Reflection of Applying Initial Stage of Grounded Theory, Part B: Application of Grounded Theory
The three key tasks that I have been engaged with as part of the early stage of grounded theory application (besides continuously developing the relationship between my philosophical beliefs and grounded theory, as explained in the previous blog post) are engaging with the literature, using open or initial coding, and writing memos.
Engagement with Literature
I have adopted a two-fold approach. As can be imagined, there is much debate among all key authors regarding the role of literature and the position of the literature review within the thesis. This shall be discussed more during the upcoming blog series on Grounded Theory, but at the moment it suffices to state that Strauss and Corbin along with Charmaz and Bryant provide the foundations upon which my approaches have been constructed.
The first function of the literature is to provide the grounding, critiques, focus, background and basis of the investigation. I am situating my ideas and approaches within existing literature, which is establishing the social and economic justifications of the need for my research and the philosophical, pedagogical and methodological need for further explorations of the phenomena of interest. As has been discussed in a previous blog post, these discussions, justifications, debates, critiques, analysis etc. of literature are being constructed across three related literature review chapters placed at the beginning of the thesis.
The second function of the literature is to act as a means of validating and verifying the emerging theory. Specifically, the theory’s content (categories, dimensions, properties, and relationships between categories, dimensions and properties) can not only be verified and validated by continuous comparisons with the data, but also comparisons with findings of existing literature relevant to the substantive area.
I am aiming to integrate the literature findings within sections of the discussion chapter related to each category and the constructs of each category, and the relationships that exist between categories and constructs. This way, I can classify literature in relation to each of the theory’s category although bearing in mind that some literature might refer to more than a single category. Either way, I think integrating findings within the discussion chapter within the relevant category section is the common sense way to manage extant literature.
Open or Initial Coding
My approach to open coding appears to have a strong pragmatic base and therefore, appears to be influenced more by Bryant’s pragmatism grounded theory than Charmaz’s constructivist grounded theory, Glaser’s apparent positivist grounded theory and Strauss’ symbolic interactionist grounded theory. Again there is much debate about the way in which the researcher should work with the data, and shall be a topic I shall cover in next year’s blog series on grounded theory.
There are, therefore, various approaches that can be used to analyse the data using grounded theory, but I have adopted what I shall term segment by segment analysis. What determines an individual segment is the meaning that it holds, or the meaning that I perceive it to hold. A data segment can be a whole line, a sentence, or half a line or half a sentence. A segment therefore holds some sort of complete meaning, which could be an idea, a stand-alone part of an argument, a justification, a reason, or anything that I can identify as having some meaningful existence. This meaning or meaningful existence must be naturally occurring (if you want, you could call it a natural relationship between researcher and the data), and therefore a criticism I have of line by line and sentence by sentence analysis is the possibility of forcing meaning and therefore identify concepts that do not actually exist. Segment by segment analysis enables you, in my opinion, to openly detect what the data is saying. If you find or perceive meaning within a whole sentence, then give that sentence a label that represents that meaning. If you find half a sentence represents a full meaning, then give that half a sentence a label. I used these labels, therefore, to describe or summarise the meaning that I had perceived to exist within that segment. As I was coding the data, I became consciously aware of similar data segments. These similar data segments share similar characteristics or roles within the context of their existence. Similar data segments were compared with each other, and if considered similar enough they were coded with the same label. What was occurring therefore was a series of data segments that shared the same characteristics, but were presenting themselves differently (e.g., negative and positive reasons).
Multiple similar data segments and related codes shall eventually combine to create abstract classes or groupings known as categories, which enable theoretical development. What is important to remember here from my current understanding is that codes derive from our interpretation of what is happening in the data, and categories form from similar codes that can be grouped. Categories are considered abstract exactly because they are not derived from the data. Each category consists of properties and dimensions, and these are discovered through significant and comprehensive comparative analysis of coded data segments that belong to that category. It is the variation among all data segments that contribute towards a category’s properties and dimensions, and it is this variation that shall be playing a major part of theoretical sampling when I develop criteria for the next set of data to collect in the new year. Some category development has taken place, in fact more development that I had expected, but there is much more to be done. The groundwork has been laid for further development through the writing of memos, which shall be described a bit later.
In thinking about the segment by segment approach, it appears that I have adopted the wider analytical approach known as micro analysis. My current understanding tells me that, at least within sociological terms, macro level analysis addresses wider arguably post-modern issues such as social stability, social injustices, social change and power authorities. Micro analysis explores deeply and comprehensively social and collaborative structures such as learning, interaction, group construction and group dynamics. The logical approach of this grounded theory research is abductive reasoning, which has been strongly advocated by Bryant’s Pragmatist views of grounded theory.
Briefly, this form of logic uses a mixture of deduction and induction where concepts and codes are inductively derived from the data, and deductively derived from any hypotheses and further abstract interpretations and predictions tested against further collected data. There is more to abductive reasoning than this rather basic definition, but that’s beyond the purpose of this blog post. I shall write more about abductive reasoning in the blog post series of Grounded Theory, and as I progress through the grounded theory coding stages.
Writing of Memos
Memos have been advocated by all grounded theory authors as a significant part of the grounded theory process and of theoretical development. In general, memos capture your thoughts, hypotheses, ideas, predictions, conceptions, perspectives, reasons, explanations and anything else related to the codes that you use and the categories you are developing, and the eventual wider theory. Memos, therefore, carry many functions, features, aims and objectives throughout a grounded theory process. Memos are therefore versatile and can be written in any grounded theory context, and therefore you are in control of the structure and content of memos, and why you need to write them.
I have been writing two different types of memos that are contributing towards theoretical development: phenomena memos, and code memos.
The phenomena memos relate to the ways in which learning takes place in relation to the specific phenomena of interest. These memos refer to my discussions, thoughts, observations, propositions, predictions, hypotheses and critiques of the events, happenings, consequences, conditions, situations, contexts and causes of the phenomena. Various phenomena memos have been written, with each memo exploring each instance of the phenomena, and where necessary and appropriate comparisons have been made between each memo in order to identify similarities and differences, which can lead to hypotheses development as part of abductive logic. Comparisons of memos can actually lead to more memos that document these comparisons.
The code memos are related to the created codes and categories. Many memos have been written, with each memo relating to each code. Each code memo explains each data segment associated with that particular code, with the explanation involving the segment’s context, function, purpose within the context, and its interpreted or observed meaning.
Each data segment is included within the memo in accordance with its uniqueness. E.g., if the data segment can be observed to be different or similar in some way, or consists of some characteristic or property that warrants explanation and discussion, or in any way adds to any existing explanation. Each relevant data segment is then included and explained, and where necessary compared and contrasted with other data segments within the memo. This is a method also of assisting with categorical development, and categories and categorical development also comes with their own sets of memos. Few categorical and categorical development memos have been written at this time however, but is set to progress forward significantly in the new year.
The first set of data has been coded, and now ready to further the development of categories. However, upon advice from the supervisor and from my schedule I’m taking a break from grounded theory but shall return with recharged batteries and reread every memo and the coded transcript in the new year!