All entries for Monday 01 May 2017

May 01, 2017

My Current Thinking About Grounded Theory

As mentioned in the previous blog post I still have many unanswered questions, and whilst some questions have been answered and thoughts have been developed from reading many research papers and textbooks, which itself is an ongoing task, many of these questions will be answered as I continue to code through the data and experiment with different Grounded Theory procedures. Experimenting with these procedures shall assist with my understanding, decision and selection justification of the most appropriate procedure for the type of data, disciplinary contexts, and the phenomena itself.


My Current Philosophical Position

At the Philosophical level, I am aligning with the idea of Philosophical fluidity: because Glaser’s writings have been interpreted as philosophically neutral (although there are writings that do suggest that it leans methodologically towards positivism, and some suggest critical realism) and Strauss and Corbin’s writings suggest non-formal adherence to procedures, along with their later writings lining out pragmatism and symbolic interactionism as being the underlying theories of their grounded theory, it can be argued that Grounded Theory encourages philosophical fluidity.


Because my philosophical beliefs align with a realist philosophy; specifically, a realist ontology and an interpretivist, critical epistemology (ideas are continuously being developed here) I can safely reject Charmaz and Clarke’s variants of Grounded Theory as they align themselves with constructivism and post-modernism respectively. I can also argue the rejection of Bryant’s Grounded Theory as appropriate as it aligns with a Pragmatist philosophy but this might not be black or white as I am currently engaged with debates about the methodological level of grounded theory.

Methodological Considerations

My current engagement with the methodological aspect of grounded theory refers to the following questions:


Which procedures of grounded theory are most relevant to a realist conceptualisation of Grounded Theory? Therefore, which version of Grounded Theory out of Glaser, Strauss or even Bryant would be most relevant? Would I have to think about a combination of procedures? Or do I have to in some way create a new procedure? A specific focus in answering this question revolves around debates of Axial Coding, and its relevance to the context of research.


Another question is, what difference does coding for a process introduce to Grounded Theory? Grounded Theory has most popularly been used for coding for experiences and beliefs of a phenomena as opposed to coding for structure and sequences of a process in non-interview based documents and transcripts. From my ongoing readings, I have not come across much literature that covers grounded theory use for developing a substantive theory from observations of a process, as opposed to building a theory from experiences and beliefs.


Therefore, following from this, in what way does a realist Philosophy contribute towards understanding a process from non-interview documents as opposed to understanding a process from the beliefs and experiences of participants as reported in interview based transcripts? What are the philosophical differences here in general? I know that constructivism relates to interview based transcripts, but what about realism and interpretivism and their links with non-interview based documents? Can we assume that interpretivism is some internal process of meaning making and application of meaning on constructs and aspects of reality (reality of the argumentation process) we consider real? What can a realist Philosophy say about qualitative data in general, in contrast with or complementary to constructivist perspectives?


Reflection and Pushing Forwards


Comparing my thoughts documented in much earlier blog posts I do appear to be more settled on grounded theory from a Philosophical perspective and continuously building philosophical arguments for grounded theory. The main area of current contention is the methodological level; specifically, knowing the exact grounded theory procedures to use and this can only be understood as I progress through coding of data and experiment with coding procedures complemented by appropriate reading. Further questions revolve around the way in which the type of theory produced from grounded theory (known as a substantive theory) explains the phenomena of research, and in what way this type of theory can develop into formal theory in the future beyond the Ph.D.


There is a lot to think about here, but I feel that I am placed somewhere in the middle of everything: I am coming from that land of philosophical and methodological confusion of wondering what on Earth do I use and why, to coming to be settled on philosophical perspectives and general methodological approaches. What I am starting to do now is push myself along this philosophical and methodological spectrum towards the side where I am developing philosophical justifications and arguments for the research design, and generally understanding, experimenting with and justifying selections of variants of grounded theory approaches.


Therefore, I have come from the land of philosophical and methodological confusion (Genesis if you’re reading this, no plagiarism intended) to a general sense of philosophical and methodological clarity although specific confusion (for lack of a better term) still exists, and now pushing myself towards specific and detailed clarity. I can tell this is happening because I have felt ready to start writing the thesis, and I have already made a formal start to drafting sections.


Onwards!


Grounded Theory: Philosophically, Methodologically, and Disciplinary fluid?

Grounded theory initially appeared straightforward but it did not take long to realise its complex nature and intense debates surrounding philosophical, methodological and, most recently discovered, disciplinary issues. I first encountered grounded theory through Charmaz’s Constructivist Grounded Theory and read through her book thinking that it would be most relevant to my philosophical beliefs at the time. As I understood the phenomena of interest and the general context of my research through much reading of existing empirical literature revolving around the phenomena of interest, I began to realise that I’m not a constructivist, but a realist. Constructivism and therefore constructivist grounded theory became increasingly irrelevant because of its leaning towards there being multiple realities (I have a belief in a single reality, but not a single reality that is easily discoverable or understood) and an emphasis of the co-construction of meaning between researcher and participant (context of my research does not facilitate such a relationship). I therefore discovered the works of Glaser and Strauss (1968) and Strauss and Corbin (1990) and to this day it hasn’t been easy to decide which is the most relevant to my research and there is a reason for this, which I shall explain further.


