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The Beginning of Grounded Theory

Confronted with the task of discussing grounded theory, especially from the perspective of a research novice, I decided to begin with the source of this approach to qualitative research - the book published by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss in 1967 from which the practice of grounded theory was born. Awareness of Dying was the product of Glaser¿s and Strauss¿ attempt to understand the interactions between people once the expectation of death had become present in a relationship; once the terminal person was aware of his or her impending death.

"Thus, in our account of the interaction that centers around dying patients we shall be interested not only in the social regulations and other structural conditions entering into the interaction, but also in the tendency for interaction to move out of regulated social bounds and into new interactional modes" (Glaser and Strauss, 1965, p.15 ).  

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It was discovery of the transcendence of relationships beyond ¿regulated social bounds¿ when death was pending and had become understood between the dying patient and those with whom they interacted that was discovered by Glaser and Strauss in their field studies (1965). The pair developed a theory from their studies about how this awareness impacted relationships between a dying person and those who interact with them. It differentiated between closed awareness, suspicion, mutual deception, and open awareness. The field studies had shown that the type of awareness had a significant impact on interaction. The process they followed in this study became the basis for their collaboration, The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research . It was in this publication that Glaser and Strauss put forth the notion that discovering theory from systematically collecting and analyzing data ¿provides us with relevant predictions, explanations, interpretations, and applications¿ (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, p.1 ). Glaser and Strauss made the argument that discovery of theory from data was possible, easily accessible and understandable, empirically relevant, and not generally the perspective of those theretofore seeking understanding of sociological research methods.

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Glaser and Strauss explain that one of the purposes of publishing a book about the theory they developed was to ¿provide a defense against doctrinaire approaches to verification. Additionally, the authors hope to provide the reader with a way of evaluating the worth of any theory¿ (Allen, 2010, p. 1607 ). By demonstrating the plausibility of generating theory from field research through a loosely prescribed process, the researcher ¿more closely mirrored reality than more traditional approaches¿ (Babchuk, 2009 ). Strauss asserts in a 1994 interview that he had been using the method prior to he and Glaser¿s study of the dying but just had no name for it. When he joined with Glaser, who Strauss says was very adept and ¿acutely sensitive to method,¿ the two developed the process in more sophisticated ways (Strauss, 1994 ).

What Grounded Theory Is

Grounded theory moves qualitative research beyond description of experiential meaning in a phenomenology to the development of a systematic explanation or theory of the process involved in a phenomenon driven by the views of those being studied (Creswell, 2007 ). It is the one area of research in which the examination of a literature review may be counter-productive and was not advocated by Glaser and Strauss who felt that an important aspect of the process was to avoid applying existing theory to data collection and analysis but, instead, advocated letting the data inform the development of theory. Dick (2005 ) notes that Glaser advocated avoiding the literature associated with the research subject so as not to unduly influence the data collection and analysis process. Suddaby (2006 ) takes some issue with the idea that the literature is to be avoided. He believes this leads to research that is unstructured and not fully grounded. Researchers who avoid the literature, he notes, ¿avoid formal reviews of relevant literature in their manuscripts to create the impression that their observations and analytic categorizations of data were not colored by previous ideas¿ but represent completely new understanding. Suddaby adds that avoiding the literature was never the intent of Glaser and Strauss who he writes were ¿motivated against grand theory¿ and that their ¿formulation of grounded theory was never intended to encourage research that ignored existing empirical knowledge¿ (634 ).  

While Glaser and Strauss did not delineate complete methodology in their initial publication on grounded theory, they did put forth the general method of comparative analysis as critical to the development of grounded theory. Comparative analysis in grounded theory involves constant comparison and theoretical sampling in which data are collected and analyzed simultaneously and decisions about re-entering the field are based on an emerging theory from data collected and analyzed (634 ). Creswell asserts that the number of ¿passes one makes to the field depends on whether the categories of information become saturated and whether the theory is elaborated in all of its complexity¿ (64 ).

