“Do Fieldwork, Think Case by Case”
Think Borderline CasesBy Camille Hamidi
Though ethnographic methods seem to have gained credit and legitimacy in recent decades in France, whether or not they can produce theoretical results that are relevant beyond the case studied is still up for debate. By retracing the various steps of fieldwork research conducted on voluntary associations of young migrants, this article makes two epistemological points. In keeping with Ragin’s case analysis, it demonstrates that producing a theory based on a case study is necessarily an iterative process, as the case only becomes clear when the research is over. More specifically, it focuses on borderline cases, and conceptualizes two forms of such cases, depending on how they are used to produce theory: negative cases are used to test the robustness and the degree of expansion of an existing theory; borderline cases are used to test an existing theory at its limits in order to refine it, specify its conditions of validity, and reconstruct it.