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!