All entries for May 2017

May 21, 2017

The Conceptual Confusions and Ontological Fluidity of Social Constructionism

In the previous blog post I discussed the interchangeability problems referring specifically to social constructivism and social constructionism. Convenience and ease of understanding are possible reasons why writers choose to use constructionism and constructivism interchangeably under a single subjectivist umbrella. Whilst it is a pragmatic approach for beginning researchers as they begin to understand the diversity, variability, complexity and intricacy of the field of research philosophy and methodology, it is strongly advisable for Ph.D. candidates (I am currently doing this myself) to approach each theory separately whilst acknowledging their subjectivist, epistemological position. A key separation, among several that I shall be exploring in future blog posts, is their disciplinary origins: constructivism originated in psychology from the likes of Paiget and Vygotsky as key authors, whilst Constructionism developed from sociologists such as Burr, Gergen, Berger and Luckmann among many others. Therefore, constructivism focusses on the cognition both in individual and social contexts, whilst constructionism from my current understanding focusses more on the historical, cultural and social contexts of the participants and social concepts such as language and discourse.


Conceptual differences


As I navigated my way around the literature, initial confusion set in as I attempted to understand the way that different writers conceived of the social world and therefore the way that social constructionism has been used with respect to constructs of the social world, which includes reality, knowledge, truth, meaning and understanding. As I continued to navigate through the literature, I came to observe a group of writers classifying reality as existing independently of the mind, whilst classifying reality’s constituent concepts (knowledge, truth, understanding and meaning) as constructions of the mind; another group was observed to have classified both reality and its constituents as constructions of the mind.


Previous understanding of ontology led me to perceive the difference between the writers’ positioning of reality within their thinking, and led me therefore to perceive each group as advocating an ontological stance. The group of writers who treated reality as a mind-dependent concept were relativists, whilst the group of writers who treated reality as mind-independent concept were considered realists. But here I had the interesting thought that unlike social constructivism, which has a relativist ontology, social constructionism is ontologically neutral.


Ontological Neutrality And Fluidity


Now I had the idea that social constructionism could be situated within a realist or relativist ontology, which to me makes sense because, as I have covered in earlier blog posts (and what I shall be continuing to explore and write about in the future), the selection of a particular ontological position does not necessarily influence the epistemological stance. We as human beings are far too diverse in our thinking and interactions with reality to place ourselves within linear ontological-epistemological relationships as commonly presented in textbooks, but I accept that this might not be a universally accepted claim.


Guided by my new assumption of social constructionism as being ontologically neutral, I came across a journal paper written by John Cromby and David Nightingale called “What’s Wrong With Social Constructionism?” The authors partway through the paper draw on the wider literature to come to the same conclusion: that social constructionism can be situated within either a realist or relativist ontology. Social Constructionism therefore has a subjectivist epistemology but can be placed within a realist or relativist ontology, and this perfectly reflects my beliefs that, as mentioned, we as humans are cognitively and psychologically diverse: we all think of reality and of our coming to know and understand reality differently; therefore, it might not be suitable or accurate to simply assume that a particular ontological position naturally leads to a particular epistemological position. This might be in contrast to the typical linear presentation of the ontological and epistemological relationships in literature: that a realist ontology necessitates an objectivist epistemology whilst a relativist position necessitates a subjectivist epistemology. Again this might be due to authors attempting to simplify associations for ease of understanding and to encourage the early researcher to understand that there are distinct differences between philosophical positions, but this oversimplification could undermine the potential worth and value of perceiving philosophical positions as flexible and fluid instead of strictly regimented.


What does this mean for my research specifically?


This could actually cover another blog post, which is at the time of writing this blog post is currently in the making. But here it suffices to say that my beliefs in the diversity of human thinking, understanding, exploration and contemplation of the world, reality and the entire universe is complex and should not be encapsulated in some pre-defined linear ontological-epistemological relationship. That said, I do have the belief that there is a single reality out there and that there are aspects of the social world that exists independently of our thinking, knowing or perceiving of these aspects. But, I do not have the belief that we can access this social reality easily: our thinking, theories, thoughts and frameworks that we have about reality should always be considered fallible and held with an element of scepticism and be subjected to constant reanalysis and refining. It is therefore right that I consider my research within the context of a realist ontology and a subjectivist epistemology; more specifically at this time as I currently understand the field of research Philosophy, a subtle realist ontology and a constructionist epistemology.


I shall be writing more about this subject as my understanding of subtle realism and constructionism improves, along with the relationship between them, and the methodologies and methods.


