Using Extreme Cases to Understand Organizations
Drawing on the insights of organizational studies and sociology, this chapter examines the study and use of “extreme” or atypical cases. These include single case studies, comparative cases, and cases aggregated from prior research. Because of the features of the sites studied, extreme cases can reveal more about a phenomenon than so-called average or typical cases (Flyvberg, 2006). Extreme cases also aid reflexive reflection of how we study organizations and phenomena. In other words, extreme cases can encourage reflexivity (i.e., Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992; Kleinman, 1996) by revealing normative assumptions about appropriate sites of study and methods. I first address objections commonly raised about qualitative research methodologies, including extreme cases. Misconceptions include concerns about generalizability and representativeness; researchers not only must underscore the strengths of qualitative research, but also explain “what is this a case of?” Then, using examples from journal articles and monographs, I show how extreme cases excel at shedding insight into various organizational phenomena, including issues common to all organizations. Finally, I discuss how when conducting such studies researchers must consider how to negotiate access and undertake analysis, as well as how to effectively present findings and claims.