study ‐ Positioning Research and Researchers", Qualitative Research Journal , Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 18-27. https://doi.org/10.3316/QRJ0901018

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  • Published: 13 May 2024

Ethnography and ethnohistory support the efficiency of hunting through endurance running in humans

  • Eugène Morin   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-4840-0156 1 , 2 &
  • Bruce Winterhalder   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6560-3302 3  

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Humans have two features rare in mammals: our locomotor muscles are dominated by fatigue-resistant fibres and we effectively dissipate through sweating the metabolic heat generated through prolonged, elevated activity. A promising evolutionary explanation of these features is the endurance pursuit (EP) hypothesis, which argues that both traits evolved to facilitate running down game by persistence. However, this hypothesis has faced two challenges: running is energetically costly and accounts of EPs among late twentieth century foragers are rare. While both observations appear to suggest that EPs would be ineffective, we use foraging theory to demonstrate that EPs can be quite efficient. We likewise analyse an ethnohistoric and ethnographic database of nearly 400 EP cases representing 272 globally distributed locations. We provide estimates for return rates of EPs and argue that these are comparable to other pre-modern hunting methods in specified contexts. EP hunting as a method of food procurement would have probably been available and attractive to Plio/Pleistocene hominins.

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Acknowledgements

Financial support for this research was provided by a Trent internal SSHRC grant (no. 53-51637). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. This study greatly benefited from discussions with and/or comments from the following people: A. Best, D. Bird, R. B. Bird, D. Bramble, D. Carrier, S. Gerety, M. Grote, M. Hora, J. C. Jackson, J. Koster, D. Lieberman, J. F. O’Connell, J. Speth, F. M. and A. Stein, M. Vidal-Cordasco and C. Wall-Scheffler. C. Wall-Scheffler generously provided the regression formula used in Fig. 1 and Supplementary Information .

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ethnography case study differences

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  1. PDF Comparing the Five Approaches

    The differences are apparent in terms of emphasis (e.g., more observations in ethnog-raphy, more interviews in grounded theory) and extent of data collection (e.g., only interviews in phenomenology, multiple forms in case study research to provide the in-depth case picture). At the data analysis stage, the differences are most pronounced.

  2. (PDF) Comparing Case Study and Ethnography as ...

    Case study and ethnography are two of the most popular qualitative. research approaches. As more scholars have interests in researching social. phenomena, the application of case study and ...

  3. Case Study vs. Ethnography

    One key difference between case study and ethnography lies in their scope and generalizability. Case studies are typically more focused and specific, aiming to provide detailed insights into a particular case or situation. The findings of a case study may not be easily generalized to a larger population due to the uniqueness of the case being ...

  4. PDF Comparing Case Study and Ethnography as Qualitative Research ...

    Case study and ethnography are two of the most popular qualitative research approaches. As more scholars have interests in researching social ... are similarities or differences among the cases' characteristics to get better understanding of particular interests. In this approach, Patton (2002) classiies some characteristics of ...

  5. [PDF] Comparing Case Study and Ethnography as Qualitative Research

    Comparing Case Study and Ethnography as Qualitative Research Approaches. A. Suryani. Published 4 December 2013. Sociology. Jurnal ilmu Komunikasi. Abstract: This article reviews several differences between case study and ethnography in terms of definitions, characteristics, strengths and limitations. It provides current information by comparing ...

  6. Application of case study research and ethnography methods: Lessons

    Case studies are often used to gain an in-depth understanding of contemporary issues in their real-world context (Yin, 2018).They can be used to explain, describe, or explore patient care issues, which makes this research design particularly useful in healthcare (Anthony & Jack, 2009).Researchers have used case study design to examine various issues, including the delivery of low-cost ...

  7. Comparing case study and ethnography as qualitative research approaches

    TY - JOUR. T1 - Comparing case study and ethnography as qualitative research approaches. AU - Suryani, Anne. PY - 2013. Y1 - 2013. N2 - This article reviews several differences between case study and ethnography in terms of definitions, characteristics, strengths and limitations.

  8. Comparing Case Study and Ethnography as Qualitative Research ...

    This article reviews several differences between case study and ethnography in terms of definitions, characteristics, strengths and limitations. It provides current information by comparing these approaches from various social researchers' perspectives.

  9. Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography

    The main difference between case study and ethnography is their focus; ethnography aims to explore cultural phenomenon whereas case studies aim to describe the nature of phenomena through a detailed investigation of individual cases. This article explains, 1. What is a Case Study. - Definition, Features, Focus, Data Collection.

