Grounded Theory

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In 1967 ‘The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research’ was first published and this introduced what has become the most influential paradigm for qualitative research in the social sciences today, the methodology of grounded theory (GT) (Cutcliffe, 2005, p.421; Patton, 2002, p.124). Despite being heralded as revolutionary in the history of qualitative traditions, it is the most frequently disputed and misunderstood of all the research methods, likely due to the methodological split between it’s co-originators, Glaser and Strauss (walker & Myrick, 2006, p.547). This paper addresses the question, ‘is grounded theory different from other qualitative research methods?’ In addition, prior to addressing this question, this paper will give a brief description of what grounded theory is and how it originated. Using a research example, it will also demonstrate why grounded theory was an appropriate choice in methodology.

In the 1960s, sophisticated quantitative research methods became dominant over qualitative styles of research with a focus on logic verification (Hallberg, 2006, p.142). Human qualitative experiences were reduced to restricted and measurable variables with researchers relying on what they assumed to be truth, neutrality and scientific logic. Qualitative methods were viewed as useful only in preliminary studies and pilot tests before the quantitative ‘real’ studies began, with qualitative research being looked down upon as unreliable and unsystematic (Hallberg, 2006, p.142). At the forefront of the timely qualitative revolution were Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss with their breakthrough systematic qualitative methodology, grounded theory (Hallberg, 2006, p.142). Glaser and Strauss argued, “qualitative research is a field of inquiry in it’s own right, not merely useful for pre-studies to ‘real’ statistically based methods of inquiry” (Hallberg, 2006, p.142). Glaser and Strauss represented two dominant traditions of sociology. Strauss came from Chicago University and focused on symbolic interactionism, social processes and pragmatism, while Glaser was educated at Columbia University, known for its focus on rigorous positivistic methodological training (Hallberg, 2006, p.142). It is most likely that the identification of social processes and the exploration of complexity in social life originate from Strauss and the strict and close line-by-line reading of the interview text, rigorous identification codes, and systematic division into categories arise from Glaser (Hallberg, 2006, p.142).

For the purpose of brevity, I will only explain the general method of grounded theory, although it is important to note there exists three main styles of grounded theory (Gelling, 2011, p.4). Classical grounded theory is associated with Glaser and grounded theory as it was originally written and intended. Straussian-grounded theory is associated with Strauss and Corbin and incorporates different coding systems and the use of outside literature. The accepted use of literature is contrary to Glaser’s view where it is suggested that the researcher needs to be a ‘tabula rasa’ or blank slate. Lastly, Constructivist grounded theory is associated with Charmaz. Constructivist grounded theory reshapes the interaction between researcher and participants in the research process and in doing so elucidates the notion of the researcher as author (Gelling, 2011, p.4; Mills, Bonner & Francis, 2006, p.6).

Grounded theory, irrespective of style, has a general framework. It is a methodology that seeks to construct theory and does this through a process of data collection that is often described as inductive in nature, in that the researcher has no predetermined ideas to prove or disprove and this allows issues that are of importance to emerge from the data (Mills, Bonner & Francis, 2006, p.2). The data is analysed by constant comparisons, initially against other data, and the resulting progressive...
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