There are several key authors of grounded theory: Glaser and Strauss (1968), Strauss and Corbin (1990), Charmaz (2000), Clarke (2003) and Bryant (2016), with each contextualising grounded theory within different philosophical assumptions and methodological approaches (as in, different coding procedures from what I can currently understand). Charmaz as mentioned contextualised grounded theory within a constructivist philosophy following criticisms of Glaser and Strauss’s approaches as leaning too much towards positivism, whilst Clarke positioned Grounded Theory within the context of post-modernism following criticisms of all previous versions. Bryant makes Grounded Theory relevant to practice-based research by positioning Grounded Theory within a Pragmatist philosophy. All these different versions of Grounded Theory have arguably come about through the professional separation of the pioneers of Grounded Theory: Glaser and Strauss.


Initially, Glaser and Strauss were united in their criticisms of social science research and the dominating positivist, objectivist, theory testing approaches to understanding the social world, and embarked on a mission to change that and eventually developed Grounded Theory, which initially was an inductive approach to develop a theory to explain social phenomena.


After a while however, the disciplinary differences and, therefore, theoretical differences between Glaser and Strauss led to their professional break up with each following their own paths to developing grounded theory, with Glaser’s version becoming known as Classical Grounded Theory, whilst Strauss’ version became known as Straussian Grounded Theory. Discussion of the exact differences between the two is beyond the purpose of this blog post but it suffices to say that Straussian Grounded Theory focusses more on combining theory building and theory testing approaches (inductive-deductive or some form of abductive logic) and consists of an extra coding procedure known as Axial Coding, which has been the subject of much criticism from Glaser and Charmaz, and much debate among other authors.


Glaser himself in various research papers and books has highly criticised Straussian Grounded Theory for being too prescriptive and therefore limiting theoretical creativity; however, Strauss and Corbin have both stated that Grounded Theory researchers should not follow a strict adherence to Grounded Theory procedures, but to view the procedures as a guide and therefore adapt according to their research context. And this, I would argue, is where we find the roots of much diversity and fluidity within grounded theory.


Philosophical and Methodological Fluidity


From the writings of Glaser it appears that he opposes the different versions of grounded theory arguing they have transitioned beyond the point where they can reasonably be called Grounded Theory.


The problem with this opposition however is that it has been argued that Glaser’s Grounded Theory is philosophically neutral and can therefore be aligned with any Philosophical position. It’s almost as if Glaser’s opposition focusses on methodological differences rather than Philosophical differences, but it’s the very argument that Philosophy influences methodology that suggests the existence of both philosophical and methodological fluidity. Glaser’s apparent Philosophical neutrality and Strauss and Corbin’s recommendations not to subscribe to strict adherence of Grounded Theory procedures evidences the existence of this fluidity of movement between differing Philosophical positions therefore enabling different variations to be presented. But there is a near limitless debate about this fluidity from all the key authors of Grounded Theory along with discussions from other methodologists and qualitative researchers, but in general there is movement towards this fluidity within research designs as written by some key contemporary methodological authors, all of which I shall be covering in the thesis to some extent.


Disciplinary fluidity


A paper written by Carter and Little (2007) has recently begun to encourage me to think further about the use of Grounded Theory in my research. They present a series of hypothetical scenarios involving a fictional character named “Anna” and a series of considerations she has had to make when designing a research study, and the eventual selection of grounded theory in her study. Briefly, this is encouraging me now to think more about disciplinary assumptions and disciplinary contexts that shall play host to Grounded Theory, and in what exact way and why certain grounded theory procedures are relevant to the discipline within which the phenomena of interest is situated. Additionally, I have to think more about the genesis of the particular version of grounded theory that I desire to use.


Therefore, currently I plan to use Strauss and Corbin’s variant of Grounded Theory. But I have many questions now particularly surrounding the debate about axial coding. I shall be covering some of these questions and thoughts in the next blog post.


References:


Bryant, A (2017): "Grounded Theory and Grounded Theorising: Pragmatism in Research Practice," Published by Oxford University Press


Carter, S.M., Little, M "Justifying Knowledge, Justifying Method, Taking Action: Epistemologies, Methodologies, and Methods in Qualitative Research," Qualitative Health Research, 17 (10), pp 1316 - 1328


Charmaz, K (2014): "Constructing Grounded Theory" (2nd Edition). Published by Sage


Clark, A.E (2003): "Situational Analyses: Grounded Theory Mapping After The Postmodern Turn," Symbolic Interaction, 26 (4), pp 553 - 576


Glaser, B.G., Strauss, A, L (1967): "The Discovery of Grounded Theory," Published by Aldine Transactions


Strauss, A.L., Corbin, J. (1990): "Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory" Published by Sage. (Note that updated editions have been published throughout the years)


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