All entries for Sunday 05 November 2017

November 05, 2017

Ph.D Update: Literature Review Progress, and current Grounded Theory thoughts

Literature Review Update

The first literature review chapter drafting has officially begun, and during the week I have been able to write more structural and content details (the vision) of the chapter whilst exploring the relevant literature. The vision of the chapter is taking shape: it shall provide the social, pedagogical, and technological context of the phenomena of interest. The chapter shall detail the notion of a contemporary society, the relationship between Education and society, and the way in which technological advancements have assisted Educational aims and directions connected to the notion of contemporary societies. Debates about contemporary society, Education and technology provide the basis for explaining why there is a need to focus research upon the particular learning phenomena, and explain the importance of the focus.

Beyond detailing more of the chapter content and structure, and rewriting the first paragraph about a million times or so before I became somewhat happy with it (took a while to find a starting point: still not fully happy with it, but shall look at the starting point again soon), I found that Grounded Theory reading needed extra focus. Deciding this was the result of being generally happy with current progress of the literature review, and also because I felt at the time I had to decide what grounded theory procedure to adopt. Although I have been open to the possibility of having to combine different methods of grounded theory from different authors to suit the complexity of the research, deciding on the way in which grounded theory should be or can be applied, and which procedures to adopt (and possibly create), to my research is not quite straightforward.

Brief Update on current Grounded Theory thoughts

During the week I have read through selective chapters of “The Discovery of Grounded Theory” by Glaser and Strauss, “Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory” by Strauss and Corbin, and “Constructing Grounded Theory” by Charmaz. Glaser, Strauss and Corbin are who I consider to be among the key Grounded Theory authors alongside Clarke and Bryant. At the time of writing this post however I have yet to reread the work of Clarke and Bryant and have yet to read through the other publications of Glaser, Strauss and Corbin (these are current tasks however) therefore , this section of the blog post refers only to the aforementioned texts. I therefore acknowledge and accept that views presented here are tentative and changeable. But, it suffices for the purposes of tracking the continuous development of my understanding and thinking about Grounded Theory.

The key authors do share common ground, upon which stands the most common and typical features of a grounded theory implementation: the importance of a coding procedure, of theoretical sampling, of theoretical saturation, of writing theoretical memos, of using a constant comparison method, and of developing theory. The key areas where the authors disagree are the nature and application of the coding procedure, and Philosophical perspectives.

From my readings of the texts, all authors appear to support different philosophical traditions. Glaser and Strauss (and perhaps which can also be found in Glaser’s later writings) lean towards pragmatism and realism; Strauss and Corbin appear to lean towards a post-positivism perspective, and Charmaz appears to lean towards a Constructivist approach with hints of post-modernism. Because of the complexity of my philosophical beliefs (a middle-range realist ontology accompanied by an interpretivist / relativist epistemology), there are philosophical and methodological claims and approaches of all key authors that I agree with, and some I do not.

Arguments for and against claims and approaches are driven by the nature of the research problem, the source of the data, and the nature of the relationship between myself and the research participants. Strauss, Corbin and Charmaz base their writings on interview data located within Ethnographic designs, and advocate a strong connection between researcher and research participants. This is, I find, more so with Charmaz as there is a section in her book pertaining to the use of Grounded Theory within Ethnographic research.

The design of my Grounded Theory research therefore differs to what Strauss and Corbin and Charmaz appear to be discussing, and appears to be closer to Glaser’s more realist grounded theory writings. But this is not actually that easy to suggest as it appears (at least tentatively) that ontologically I align with Glaser whilst epistemologically I align with Strauss, Corbin and Charmaz. This is why at the practical level, the application of grounded theory procedures is not straightforward.

Thankfully, at the practical level of procedures, the key authors do agree in general on the purpose, function, process and application of the beginning coding procedure (termed either “open coding” or “initial coding”), the general idea of merging codes and classifying similar codes into categories, and the development or “filling out” of these categories within the realm of theoretical saturation. What happens next with the filled out categories in order for these categories to be investigated and linked theoretically to form a theory is a matter of substantial debate and disagreement among all key authors (and, indeed, many critics and commentators of Grounded Theory).

Whilst I need to give some consideration to the later coding stages, I’m more concerned at present about the beginning coding stage. I have coded some of the data before, but for various reasons beyond the scope of this blog post I shall be reanalysing the data as I am viewing the data from a slightly different perspective than before. I am not utterly convinced that my codes that I have initially created make sense, so shall be combing my way through them soon before continuing with more coding of the data.

What I am assuming shall happen is that I shall be able to select (or create, as necessary) and apply the correct coding procedures as defined by either Glaser, Strauss, Corbin and Charmaz (and others) depending on the way that I perceive the nature, structure and the processes involved with constructing the data, and the way that I think the coding is progressing. The only way this is possible, in my view, is to code the data, examine and integrate codes to form categories, and really develop and explore these categories. I think it is only then will I be able to decide the direction of the next stage beyond initial coding and category development.

The problem I have is that the source of data for coding is different in nature to what is typically and commonly used by grounded theorists. Therefore, this is providing unique challenges. But these challenges, whilst formidable, will be overcome!

Or so I keep telling myself………

‘till next time!

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