Theory-building with cases is (a) formulating new propositions that emerge from the empirical evidence in a sample of cases and (b) testing them in the same sample. The main difference with most other forms of generating new propositions (such as analyzing the theoretical literature, brainstorming, etc.) is its empirical character. The main difference with other forms of discovering new propositions in empirical evidence (such as in ‘exploratory’ research) is that only those theoretical formulations are accepted as a result of the theory-building study that are confirmed in a test in the sample from which the proposition was built. It is possible that a proposition about a relationship between two variables emerges from an exploratory single case study (e.g., when both variables have extreme values in that case), but it is not possible to test that new proposition in the same study because this would require a comparison in a sample of cases. The term theory-building study (as distinct from an exploratory study) is used here only for studies in which a proper test of the new proposition has been conducted.

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Keywords HG4015.5, case study research, necessary condition, sufficient condition, theory-building
JEL Economic Methodology (jel B41), Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting (jel M), New Firms; Startups (jel M13), Management of Technological Innovation and R&D (jel O32)
Publisher Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM)
Persistent URL
Series ERIM Report Series Research in Management
Journal ERIM report series research in management Erasmus Research Institute of Management
Hak, A, & Dul, J. (2009). Theory-Building With Cases (No. ERS-2009-036-ORG). ERIM report series research in management Erasmus Research Institute of Management. Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM). Retrieved from