May 20, 2017

Overcoming the interchangeable nature of Social Constructivism and Social Constructionism

As Ph.D. candidates, we can become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of literature that is read through to orientate ourselves with our field of interest from the philosophical and methodological levels, and the phenomena of interest from different disciplinary and theoretical perspectives. During the navigation of literature so far, I have encountered numerous cases where several terms have been used interchangeably to refer to the same concept or principle, and this has and can cause much confusion among Ph.D. candidates about the exact meaning of a concept.


Social constructivism and social constructionism are two subjectivist epistemological theories that have been used interchangeably within papers and textbooks to refer to the same principle: that we come to understand reality through constructing knowledge, meaning, truth and understanding within a social context. Whilst they share this principle, their application and process of social construction of concepts differ greatly as both theories focus on different aspects of interaction within the social world, and therefore focus on different attributes and concepts of the social world. It is worth noting that there is no single version of either constructivism or constructionism: there are various types of both theories developed ranging from “weaker” versions to “stronger” versions, the variety which, whilst adding to the initial confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed, corresponds to the diversity of human thought and the way in which we interact with reality.

Interchangeability


Since there are varying forms of constructivism and constructionism and given the sheer volume of literature published regarded both, it is not a major surprise to find out that there is a trend to simplify terminology and represent, in arguably a simplistic fashion, different points across the epistemological spectrum using simplistic conventions. The points typically range from positivism / post positivism (objectivism), followed by pragmatism and critical realism (middle range), and then constructionism / constructivism (subjectivism). Sometimes the subjectivism section goes a step further and include interpretivism, which again is different to both constructionism and constructivism in terms of its purpose and the concepts it deals with, but for matters of convenience these writers appear to categorise them as the same. A classic example I have recently come across that explains why some writers prefer to lump conceptually similar theories together is to try to explain (I assume for the benefit of the Ph.D. candidate or other beginning researchers) a clear distinction between objectivism and subjectivism epistemologies. There is some discussion that suggests that Charmaz termed her version of Grounded Theory as Constructivist Grounded Theory to attempt to separate it from the more positivist (Glaser and Strauss version) and pragmatist / symbolic interactionist (Strauss and Corbin) versions of the time. There is some debate therefore in Constructionist circles about whether her conceptualisation of Grounded Theory is Constructionist rather than Constructivist. This is an area of debate that I shall be exploring further and shall write any further thoughts about this in a follow up blog post.


As can be observed, subjectivist theories particularly constructionist and constructivist have been used interchangeably to refer to the same concept even though there are significant differences between them. The question is therefore, in what way can we overcome a potential barrier to clarity?

Overcoming The Barrier Of Interchangeability


The best way I find to overcome the barrier of progress caused by the confusing interchangeability is to hold a sense of scepticism and level of questioning. I asked myself why constructivism and constructionism were being used interchangeably and was therefore sceptical of their representation in the literature as if they were the same. Essentially, I refused to take at face value the possibility of constructivism and constructionism being the same, and explored each of these further to find out what they meant as a research Philosophy. It was an open, inquiring mind, my own nature you could say, that motivated and inspired me to ask relevant questions.
An additional help was that for quite a while prior to starting a Ph.D. I had a lot of interest in the theory of social constructivism and I originally intended on exploring social constructivism in some way on the Ph.D. (gosh haven’t times changed since then!), therefore the reading that had occurred did assist in my immediate suspicion and scepticism about both terms meaning exactly the same concept. A reason for this immediate suspicion and scepticism was that I had read constructivism, as well as constructionism, within the context of a learning theory, which is quite different from reading both as research philosophies. Even so, constructivism and constructionism both differ significantly as learning theories; therefore, I had the impression from this difference that they would be different as research philosophies.


Translating this into more practical academic tasks, the best way to begin is to either use a search engine or an academic database to explore constructionism and constructivism separately. Google Books is usually an excellent way to find introductory research textbooks that explain what each of these terms are, or your own University library digital databases. Slideshare and other presentation sites are excellent applications to help assist with what these are in bullet point terms and some presentations have some excellent visuals to help assist with your learning of these terms. Once you have mastered the definitions and differences between each of these theories, use Google Scholar and your University library databases to explore specific implementations and applications of these theories as well as the wider debate and discussions for and against various aspects of these theories.


The introductory materials, followed by papers that cover the implementations and applications of these theories, then followed by exploring the wider literature regarding the interpretations, debates and discussions about various aspects of these theories shall give you a firm basis and understanding of the differences between these theories. As well as, what I found, giving you a firm basis to decide whether constructionism or constructivism are relevant for your research (or even aspects of each), or if something completely different is required.


