Silvia Gherardi’s writing is enhanting, her observations insightful, and constructs challenging; the spiral case study is one such example.

About the spiral case study

As referenced in the Encyclopaedia of Case Study Research (2010, 883)  Gherardi’s spiral case study is “a strategy of qualitative research aiming at description and interpretation of the social world seen as a seamless web of connections in action… born within practice-based studies… based on a conception of the social as a texture of interconnected practices.”

Opportunity for application

In the context of innovation, the spiral case study presents a promising opportunity for application, in that while an individual case study may be explored, it is recognised to be comprised of a number of subsidiary component case studies. Each subsidiary case study is selected to bring forth the connection between them ‘woven by social action’. In research design adopting the spiral case study, challenges will relate to: how the ‘texture’ of the field of practice of innovation can be empirically investigated; how best to analyze the achievement of ‘connectedness in action’ in innovation; and how practical knowledge is ‘enacted and circulates’ in the field of practice.

Five points of analysis

In research design adopting the spiral case study and incorporating qualitative organisational network analysis (refer to my separate organisational network analysis for additional details), this would facilitate a rich examination of five aspects of analysis in an innovation enterprise, specifically:

  1. Individual
  2. Collective
  3. Organisational
  4. Inter-organisational
  5. Societal

The above can be aligned to the spiral case study as illustrated in Gherardi’s visual representation (see below), and the field of innovation can be seen as a ‘single seamless texture’ where all levels of reality and different ‘loci of social identity’ are interwoven and co-present.

Gherardi: Spiral case study

Knowledge practices

In reviewing potential application of the spiral case study, an awareness of the ‘troubled space between’ current theories and perspectives of strategic management and emergent practice, ensuring effective facilitation of knowledge actvities in organisations as outlined in Burford et al’s research (Burford, Kennedy, Ferguson & Blackman, 2011):

“Practices are made socially recognisable or legitimized by being stabilized and institutionalized (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006; Gherardi, 2009a). Practices stabilize to provisional agreed ways of doing things – even if that understanding is contested (Gherardi, 2009a). A negotiated, shared and recognised way of working collectively means that practices shift and evolve from a relatively firm, but not fixed, foundation. In this way, the identity of both practitioners and the practice is established and can be observed from outside the practice (Gherardi, 2009a, p. 356).”

Associated reading

Additional texts for which the spiral case study is either relevant or further explored, include the following (in chronological order):

  • Garfinkel, H 1967, Studies in ethnomethodology, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall.
  • Lodge, D 1984, Small world, Harmondsworth, UK, Penguin Books.
  • Eisenhardt, K 1999, Building theories from case study research. In Edited by: Bryman, A & Burgess, R (Eds.), Qualitative research, pp. 135–159, London, Sage.
  • Nicolini, D, Gherardi, S, and Yanow, D 2003, Knowing in organizations: A practice-based approach, Armonk, NY.
  • Gherardi, S 2006, Organizational knowledge: The texture of workplace learning, Oxford, Blackwell.
  • Mills AJ, Durepos, G, Wiebe, E 2010, Encyclopedia of Case Study Research, Thousand Oaks, SAGE.
  • Burford, S, Kennedy M, Ferguson S, Blackman, D 2011, Discordant Theories of Strategic Management And Emergent Practice In Knowledge-Intensive Organizations, Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, Vol. 12, No. 3.
  • Gherardi, Silvia 2012, Learning and Knowing in Practice-Based Studies, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar.