Differences in Research Methods: Case Study and Ethnography

Ethnography and case study are some of the most used qualitative research models. Many scholars have a big interest in researching social phenomena and this has made the application of these two approaches even more popular (Campbell & Wasco, 2000). For instance, most marketing communication research and interpersonal communication tend to prefer the case study model while intercultural and social research prefers to use ethnography research model. It is vital for researchers to understand the scope and background of these models before determining the one they should employ in their research or study. This paper will seek to describe the two research approaches, some concerns raised about them, and then draw a conclusion. 

The major difference between ethnography and case study is their focus. While the case study aims at describing the nature of an issue through an intensive examination of individual cases in the population, ethnography aims to examine or explore the cultural phenomenon. A good example of a study the researcher used the ethnography is the study titled An Ethnographic Study Of Violence Experienced By Dalit Christian Women In Kerala State, India And The Implications Of This For Feminist Practical Theology by Sara Abraham. This study takes a holistic approach in studying the Indian culture of women abuse and how this is manifested in Kerala State where women members of the Dalit are violently abused in different ways that include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The study goes on to give measures that can be taken by both the victims and the society to end the cruel societal issue that has been normalized (Abraham, 2003). Sue Cummings research study titled Case Study: A Patient with Diabetes and Weight-Loss Surgery is a good example of a case study. There is an increase in lifestyle diseases conditions such as diabetes and obesity (Cummings, 2007). Some patients with obesity, as well as, diabetes choose to undergo surgery in a bid to lose weight and live normal lives again. This research chooses to study one patient undergoing this surgical procedure in a bid to make a conclusion that will be applicable to the whole populations. One of the major limitations of this kind of approach is that it assumes that all the population will be identical both physically and psychologically to the individual being researched on. This is a major flaw of this model, as people and more so patients are different from one another in that they respond to medical procedures differently. 

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In a case study, a researcher does not have to live in the community they are investigating. They can use data collection methods such as interviews, observations, checklists, and opinionnaires to collect data, analyze it, and then make deductions and conclusions. In ethnography model, researchers have to spend a considerable amount of time with the community they are investigating (Stake, 2005). The main methods of data collection here is observation and interviews. These methods of data collection are what give this method its main limitations. When interacting with society under study, the researcher can have personal biases and this may end up affecting the research design, data collection, and data interpretation. 

From the above discussion, one can see both of these methods have their strengths and limitations. It is, therefore, important for a researcher to understand the research they want to undertake and analyze the best research approach that will be more suitable for their case. This is important as it would ensure the research conclusion are accurate and a true reflection of the issue under study. 


Abraham, S. (2003). An ethnographic study of violence experienced by Dalit Christian women in Kerala state, India and the implications of this for feminist practical theology, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 71–105.

Campbell, R. & Wasco, S. M. (2000). Feminist approaches to social science: Epistemological and methodological tenets. American Journal of Community Psychology, 28(6), 773–791.

Cheek, J. (2005). The practice and politics of funded qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 387-409.

Fontana, A. (2003). Postmodern trends in interviewing. In J. F. Gubrium & J. A. Holstein (Eds.), Postmodern interviewing, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 51–65

Stake, R. (2005). Qualitative case studies. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed.), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 443–466. 

Cummings, S. (2007). Case study: a patient with diabetes and weight-loss surgery. Diabetes Spectrum 2007 Jul; 20(3): 173-176. https://doi.org/10.2337/diaspect.20.3.173

Willis, J. W. (2007). Foundations of qualitative research: Interpretive and critical approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

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