|Exporting Africa: Technology, Trade and Industrialization in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1995, 434 pages)|
|Part I. Exporting Africa: an analysis|
|3. Some conceptual issues and methodology of the study|
The case study approach can be applied to at least three different situations in evaluation research: to explain the causal links in real-life interventions that are too complex for other research strategies, to describe the real-life context in which an intervention has occurred or for illustrative purposes, and to explore those situations where a single set of outcomes is not clear (Yin, 1984).11 This approach is particularly important when starting a new line of research and developing categories. In the process, new perspectives can be generated (Reid, 1987).12 Case studies are the preferred approach when 'how' and 'why' questions are being posed, when the investigator has very little control over events and when the focus is on a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context (Yin, 1984).
Studies of industrialization or trade in Africa have not paid much attention to the firm-level activities and processes which influence the path the various firms have followed and how they have been coping in changing world technological and market conditions. Thus this book seeks to examine an area in which standardized propositions and factors have not yet been identified, at least in the African context. For this reason, a case study approach has been adopted, relying principally on semi-structured interviews. With the aid of an interview guide (Chapter 13), intensive discussions were held with people who were deemed knowledgeable in the respective firms.
The case study approach has some limitations when it comes to making generalizations. Usually, case studies are generalizable to theoretical propositions rather than to populations or universes. Unlike survey research, which relies on statistical generalization, the case study approach relies on analytical generalization, in which the investigator is striving to generalize from a particular set of results to some broader theory (Yin, 1984). As has been indicated in Chapter 2, the evolutionary theory of economic and technological change has been adopted as the general theory guiding this study. The questions of the study are posed in that perspective. Generalizations from the case studies will necessarily be made with caution, realizing that the researcher is making generalizations on the basis of cases which have been selectively sampled and that inferences are being drawn from a weak or non-representative sample of cases. However, in this case we are more interested in gaining insights into the process than in producing statistically significant outcomes.
Two precautions have been taken to reduce the risks entailed in the case study approach. First, the researchers who did the country studies have track records in doing various studies on the manufacturing sectors of their respective countries. Second, taking advantage of the unique ability of the case study approach to handle a variety of evidence, the information obtained in interviews has been complemented by information from official and unofficial documents and by follow-up interviews by the principal researcher to obtain the necessary clarifications. In addition, a workshop was held in May 1993 in which selected industrialists, policy-makers, researchers and international experts in the field reviewed first drafts, and comments arising from discussions at the workshop have been incorporated in the final drafts.
In the case of Africa, the poor performance of manufactured exports may suggest that success in exporting is more of an outlier result than an average or typical situation. Even if these firms may be outliers, the approach taken in this study is that it is also important to remember that outliers can be particularly informative. As has been suggested elsewhere, information about why firms fail or achieve unusual success is more likely to come from firms at the margins than from average firms (Reid, 1987).