All entries for Friday 17 November 2017

November 17, 2017

Initial Reflections of Reapplying Grounded Theory to Previously Coded Data

During the past week I have focussed on applying Grounded Theory to my data. The current task is to recode the data that had previously been coded in order to find or discover anything new that had not been previously observed. It is quite fascinating when you have reread the collected data several times, because with each reread you do observe interactions, events, happenings, and actions that were not previously perceived or observed. You begin to construct hypotheses and explanations that you had not previously constructed, thought about, or even were anywhere near being consciously aware of their importance and relevance to your research. This is the beauty of Grounded Theory! It’s not simply the case of trawling through all of your data and note every observation on your first reading, and that’s it. It takes several readings to really get to know the data you are going to be coding, and beyond that it takes several readings to observe everything that is going to be observed.
But even if we have reread all the data several times, is it really possible to observe every single event, happening, interaction, object, action and so on in relation to our aims and objectives? There are means and ways in which we can be sure that what we are observing or perceiving is as close to the data (or reality) as is possible through abductive reasoning and Hypotheses testing. But this does not enable us to become consciously aware of every event, action, interaction, happening, and objects that could possibly be observed in the data. I wonder if this is actually possible? Can this possibility or impossibility even be known? In what way can something be known or something be missed if we do not become consciously aware of or theoretically sensitised to its existence?

Earlier, I caught myself in a mode of thinking that I am coming to know is very much incompatible with Grounded Theory, and is something I need to slap out of myself. During lunchtime I was planning out the afternoon work when a sudden realisation came over me: you cannot plan Grounded Theory work. Yes! You read that right. You cannot plan Grounded Theory work. Ok, I said to myself that I intend on recoding ten separate sets of data but I was basing the quality of what I do on the quantity of what I was going to achieve. This is impossible because with grounded theory, what matters is not the quantity of data that you code within a particular session, but the detail, depth and breadth of your observations of what is happening in the data. This detail, depth and breadth of observations not only come from what you observe and code in the data, but also of the theoretical memos that you write. These memos capture your thoughts and ideas about what might be going on in the data as well as enabling you to compare between data sets, to compare data segments and codes, and to hypothesise and imagine beyond what you are observing in the data. Perhaps what you are observing beyond the data relates to what you had previously read about in existing published literature.

I am finding that coding the data is not taking too long but I do need to be careful not to rush anything, and to be careful that the codes that I construct closely relates to the reality of what is occurring in the data, whilst at the same time accepting that I might not be fully reflect reality because of my philosophical beliefs influencing the way I use Grounded Theory and indeed engage with the data.

What is taking the time is writing the memos. Heck, earlier I wrote a memo on what I was observing in the data within particular data points and it came to over three thousand words! Other memos have come to a few hundred words each. The most unpredictable aspect of grounded theory I find is when it’s appropriate to write a memo, because inspiration can occur at any point in your reading of the data.

The interesting point here is that you are not being guided fully by your prior knowledge and theoretical understanding of what you are observing, but you are being guided by the data itself shaped by your philosophical beliefs. The data itself is guiding when I write a memo, what the content might be, and the purpose of the memo. I cannot predict when or where I shall write a memo and therefore, this is the main reason why it’s difficult to quantify your grounded theory work plan of any single session you do grounded theory work. You have to simply let go of control and let the data and your philosophical beliefs shape and guide what you do, when, where, why, and in what way.

In general, as I recode the data I am observing events, objects, happenings and occurrences of phenomena that I had not previously observed, understood, perceived, or was aware of. I think because of my readings of Philosophy and the increased awareness of my own philosophical beliefs, as well as all the other readings I have carried out for the literature review so far, has helped me to become more theoretically sensitised and arguably more aware of what is going on in the data. This is not to say that I have a complete and full understanding because this understanding is forever in development, and I have to argue if I can really reach the ultimate reality of what is really going on in the data. Hence, the data and the use of the Grounded Theory methodology are shaped by my philosophical beliefs. Nevertheless, this might explain why I have been able to observe what I have not previously observed. I can view things beyond the data that I had not been able to view before, but I have to be careful here that I still ground abstract thoughts and concepts in the data itself.

It’s an exciting journey! Lots of ideas and observations going around, which I never thought were possible just a few weeks ago. This is the beauty of grounded theory and of unchaining yourself from dogmatic, restricted approaches to thinking and research. With grounded theory you have to think as broadly, as detailed, as comprehensively and as complete as you possibly can, whilst keeping everything grounded in the data itself. Hence the name, “grounded theory!”

‘till next time!

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