All entries for Sunday 29 May 2016

May 29, 2016

Reconsidering The Grounded Theory Method

Reconsidering Grounded Theory

After much thinking, I have come to the decision that whilst Grounded Theory is still an important part of the research, Constructivist Grounded Theory is no longer appropriate because of the incompatibility between its philosophical underpinnings and the philosophical underpinnings of my own research. This decision is all a part of a journey towards considering the positioning of Grounded Theory and also attempts at reconciling differing philosophical perspectives given that the research is mixed methods.

As the longer term readers shall know, Constructivist Grounded Theory was initially adopted as an overall research design with interpretivism or constructivism being the dominant philosophical perspective of the research. I became aware that the philosophical underpinnings of Constructivist Grounded Theory were incompatible with my own philosophical beliefs about reality and the way we come to know reality, and of my increasing understanding of empirical literature therefore it was reconceptualised as a method within the context of a mixed method research design. At this time, earlier this year, I was not fully aware of a philosophical underpinning for the mixed methods design. I shifted through various positions and settled with critical realism, but even as I continue to explore critical realism to a much more substantial level I am beginning to critique the position, although I am beginning to find agreement with its ontological and epistemological basis (more on this in the future).

The problem I have with Constructivist Grounded Theory is that by its nature and title it is fundamentally different to critical realism. Because critical realism is the philosophical basis, the underpinning, of the research, every aspect of the research design must have some sort of alignment with critical realism. Critical realism understands reality not only through its absolute existence independent of the mind and not only through multiple instances via the experiences and beliefs of people, but also (and emphasises) through understanding reality as a stratified, layered entity concerning itself not just with what is observable or what is experienced, but what really is and the reasons why aspects of reality really are what they are. What causes what we observe? What causes what we experience? Those are two important questions when trying to understand reality from a critical realist perspective. Constructivism understands reality only through the experiences of the observers of that reality therefore Constructivist Grounded Theory’s approach to understanding reality and therefore theoretical development are grounded in the concepts of the experiences of the observers. That is not what I want to achieve when it comes to qualitatively understanding reality and the phenomenon of investigation, so I have had to move away from that approach.

Absolute minefield of arguments

Having made the decision to move away from Constructivist Grounded Theory I decided to return to exploring other grounded theory varieties. Reconsidering Grounded Theory and reconciling differing philosophical perspectives is ongoing and during the past week I have felt slightly overwhelmed at the sheer amount of discussion and debate that exists within the field of grounded theory. Just to give you an idea of the extent of argumentation, the grounded theory approach has three different sets of main contributors: Glaser and Strauss (original Classic Grounded Theory), Strauss and Corbin (what is coined as the Straussian Grounded Theory) and Charmaz (Constructivist Grounded Theory). There are various others (such as feminist grounded theory) but they hold little or no relevance for my research.

All these main authors have written extensive books and papers about their respective version of grounded theory, and another set of papers that critique the work of the other main authors. Strauss moved away from the conventions of the Classic Grounded Theory and along with Corbin took part in a series of published debates with Glaser. They all criticised each other in terms of their definitions, philosophical underpinnings and assumptions, the process, and products of each other's version of Grounded Theory. This took place, and continues to do so, through an exchange of published papers where each paper developed upon ideas from previous papers, refuted challenges from the opponents, and then challenged ideas published in their opponent papers, which in turn were further challenged in subsequent opponent papers and so the cycle continues. When Charmaz entered the arena, she criticised both Glaser and Strauss and Corbin’s versions of grounded theory for promoting a positivist stance of grounded theory when it should be more constructivist, which is what she proposed. In turn, and in time, Glaser, Strauss and Corbin were critical about Charmaz’s approach, and in turn Charmaz published papers that argued against what they were saying, which in turn led to more papers published that refuted her claims and presented further arguments, and so on.

You can imagine therefore the rather mesh network of arguments and debates across all aspects of grounded theory among the main authors but that’s far from the complete picture. To add to the incredibly comprehensive and complex arena of argumentation, there are different groups of writers that support or argue against Glaser, Strauss and Corbin, or Charmaz, bringing with them their own sets of arguments and sometimes even offering a different flavour of a main brand of Grounded Theory. Again, the papers contain challenges to published ideas and development of other ideas, whilst other published papers refute and challenge these ideas, which are then challenged in other papers. The sheer vastness, complexity, comprehensiveness and complicated networking of arguments and refutations, and so on, is simply incredible and beyond the understanding of many. I did attempt to take in all aspects of argumentation but this left me feeling slightly overwhelmed and wonder where in this complicated and scary minefield of debates do I start to understand it all and where do I begin to fit my own arguments as they develop.

What next?

Even after giving myself time to think about it all, it is still incredible. Even as I write this blog post I am simply in awe of the debates and discussions and I just cannot describe it. All I can say is, it really is a case where are no right or wrong answers and that the effectiveness of whatever grounded theory approach I adopt is grounded (no pun intended) upon the strength of my argumentation for using such an approach. But I have submissions to make and a thesis to work on, so I have had to give myself time to think and to come up with at least a basic strategy so that I know where I can start to wade through this complicated mess, whilst at the same time heeding the words of my supervisor when he said that it is probably impossible to go through absolutely everything.

Having given myself some time to think about these arguments I have decided to study and really go into everything published by the main authors of grounded theory in order to find out which version is the most appropriate. This, I think, will be most appropriate for the Upgrade paper as I can use the main authors as the key authors of grounded theory, and build my arguments for adopting a particular version of grounded theory through critiquing their publications. That’s the only way I can do this. The thesis can expand on this argumentation in time but at the moment I am most concerned with the Upgrade paper. Initial reading of these arguments point to Straussian Grounded Theory being the most appropriate, but I shall have to delve into the method first before deciding.

In summary it really is a complex minefield of debates and discussions, but it has to be known that the same level of intensity exists in all types of quantitative and qualitative research.

‘till next time, keep thinking!

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