BOX 3.4 What Is Grounded Theory?
Grounded theory is a widely used approach in qualitative
research. It is not the only approach and it is
not used by all qualitative researchers. Grounded
theory is “a qualitative research method that uses a
systematic set of procedures to develop an inductively
derived theory about a phenomenon” (Strauss
and Corbin, 1990:24). The purpose of grounded theory
is to build a theory that is faithful to the evidence.
It is a method for discovering new theory. In it, the researcher compares unlike phenomena with a view
toward learning similarities. He or she sees microlevel
events as the foundation for a more macro-level
explanation. Grounded theory shares several goals
with more positivist-oriented theory. It seeks theory
that is comparable with the evidence that is precise
and rigorous, capable of replication, and generalizable.
A grounded theory approach pursues generalizations
by making comparisons across social
Qualitative researchers use alternatives to
grounded theory. Some qualitative researchers offer
an in-depth depiction that is true to an informant’s
worldview. They excavate a single social situation to
elucidate the micro processes that sustain stable social
interaction. The goal of other researchers is to
provide a very exacting depiction of events or a setting.
They analyze specific events or settings in order
to gain insight into the larger dynamics of a society.
Still other researchers apply an existing theory to
analyze specific settings that they have placed in
a macro-level historical context. They show connections
among micro-level events and between
micro-level situations and larger social forces for the
purpose of reconstructing the theory and informing
social action (see Burawoy, 1991:271–287; Charmaz,
2003; and Hammersley, 1992, for a summary of
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