Concluding Thoughts


I still wonder why some writers are motivated to categorise similar yet widely differing theories as the same. I suspect that it is because of convenience and simplicity of understanding to assist beginning researchers on their quest to understanding the vast array of different epistemological theories, debates, discussions and applications. The Ph.D. candidate therefore must be aware that whilst such convenient categorisations are useful for introducing the fact that there is a vast distinction between objectivism and subjectivism, they need to question further and explore each point along the epistemological spectrum in order to fully grasp and understand the variety of theories, and variation within these theories, in order to identify, select, and justify their epistemological stance, which in turn acts as an input to forming a philosophical justification of the research design.


I’m still learning, I’m still exploring, I’m still experimenting, and I still ponder and analyse the significance of my now settled philosophical perspective and the role it plays in my research design!


May 10, 2017

CES PG Conference 2017: Self–Reflection and Self–Criticism

Self-Criticism is not as harsh as it sounds, but regardless some people run away at the thought of being self-critical whilst others for whatever reason take self-criticism and use it as a form of self-destruction. The origin of this perspective involves a complex variety of social and psychological factors, leading to diverse conceptualisations of self-criticism, and of being self-critical. Being self-reflective and self-critical are important components of being an effective, reflexive researcher and therefore a part of professional development. I shall discuss the process of self-reflection and self-criticism in other blog posts but it suffices to say that they are key skills that enable the Ph.D. candidate, or anyone else, to analyse and think about a previous experience and its context, and to critically evaluate the experience and outcomes in order to identify current skills and knowledge gaps, and to plan effectively and appropriately.

Conferences offer excellent opportunities for self-reflection and self-criticism activities to take place through, for example, observations made and feedback given, and these activities can take place at both philosophical and methodological levels. There is much flexibility and adaptability in the approach to self-reflection and self-criticism therefore it’s up to you to decide what you think represents appropriate reflective and critical engagement.


Evaluation Of My Presentation Performance


The topic of the presentation related to the assessment of debates within a post-truth context where I provided the audience with my working definitions of post-truth within a general context, and within the specific context of social processes, followed by claims made by certain philosophers against the usefulness and effectiveness of debates, followed by the initial findings and thoughts of debates that I have observed. Given that this was the first ever time of presenting at a conference I am happy with the performance that I gave. I didn’t feel that nervous before or during the presentation although beforehand I was wondering if I could actually do this, which was completely irrational because I have presented before but not in front of a wider audience. The audience genuinely enjoyed the presentation and some came up to me for brief chats about the presentation, and importantly I was given important feedback which is being used as a focus for future planning and skills development all of which shall act as evidence for professional development.


From the feedback and from observing other presentations that took place I have come to know the way in which I can improve the presentation in terms of more engaging content, such as explaining more the context and the need for the research so that the audience is able to situate the research and the findings within a particular context. Thinking about the construction of the presentation I did actually begin to include information about the context of the research but I didn’t think this was important given that I wasn’t presenting a complete scenario or complete findings, as I emphasised at the beginning of the presentation, but I’ve now come to know that it is important to really elaborate further on definitions and contextual understandings regardless of the stage of research.


Evaluation of the Conference


It was a wonderful, engaging, thrilling and satisfying experience where I have not only been able to present but also been able to engage with other presenters and their presentations reflectively and critically, from both philosophical and methodological perspectives. Conservations with other Ph.D. candidates and the supervisor has led to new ideas and confirmed some ideas that I had but was not sure of, and these are currently being elaborated upon and therefore shall be discussed at some stage in future blog posts. The new and confirmed ideas are as follows:


· Increase scope of contextualisation in the thesis: explain the context within which learning processes are being explored, and argue why a particular context is of more interest than other contexts. This was going to be included in the first place, but its importance has been hinted to be of a substantial level especially in the social sciences and when substantive theories through grounded theory are being developed, as these theories appear to be relative and contextualised. Such explanations also need to be present in future presentations
· Provide a section relating to the theory-practice relationship. I knew this would be included, but it’s interesting to gather different opinions. The theory or model that I am creating will be useful in practice so I will need to fully elaborate in the thesis exactly the way in which the theory can change or assist practice, and vice versa
· Reconsider research methodology: philosophical approaches are fine I have no problem with my own philosophical perspectives as I think I can argue this in the thesis and in the viva examination (fingers crossed!) it’s just a matter of fully developing argumentation and elaboration of the way in which philosophical perspectives influence the research design and play a part in uniting the components. Grounded Theory is also fine: I do have the belief that a substantive theory that grounded theory enables to be developed is required. The only alteration is likely to be the dropping of the label “case study” and replace it with “case based.” The more I think about the way that I am exploring the phenomena of interest the more I’m realising that it’s not a full blown case study.
· Potentially increase the size and scope of the methodology chapter: a presenter made an important point that theses vary considerably in their chapter lengths from researcher to researcher. I am beginning to form extensive interest in Philosophy and Methodology and their relationship with each other; therefore, I have extensive interest in the way in which different components of the research design fit together. I have just about as much interest in research design itself as I do with the phenomena of interest, therefore I am thinking about extending the scope and size of the methodology chapter considerably.
· Consider further the role of emotional intelligence in social learning processes: an excellent presentation along with my own observations of the data has inspired me to think more about the role of emotional intelligence when analysing social learning processes. This is all part of exploring and thinking about social learning processes from as a wide, diverse amount of perspectives as possible

