Learning About Grounded Theory

 

Learning About Grounded Theory

While reading up on grounded theory I was having trouble coming up with a “grounded theory for dummies” definition that would help me with my own understanding of it. I started by reading articles by others who had tested grounded theory, used it in their work, and had come up with their own methods for applying grounded theory to their work. Everyone I was reading was starting with grounded theory but many were using different methods and achieving different outcomes. I ended up facing frustration and decided that I needed to begin again, but this time at the source. So I started reading Glaser and Strauss’s 1967 explanation of the theory that they had “discovered,” and it’s actually easy enough to understand right from their first chapter. They describe grounded theory as the “discovery of theory from data” (Glaser and Strauss 1973, 1).

Basically:

Analyze the data you’re working with and extract a theory, or multiple theories, from it.

Don’t try to prove some theory with the data you have; analyze and compare that data in order to generate theories (Glaser and Strauss 1973, 2).  

I also really enjoyed Roy Suddaby’s article about “What Grounded Theory is Not” (Suddaby, 2006). He explains that what Glaser and Strauss were trying to do was fight against the presumption that all of the subject matter that was dealt with by the social sciences and the natural sciences was the same, which we now know to distinguish between as qualitative and quantitative (Suddaby 2006, 633). By focusing on the importance of interpretive work, Glaser and Strauss were revolutionizing the way that researchers could deal with and react to the qualitative data they are working with (Suddaby 2006, 633). Suddaby’s article gives 6 big misconceptions that most people have about grounded theory that I found quite helpful to read:

- “Grounded theory is not an excuse to ignore the literature”: It’s important to have some background knowledge about the data and the field you’re doing research in (Sudabby 2006, 634).

- “Grounded theory is not presentation of raw data”: The data should be digested and theories developed—interviews are a good example; you shouldn’t just present the transcripts, you should analyze them, find common themes, and abstract the experiences into theoretical statements (Suddaby 2006, 635). 

- “Grounded theory is not theory testing, content analysis, or word counts”: “[t]he purpose of grounded theory is not to make truth statement about reality, but, rather, to elicit fresh understandings about patterned relationships between social actors and how these relationships and interactions actively construct reality” (Suddaby 2006, 636). This doesn’t mean don’t use mixed methods, it’s just that you’re not starting your inquiry with a hypothesis or a theory, you’re looking for that theory in the data (Suddaby 2006, 636-637).

- “Grounded theory is not simply routine application of formulaic technique of data”: For example, if you code your interviews but don’t apply any subjective interpretation to them, or if you simply let software analyze your data without applying any subjective interpretation to them, or if you present any of your data or routine “mechanical” analysis of the data without “creative insight”—this is not grounded theory (Suddaby 2006, 637-638).

- “Grounded theory is not perfect”: This one is self-explanatory. Some people try to make their methods using grounded theory perfect by creating rigid rules and guidelines, but social processes are very complicated, and saying for example that you recorded just the right amount of interviews for a study, or that you collected the correct amount of data for it, can be faulty because that is a very subjective assumption to make (Suddaby 2006, 638-639).

- “Grounded theory is not easy”: A great grounded theory study is “the product of considerable experience, hard work, creativity and, occasionally, a healthy dose of good luck” (Suddaby 2006, 639).

- “Grounded theory is not an excuse for the absence of a methodology”: Your methods for collecting, analyzing, and drawing theories from that data should be clear in the presentation of your research (Suddaby 2006, 640).

After completing some of this reading, and analyzing some of the interviews we recorded for the Sustaining MedArt project, I definitely agree with Suddaby that grounded theory is not easy, but I feel like the definition of what it is and how it works is now much clearer and easy to understand.

 

Works Cited

Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm L. Strauss. 1973. The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co.

Suddaby, Roy. 2006. From the Editors: What Grounded Theory is Not. Academy of Management Journal 49 (4): 633-42.

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