Suddaby notes that Glaser and Strauss were annoyed by what they perceived as a lack of respect for qualitative methods by ¿the extreme positivism that had permeated most social research¿ (633 ). They were concerned that this movement was attempting to discredit qualitative research as unsystematic or exploratory.

"These critics, in their zeal for careful verification and for a degree of accuracy they never achieve have forgotten both the generation of theory and the need for carefully appraising the different degrees of plausibility necessary for sociology¿s diverse tasks" (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, p. 223 ).

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YouTube Video Presentation by Graham R. Gibbs , University of Huddersfield

What Grounded Theory Is Not

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Google Presentation by Scott Powers based on Suddaby, R. (2006). What Grounded Theory Is Not. Academy of Management Journal

Practical Application

Babchuk (2009) notes grounded theory has become a popular approach to research among practitioners including in such areas as nursing, health care, and education. He adds that many ¿practitioners readily appreciate the benefit of discovering or constructing theory through practice rather than trying to fit practice within more traditional confines of theory¿ (Babchuk, 2009, p. 3 ). This is also the aspect of grounded theory that is attractive to me as an educator. Educators are constantly seeking ways to improve student learning but that endeavor is layered with complications. The idea of analyzing a problem through research and analysis and emerging with answers that could facilitate improvement in the learning process is very powerful. I have learned that grounded theory is about studying process rather than and is appropriate in contexts in which participants construct meaning from their experiences. It is not appropriate to use when seeking to draw conclusions about reality but ¿when you want to make knowledge claims about how individuals interpret reality¿ (Suddaby, 2006, p. 634 ).

Grounded Theory - An Annotated Webography

(compiled by Scott Powers )

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References

  1. Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1965). Awareness of Dying. Chicago, IL: Aldine Publishing Co.
  2. Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Rutgers, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
  3. Allen, L. M. (2010). A Critique of Four Grounded Theory Texts. The Qualitative Report, 15(6), 1606-1620.
  4. Babchuk, W.A. (October, 2009). Grounded Theory for Practice-Based Application:Closing the Embarrassing Gap between Theory and Empirical Research. Presented at the Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, Community and Extension Education, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL
  5. Strauss, A.L. (1994) Interview by Heiner Legewie and Barbara Schervier-Legewie [Audio recording]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research. Retrieved from http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/viewArticle/562/1219
  6. Allen, L. M. (November 2010). A Critique of Four Grounded Theory Texts. The Qualitative Report, 15(6), 1606-1620.
  7. Dick, Bob (2005)  Grounded theory: a thumbnail sketch.  [On line] Available at http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/grounded.html
  8. Suddaby, R. (2006). What Grounded Theory Is Not. Academy of Management Journal, 49(4), 633-642.
  9. Thulesius, H. (2005) Public domain photo of Barney Glaser. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Glasr75.jpg
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  1. Nov 24, 2010

    Your references offer a variety of information.  The components you wove into your post are great.  Have you worked with wiki projects before? Excellent work!

  2. Nov 26, 2010

    Scott...I think I messed something up...I cannot see your graphics at the top of the page and I am afraid I did it when I was cleaning up the table of contents...so sorry...please forgive me if I did mess something up...I have confidence that you can fix it, but I am so sorry.

  3. Nov 28, 2010

    Hi Scott,

    From a content perspective, I especially like the webography, the explanation of the practical implications of grounded theory,and your embedded Power Point of what grounded theory is not.  From an editorial standpoint, several formatting issues in the reference list need to be addressed, and in the Practical Application section, I think "education professional" needs to be changed to "educational professional."  Education is a noun; it does not modify professional.  Educational is an adjective and it does modify the noun professional.  Your chapter is beautifully crafted.

    Cynthia

  4. Dec 01, 2010

    I am so impressed with your work.  I am swimming in wiki land and trying to keep up!  Your chapter is amazingly informative, engaging and well referenced!  I am humbled by the results of your efforts.

    1. Dec 04, 2010

      Thank you for the kind words Holly!