Journal of International Business Studies

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 740–762 | Cite as

Theorising from case studies: Towards a pluralist future for international business research

  • Catherine Welch
  • Rebecca Piekkari
  • Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki
  • Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki


The literature on case studies, both in the field of international business (IB) and in the social sciences more generally, has tended to focus on the methods of data production and analysis suited to this research strategy. In contrast, in this paper we investigate methods of theorising from case studies. We seek to understand how case researchers theorise, and how future IB research might utilise case studies for theorising. By means of a qualitative content analysis of case studies published in Journal of International Business Studies, Academy of Management Journal and Journal of Management Studies, we construct a typology of theorising from case studies. Two dimensions of the case study, namely causal explanation and contextualisation, form the basis for our typology. We distinguish four methods of theorising – inductive theory-building, interpretive sensemaking, natural experiment and contextualised explanation – only the first of which has been widely used in JIBS in the period that we investigate. On the basis of our own qualitative analysis, we show the limitations of inductive theory-building, and argue that greater utilisation of the other methods of theorising would enhance the case study's explanatory power and potential for contextualisation. We argue for a more pluralist future for IB research.


case theoretic approaches secondary data source theory–method intersection 



We thank Snejina Michailova, Marja-Liisa Kakkuri-Knuuttila, Kalle Pajunen, Kristina Rolin, Ben Tipton, Denice Welch, Lawrence Welch, Ian Wilkinson and Yorgos Zotos for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript; as well as students in our PhD case research classes at Aalto University and University of Sydney. Particular thanks are due to Geoff Easton and Ricardo Morais, who have been responsible for our interest in critical realism. Early versions of the paper benefited from feedback at the 2009 European International Business Academy annual conference, and at Academy of Management symposia in 2009 and 2010. We are extremely grateful for the constructive and thoughtful guidance provided by Mary Yoko Brannen as special issue editor, as well as the anonymous JIBS reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Academy of International Business 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine Welch
    • 1
  • Rebecca Piekkari
    • 2
  • Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki
    • 3
  • Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki
    • 4
  1. 1.Faculty of Economics and Business, Discipline of International Business, The University of SydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Management and International BusinessSchool of Economics, Aalto UniversityFinland
  3. 3.Department of Business AdministrationSchool of Economics, Aristotle's University of ThessalonikiGreece
  4. 4.Department of MarketingTurku University, School of EconomicsFinland

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