  10. Difference between case study & ethnography

    The difference between a case study and ethnography is that ethnography is a study of a culture or ethnic group, while a case study investigates a particular instance, event, or individual. 2. Ethnography requires participant observation as a data collection method, while it is not necessary in a case study. 3.

  11. PDF International Journal of Education & Literacy Studies

    Case Study. Case study is an approach, which involves studying indi-vidual cases in their real life context for a long period of time. The case studied can be culture, society, community, organization or phenomenon, such as beliefs, practices or in-teractions (Harrison, Birks, Franklin, & Milles, 2017).

  12. Additional Qualitative Approaches: Ethnography, Grounded Theory

    This chapter introduces four approaches to inquiry—grounded theory, narrative, phenomenology, and ethnography—that, together with case study, comprise five primary qualitative research designs. The purpose of grounded theory is to develop a unified theoretical explanation for a process, action, or interaction.

  13. What's the difference between ethnography and case study?

    Ethnography typically involves studying a specific culture or social group, while case study can be applied to a wide range of subjects. Additionally, ethnography often involves prolonged engagement and immersion in the research setting, while case study can be more focused and targeted. [1] [2] Add columns (1) PDF. Open Access.

  14. The Case for Comparative Ethnography

    poses, including financial and time constraints. In some studies, ethnographic research on a single case or a single practice might be the best tactic. We do, however, argue that comparative ethnography might yield new and different insights that sharpen a study's theoretical contribution and enhance its contribution to knowledge in the ...

  15. Ethnography Versus Case Study ‐ Positioning Research and Researchers

    While the research involves both quantitative and qualitative elements, the qualitative component is the largest and involves the most researcher time and diversity. At an early stage of the project, three of the researchers working on the qualitative team consider why the study was framed as a series of case studies rather than as ethnography.

  16. Ethnography and case study: a comparative analysis

    The central difference between ethnography and case study lies in the study's intention. Ethnography is inward looking, aiming to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants. Case study is outward looking, aiming to delineate the nature of phenomena through detailed investigation of individual cases and their contexts.

  17. What's the difference between case study ethnography?

    Case study and ethnography are two different qualitative research approaches used to answer social questions. Case study involves an in-depth analysis of a specific case or cases, often focusing on a particular phenomenon or situation. It typically uses multiple data collection methods, such as interviews, observations, and document analysis ...

  18. PDF ETHNOGRAPHY AND PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION

    (Fetterman, 2010). While classic ethnography could involve from six months to two years or more in the field, modern ethnography can involve studies where the researcher visits a site for, say, a two-week period every few months or so during a study lasting two or three years. Fieldwork involves an outsider angling for insider knowledge.

  19. Full article: Which Ethnography? Whose Ethnography? Medical

    In this article we seek to carefully equivocate about differences in approaches to ethnography in order to encourage greater reflexivity about the rationale and value of anthropological methods and epistemic sensibilities. ... This means that a case study from the 1970s or the 1920s offers just as valid an example of possible ways to be human ...

  20. 1 Differences and similarities between action research, case studies

    As Table 2 .1 shows, action research has several similarities with case studies (Blatter & Haverland, 2012;Yin, 1984) and ethnographic research (e.g. Burawoy et al., 1991;Wacquant, 1995 ...

  21. Ethnography and ethnohistory support the efficiency of hunting ...

    In this hypothetical case, a walking pursuit of 4 km h −1 requires 8 km, but the same pursuit at a running pace of 10 km h −1 requires only half the distance (4 km), and R p for the running ...

  22. Incorporating Climate and Environmental Justice into Research and

    Her study's focus on green crab ultimately led to her current position at Lummi Natural Resources, where she leads a "Prospecting Team" to determine the distribution and abundance of green crab on Lummi Reservation Tidelands. Christa Mulder is a professor of plant ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Originally from the ...

  23. Remote Sensing

    Therefore, the objectives of this study were to (1) verify the utility of satellite images to clarify the commonalities and differences in the characteristics of landslides in two regions, and (2) conduct a case study on interstice comparison between young and old geological regions.

  24. Buildings

    There was no significant difference between the neutral temperatures of the males and females, which were 27.65 °C and 27.46 °C, respectively. ... Shiteng Tan, Yuang Guo, and Weijun Gao. 2024. "Field Investigation on Adaptive Thermal Comfort in Rural Dwellings: A Case Study in Linyi (China) during Summer" Buildings 14, no. 5: 1429. https ...