Building Theories from Case Study Research

Posted: 17 Nov 2009

See all articles by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt

Kathleen M. Eisenhardt

Stanford University - Management Science & Engineering

Date Written: 1989


Describes the process of building theories from case studies and examines the strengths and weaknesses of this process. The case study research strategy is one in which the goal is to understand the dynamics present within an individual environment. The steps identified for building theory include selecting cases, crafting instruments and protocols, entering the field, analyzing data, shaping hypotheses, enfolding literature, and reaching closure. This process is highly iterative and closely tied to the empirical data. Using case studies to build theory has several advantages. First, it is likely to generate novel theory. Additionally, the theories generated are more likely to be built on constructs that are measurable, and these theories are likely to be empirically valid. On the other hand, this approach has weaknesses which include theories that are overly complex or narrow and idiosyncratic. This approach is best used in situations where one does not want to rely on previous literature or prior empirical evidence. The theories generated from this approach must be grounded in convincing evidence and should present novel ideas which meet the requirements of good theory. (SRD)

Keywords: Theory development, Case studies, Theories, Research design, Research methods

Suggested Citation

Eisenhardt, Kathleen M., Building Theories from Case Study Research (1989). Academy of Management Review, Vol. 14, Issue 4, p. 532-550 1989. Available at SSRN:

Kathleen M. Eisenhardt (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Management Science & Engineering ( email )

473 Via Ortega
Stanford, CA 94305-9025
United States

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