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Regrounding Grounded Theory

Page history last edited by Mark 10 years, 5 months ago

Regrounding Grounded Theory


Charmaz describes the nature of grounded theory and the reason to augment it with a constructivist standpoint:


The grounded theorist’s analysis tells a story about people, social processes, and situations. The researcher composes the story; it does not simply unfold before the eyes of an objective viewer. This story reflects the viewer as well as the viewed. … We can use [the critiques of grounded theory] to make our empirical research more reflexive and our completed studies more contextually situated. We can claim only to have interpreted a reality, as we understood both our own experience and our subjects’ portrayals of theirs. (Charmaz, 2000, p. 522-523; emphasis in original)


Grounded theory as originally conceived by Glaser and Strauss (1973) is rooted in the notion that comparing observations among cases enables theory to emerge, rather than beginning with preconceived hypotheses to be verified or refuted[1]. Like positivist methodologies, objectivist grounded theory presumes a reality external to the researcher that can be objectively discovered, characterized, and reported. In addition, it adopts a post-positivist standpoint that recognizes the existence of a subjective social reality, but attempts to explicitly exclude its effects from influencing the objective reality under study. Post-positivism uses human behaviours, responses, and interactions as consequential effects of structural and environmental causes, using the former to deduce the latter.


Grounded theory begins by collecting data concurrently with its analysis. Analysis begins with coding data based on actions, events, and concepts provided by participants in the actual words used, a technique called open or line-by-line coding. Constant comparison of coded incidents and events among various participants enables individual accounts to be eventually categorized, as open codes are combined and connected via the more conceptual process of axial coding. As more encompassing theoretical categories are discovered, the researcher returns to collect additional data that augment the emergent theory by filling in gaps in data created by subsequent questions suggested by the initial data analysis. The researcher formally reflects on this recursive process through memo writing that enables him or her to develop nascent ideas, see emergent patterns, and reconcile the developing interpretive analysis with their own lived experiences. The process is repeated until one reaches saturation, that is, when no new information emerges from coding, comparison, and reflection (Charmaz, 2000; Patton, 2002; Strauss & Corbin, 1998).


In essence, Kathy Charmaz uses the analytical techniques of grounded theory, contextualized in a constructivist standpoint, to enable the emergence of knowledge “that fosters the development of qualitative traditions through the study of experience from the standpoint of those who live it” (2000, p. 522). She describes its purpose, one that is consistent with both the philosophical standpoints offered at the beginning of this chapter, and my own objectives:


A constructivist grounded theory distinguishes between the real and the true. The constructivist approach does not seek truth – single, universal, and lasting. Still, it remains realist because it addresses human realities and assumes the existence of real worlds. … We must try to find what research participants define as real and where their definitions of reality take them. … We change our conception of [social life] from a real world to be discovered, tracked, and categorized to a world made real in the minds and through the words and actions of its members. (Charmaz, 2000, p. 523; emphasis in original)


Read on: Research Design


[1] A rift occurred between Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss concerning the evolution of grounded theory. Strauss, in collaboration with Juliet Corbin (1990), developed ever more prescriptive techniques that, according to Glaser, appeared “to be forcing data and analysis through their preconceptions, analytic questions, hypotheses, and methodological techniques” (Charmaz, 2000, p. 512), effectively making it more science-like. Nonetheless, both Glaser’s more classical approach and Strauss and Corbin’s more analytic approach remain solidly objectivist in nature and (post-)positivist in outlook.


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