Edited by Rebecca Piekkari and Catherine Welch
Chapter 8: Using Multiple Case Studies to Generalize from Ethnographic Research
Mary Yoko Brannen INTRODUCTION Ethnographic method has been praised for its utility in inducing theory. Noted for its high level of external validity,1 this is at once the key methodological strength and weakness of ethnography. On the one hand, there is no question (provided the ethnographer is well trained and disciplined in the methodology) that the research has verisimilitude with the research site. On the other, it is unclear whether what has been learned is generalizable to other sites. In this chapter, as an organizational theorist trained as an ethnographer, I reflect upon my own research trajectory to show how I naturally fell into a way out of this methodological conundrum. Over time, fuelled by intellectual curiosity not only to describe interesting organizational phenomena but also to build theory, I developed a methodology of using multiple follow-up case studies to deductively test constructs and frameworks induced from what I term a ‘focal ethnography’. In addition to providing advice for choosing and using case studies as a supplement to ethnographic method in international business research, this chapter provides an in-depth illustrative research example that led to the development and refinement of the construct of recontextualization: how transferred firm offerings take on new meanings in distinct organizational contexts. I first review what ethnography is – method and intent, strengths and limitations – and what I see as its potential contribution to international business research, showing several ways in which researchers have strived to generalize from ethnography. I then formalize the method of ‘focal...
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