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How to... implement grounded theory

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Development of GT

It is not possible to understand GT without knowing how it developed, in particular the rift that emerged between its two original protagonists.

GT started with Glaser and Strauss’s 1967 publication of The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. This was followed up by a number of subsequent publications, which attempted to provide greater clarity about method.

The rift between Glaser and Strauss emerged when the latter collaborated with a nursing researcher, Juliet Corbin, to produce a more clearly defined system (Gurd, 2008). Their approach to data was much more structured and codified, while that of Glaser insists on the emergent nature of theory development in data analysis and coding.

While Gurd (2008) distinguished four different schools of GT, we shall here confine ourselves to the two main ones, of which the protagonists are Glaser and Strauss and Corbin respectively.

Table I, below, is a summary of the main differences between the two approaches:

Table I: Glaser vs Strauss
  Glaser Strauss
Theory development Theory emerges by a detailed process of coding leading to "theory saturation", in other words, it is purely inductive (Elharidy et al., 2008).
The product of GT is a set of integrated conceptual hypotheses, organized around a core category, generated from systematic research methodology (Glaser (2003: p. 2), quoted in Jones and Noble, 2007). Data for description or proof are not required
Rigorous coding leads to verification and also to the ability to generalize beyond the immediate study (Elharidy et al., 2008).
Elsewhere, however, they imply that GT can also develop purely descriptive accounts (Jones and Noble, 2007)
Emergence of research question and use of literature As far as possible, the researcher should come to the study without preconceptions, with only a broad topic area in mind and without detailed research questions. The literature is not studied beforehand. The researcher should be totally neutral and allow both topic and understanding to emerge The researcher should be encouraged to use prior experience (both professional and personal) and knowledge. The literature will be a good source not only of ideas, but also possibly data (Strauss and Corbin, 1998)
Use of procedures Glaser is insistent that a set of procedures must be followed during data analysis and coding (Jones and Noble, 2007) Later Strauss and Corbin implies that these are optional (Jones and Noble, 2007)
Coding Coding should be as open as possible, with as many categories as possible being used until the core category emerges (Jones and Noble, 2007) As Glaser sees it, more attempt to "force" coding (Jones and Noble, 2007)
How to use GT Defines GT (1992: p. 16) as "a general methodology of analysis linked with data collection and uses a systematically applied set of methods to generate an inductive theory about a substantive area" [emphasis added]. GT is a research design, not just a technique Described (1990: p. 24) as a "qualitative research method that uses a systematic set of procedures to develop and inductively derive grounded theory about a phenomenon" [emphasis added]. In other words, it is a research technique systematically followed

It should be emphasized that Glaser does not dismiss Strauss and Corbin’s approach, but rather, denies that it is still GT (Geiger and Turley, 2003).

Table II, following, is Jones and Noble’s description of the differences between the two schools (2007: p. 93).

Table II: Jones and Noble's description of the differences between Glaser and Strauss
  Glaserian school Straussian school
Emergence and researcher distance Everything emerges in a grounded theory – nothing is forced or preconceived. Researchers are distant and unknowing as they approach the data, with only the world under study shaping the theorizing 1987, 1990, 1998: the researcher adopts a more active and provocative influence over the data, using cumulative knowledge and experience to enhance sensitivity. Logical elaboration and preconceived tools and techniques can be employed to shape the theorizing
Development of theory The goal is to generate a conceptual theory that accounts for a pattern of behaviour which is relevant and problematic for those involved

1987: conceptually dense, integrated theory development is the only legitimate outcome.
1990, 1998: grounded theory can also be used for developing non-theory (conceptual ordering or elaborate description)

Specific, non-optional procedures The method involves clear, extensive, rigorous procedures and a set of fundamental processes that must be followed

1987: grounded theory encompasses a number of distinct processes that must be carried out.
1990, 1998: researchers can cherry-pick from a smorgasbord table, from which they can choose, reject or ignore

Core category The theoretical formulation that represents the continual resolving of the main concern of the participants 1987, 1990, 1998: the main theme of a predetermined phenomenon which integrates all the other categories and explains the various actions and interactions that are aimed at management or handling the relevant event, happening or incident
Coding Open, selective and theoretical

Open, axial and selective, but with the following variations:
1987: selective coding is an "emergent" process based on continuous use of memo sorting and integrative diagrams.
1990: selective coding employs the "forcing" mechanism of the coding paradigm.
1998: paradigm model dropped and an emergent process based on memo sorting is again stressed



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