All entries for Sunday 29 November 2015

November 29, 2015

Grounded Theory Literature Review: Progress!

Progress has been made in this aspect of the Grounded Theory study. The traditional aim of the literature review is to provide a full analysis, synthesis and critical evaluation of existing literature (both theoretical and empirical) in order to develop an argumentation or a series of arguments pertaining to the need and requirement of the proposed research. Further, the literature review shows where there are knowledge gaps, places the proposed research therefore in a suitable theoretical and practical context, and demonstrates the uniqueness and originality of the research. A typical product of a literature review is a theoretical model or framework of investigation that is usually imposed upon the research itself or in other words the research is led by this theoretical framework that is developed from the literature (or other existing theories and models, or a mixture of everything).

Grounded Theory is different from many other qualitative research methods and therefore the literature review and the literature are dealt with in substantially different ways than these other methods. Grounded Theory is an inductive research methodology therefore the theory, theorisation, theoretical framework (or whatever: literature appears to use the terms interchangeably) occurs from the actual analysis of the data and not deductively constructed from the literature therefore there are no pre existing frameworks or frameworks developed from the literature imposed upon the data analysis. In other words, within the context of Grounded Theory the analysis of the data is not framed or set within a particular framework or theoretical perspective; the analysis is not led by existing theories, but is led by careful interpretation of the researcher.

Therefore, the role of the literature review changes from providing a basis for the development of a theoretical framework (typically) to purely providing the means to state the case of the research. The role of the literature also changes: not only are certain sets of literature used to contribute towards understanding the need of the research and what existing research states, but also certain sets are used within the constant comparison method itself as further data. Literature itself can therefore be used as data and can be analysed along with all other data types within a Grounded Theory context.

Learning about this is continuous however I fully understand now that anything can be used as data. Specifically with the literature, the key is not to discard it completely as suggested by some authors but to use it in a way that carefully contributes toward an effective process of theory or theorisation generation. As can be imagined, the literature around this specific topic is an absolute minefield, but it is Charmaz and her book on Constructivist Grounded Theory that was key to understanding the way that literature should be used, and confirmed my previous thoughts about the role of literature within Grounded Theory.  Charmaz argues that it is not that existing literature and frameworks should be ignored, but that they should be used in a certain way that increases reliability and validity of the Grounded Theory development.

A breakthrough occurred during the past week in terms of not just understanding the role of the literature review within a Grounded Theory study, but the content of the literature review and the purpose of the literature within that review and within the data analysis itself. Of course, all these ideas will need to be confirmed by the Supervisor and I have been sending him fairly extensive emails. In summary I have been able to outline a structure of the literature review and be able to describe the purpose of each section, and starting to understand the way in which the literature can play its part in increasing the validity and reliability of the findings of the Grounded Theory research. This breakthrough was based on developing a clearer understanding of what “theoretical sensitising” actually means: with Grounded Theory research, the literature can be used to increase theoretical sensitivity or in other words increase the researcher’s sensitivity towards particular general constructs or concepts and not actual specific activities or processes as determined by a pre existing framework or theory. Essentially, this means that a researcher becomes aware of particular concepts and constructs that might occur in the data but not actually impose a particular framework upon the analysis. Being theoretically sensitive towards concepts and constructs differs from actually imposing a particular framework or theory upon data analysis, but I shall leave this for another blog post at some point in the future. Additionally using Grounded Theory shall have an impact on the way that the thesis shall be structured compared to the structure if any other type of method or methodology was used but again shall discuss this more in future blog posts.

Goodness, that’s a lot of thinking going on!

‘Till next time folks, remember: it’s the beginning of Advent and if you’re going to start telling seasonal jokes make sure you pull a cracker of a joke!

Initial thoughts on the methodological issues of integrating quantitative and qualitative data

Regular readers will have probably noted the discussions I have made (or starting to make) about the Philosophical difficulties of integrating quantitative and qualitative data in a single research study, relating mostly to the fact that quantitative is usually associated with the Positivist perspective whilst qualitative is usually associated with the Interpretivist perspective. But what I have not really touched upon at all are the difficulties of the methodological perspective (yes: there are Philosophical difficulties AND methodological difficulties, and both appear to be related to each other: check earlier blog entries that discuss relationships between Philosophy and Methodology). The methodological perspective is beginning to gain more attention as I come to understand Grounded Theory, and a couple of questions that have come to me are: what methods are appropriate for data integration? Along with, which methods are suitable for my research?

With the data collection this is no longer a problem: a mixed data questionnaire shall collect both qualitative and quantitative data and an extra method or couple of methods shall be used to gather more qualitative data. Quantitative data shall be analysed using a series of different statistical methods (descriptive statistics and also methods to identify and analyse relationships between different identified variables), whilst qualitative data shall be analysed using a series of analytical methods inherent to Grounded Theory processes (though there are some debates about the usefulness of some methods depending on the context of the research). Essentially, Grounded Theory involves interpretation of the collected data, and to develop codes and categories using the coding methods in order to explain or describe what is actually going on within the data. These codes and categories are developed for each qualitative data set and then compared across each set using a method called “constant comparison.”

Describing the “constant comparison” technique is way beyond the purpose of this blog post, but it suffices to say that it is used as a mode of comparing codes and categories across data sets as part of the process of continuous and simultaneous data collection and analysis, in order to develop a theory or to theorise about what is going on within the data. It’s a bit more complicated than that but for now that’s the best way that it can be described rather briefly. The point I am trying to make here is there has to be a way to generate codes and categories from statistical, quantitative data in a way that is comparable and compatible with codes and categories generated from qualitative data, in order for constant comparison to be utalised across all data sets produced from all data collection methods. If this is possible within my own research, then the theory or theorisation that shall occur as a result of analysing and integrating different data sets shall increase its reliability, validity, and possibly even generalisability. But this is something that I shall need to work out and perhaps it might be related to the quantitative methods: could I create comparable and compatible codes and categories from descriptive statistics? Could comparable and compatible codes and categories be generated from relational descriptive data analysis such as, say, the likes of ANOVA? What about regression analysis? Are codes and categories even meant to be compatible and comparable across differing data sets? If not, then in what way can a theory or theorisation even begin to happen if these codes and categories cannot integrate? What, exactly, is required to develop a theory or theorisation from a complete and cohesive collection of data? In what way can a collection of data be considered complete and cohesive? Does any of that even matter?

There are many many issues and problems, debates and perspectives relating to Philosophy and Methodology of data integration that shall have to be considered, and as you can imagine I shall probably banter on about them on here as and when I come across them! Regardless I do have the belief that I can create comparable and compatibles codes and categories across all data sets. I have the belief that Positivism and Interpretivism in some way can complement each other rather than compete with each other. But I do not know this for sure at this time: this time next year I might have a completely different picture of the way that Grounded Theory works and the way in which integration of quantitative and qualitative data can happen and should be appropriate for the context of my research. But that’s the way research forms and develops!

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