. "Appendix A: Case Study Methodology and the Study of Rare Events of Extreme Youth Violence: A Multilevel Framework for Discovery." Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2003.
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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
and extraordinary phenomena (Hamel, 1993; Rabin and Becker, 1992; Yin, 1989). The lack of knowledge about these kinds of rare events, however, makes the multilevel, case study approach particularly useful.
Systematic, multilevel, comparative case studies, in this instance, are far more than simply a fallback methodological option, undertaken only because of the frustrating lack (from a scientific point of view) of a sufficiently large number of cases for statistical analysis. The challenge here is more daunting than that. Not only do we lack a large-N database; we also do not know what kinds of questions we should be asking when confronted with such rare, puzzling, and ostensibly irrational behavior. Given this need to define questions, even if, horrifically, we suddenly had large numbers of cases, it would be prudent to undertake these kinds of case studies at this stage of inquiry.
WHAT KINDS OF CONCLUSIONS ARE APPROPRIATE?
Given the methodological issues discussed to this point, what kinds of conclusions would it be reasonable to expect might be drawn from a group of case studies such as those found here? No attempt is made here to frame those conclusions. Rather the question here is what kinds of conclusions might be appropriate, whether from this volume itself, on the part of readers of the case studies, or in terms of directions for future work in this area.
First, at least in the opinion of the authors of this appendix, expectations should not be confined solely to the framing of hypotheses. As discussed earlier, case studies as instruments of scientific research can be descriptive, exploratory, or explanatory. The descriptive and exploratory functions should certainly come to pass, but the explanatory is not out of the question. The most likely form of that would probably be negative case refutation of overly broad or simplistic generalizations, such as “they were all victims of bullying.” Only one case is needed for that.
Beyond that, the small universe of these extremely serious incidents presents the possibility that finding one or more negative cases might cast serious doubt on a number of potential generalizations of interest. Negative explanatory findings can be highly useful in times of sudden and emotionally charged attention to a problem, during which many explanations are likely to be and should be tried out. Unfortunately, some theories can become highly popular in the absence of systematic testing of any kind. The range of data assembled for these case studies is unique at the present time, making these studies a distinctive and important resource. For these reasons, the potential explanatory use of these studies should not be ruled out.