December 04, 2016

Reintroducing Grounded Theory As The Research Methodology!

The mixed methods methodology has been dropped due to reasons outlined in the previous blog post. I am now taking the research back to my original idea of using just a grounded theory approach, underpinned by guidance from Strauss and Corbin along with possibly other authors as time progresses but this shall be determined in time. What does this mean exactly for my research? What does this change of methodology mean now? Changes might now occur at three different levels:

Philosophical level

A philosophical question now is whether or not I can proceed with the research using a critical realist philosophy. This will need a great deal of thought beyond the second upgrade paper, but at the moment I am not sure. The idea of critical realism is that ontologically there are events and activities that occur outside of our own thinking and perceiving of them, whilst epistemologically our understanding of these events and activities are continuously fallible and we can never really fully know the truth behind, for example, a process, and why a process occurs.

Perhaps using multiple observations or “cases” of phenomena along with using other methods contained within a grounded theory analysis could promote a critical realist perspective, because whilst the researcher is allowed under grounded theory to generate their thoughts and theorising during coding ultimately all thoughts must be grounded within the data. The theory emerges not from our thoughts and thinking, and perceiving, but from the grounded theory data. A question here though is that it could still be subjective: my grounding of my own thoughts and thinking within the data could still simply be based on the way in which I interpret the data. If this is a case, are there any events and activities that occur outside of our perceiving or thinking of them? If so, what? And how, and why?

Critical realism’s ontology is based on post positivism or empiricism; epistemologically, it subscribes to interpretivism or relativism. Is this really the right way? Do I have to rethink the ontological and epistemological aspects? I am not totally sure at this time; however, philosophically speaking grounded theory is somewhat pragmatic in that it can neatly fit within near any philosophical orientation as long as this is fully understood and justified.

Lots of questions have risen since the trial study particularly with regards to the relationship between the researcher and the participant. From what I can currently understand, philosophical orientations describe the relationship between the researcher and the participant, but what about relationships between researcher and the data where there is a sense of detachment between researcher and participant? What then? Challenging, but exciting, and will be exploring this much more.

Methodological level

Obvious and clear changes: the mixed methods methodology has been dropped. The research design is now based on a grounded theory approach possibly centred on critical realism. I am not sure about adopting a full case study approach due to analytical incompatibilities between case study, critical realism, and grounded theory, but this might be something that I shall have to revisit in the future. It is possible to do a grounded theory within a case study, but then critical realism would have to be dropped.

The methodology now is grounded theory based on principles from Strauss and Corbin and perhaps other grounded theory authors. Potentially, some amendments might be made to grounded theory in order to represent the exact context of the research. These amendments might be based on resolving the philosophical issues some of which have been outlined in the previous section.

A question that has come to me due to potential philosophical issues is deciding whether or not qualitative is the correct term to use to describe grounded theory, because of the relationship between the researcher, the participant and the grounded theory data. This is something that I shall be exploring further.

Practical Level

In more practical terms, the change of methodology will enable me to focus on mastering a single methodology, a single set of methods within grounded theory methodology, and be able to channel my thoughts towards resolving existing philosophical issues either in general, specific to the context of my work, or a mixture of both. Not to mention being able to fully comprehend and propose ways in which existing reliability and validity issues can be resolved.

Placing grounded theory at the level of methodology was the original proposal before I latched onto mixed methods methodology. But interestingly I did not realise or was aware of the practical benefits of using only a grounded theory approach for my research, but now I do realise these benefits, and therefore happy to drop the mixed methods approach.

A key feature of my previous methodology was theory testing and refinement through the use of quantitative findings. This might still occur within qualitative grounded theory through ideas based on theoretical sampling method in order to test the emerging theory, and also use constant comparisons between each case in order to identify similarities and important differences in order to refine the theory. However, should these really be classed as approaches to theory refinement, or simply refining the validity and reliability of qualitative, grounded theory findings?


Plenty of philosophical and methodological challenges are no doubt ahead, but my passion and enthusiasm of philosophy and of grounded theory methodology will no doubt be able to carry me through, resolving any problems that come along, and form solutions that are workable, practical, and lead onto contributing new knowledge and understanding of resolving existing problems that have not yet been resolved, or even identified in the first place.

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