Summary


The conference provided an excellent platform of self-reflection and self-criticism, and therefore assisted with identifying new directions that were not previously considered important to the research, and assisted with developing solutions to any concerns that I had. I am happy with the performance that I gave and I realise where improvements can be made, and happy with engaging with other presenters and presentations allowing me to reflect and critique my own research; therefore, identifying possible directions to take the research. An excellent conference in general!


CES PG Conference 2017: Education in a Changing World Theme

The political, theological, social, economic, cultural and technological landscapes of the world continue to ride the consistent, constant wave of change, which over the past few decades have led to globalisation and much diverse societies, identities and cultural integration.


Globalisation and the European Union

Globalisation was a buzzword back when I first started college in the late 90s / early 2000s and I remember reading reams of papers about this concept in relation to businesses, business computing, the European Union and the European Union agenda that focussed on technological changes within EU member states, the potential negative and positive influence of these changes on business processes (production, marketing, etc) within EU member states, and the integration of processes across EU member states. Much like the concept of the European Union however, Globalisation has its benefits and also its criticisms. Many questions have been asked to what extent wildly differing cultures, economies and societies can really fully integrate and function, and to what extent integration should occur. Even with our neighbouring European countries: whilst we might be geographically neighbours, we differ so widely socially, politically and economically that it’s arguably fair to ask these questions. As I intend on avoiding political engagement with this blog (admittedly given the context of the theme of the conference this has been difficult to avoid when writing this post), it suffices to say that there is no assumption being made that integration is wrong, but questions have to be asked regarding the extent to which integration should be defined, and the limit of which integration should take place. Questions especially have to be asked about globalised economies and the integration of economies: as we have observed with the financial crisis of America and of the EU (yes, it was a global economic crisis, folks), too much integration can bring as many dangers and negatives as there are positives; additionally, the more integration takes place the more that a country is at the mercy of the actions of other countries regardless of what an individual Government does to safeguard a country’s economy. Whether or not globalisation, the EU and so on are viewed as either positive or negative is up to you to decide.


Globalisation, Education, and the Changing World

The theme of this conference therefore, as you can probably imagine, was about Education in a Changing World. The presentations I attended focussed on teacher perceptions of their role and identity; about teaching British values; about theory-practice relationships; about the role of Education in a changing world; and Grounded Theory. All these presentations were extremely interesting and focussed on different aspects of the way in which Education is attempting to deal with an ever changing world, and the way in which individual researchers are engaging with relevant, challenging issues. The presentations enabled reflective and critical engagement not only with their work, but with my work from both Philosophical and Methodological perspectives.


To focus in on a single thread of discussion (far too much can be said for a single blog post!), a function of any Education system is to maintain pace with a continuous evolving world through equipping and enabling citizens with the skills and processes suitable to take an active part in this changing world relative to their ability and capability. The extent to which Education is able to maintain pace with a changing world, the approaches that are used to ensure this pace is kept, and the way in which a changing world is realised and reflected within an Education system is a matter of much debate and, hence, much research and questioning.


As a specific example in relation to a particular presentation, it can be argued that education systems need to be designed for flexibility, adaptability and fluidity and therefore responsive to change, but it’s arguable as to the extent to which this actually happens in the UK. An extremely interesting presentation revolving around the teaching of fundamental British values noted that the term “fundamental” was debatable because it suggests a set of values that should not be questioned. Given that we are a democratic society, should anything be considered fundamental? Does the very definition of fundamentalism go against the definition of a democratic society, in terms of its freedom and choices that it proclaims? Can you really have pure democracy when fundamental principles exist? Is there really such a thing as a pure democracy? Does the fact that we are a democratic society encourage the existence of diversity and integration? Additionally, the idea of a British value or holding what is perceived to be a British value is also debatable, nevermind defining them as being exclusively British. Democracy, for example, is considered a British value but yet there are other democratic societies. Why define it as exclusively British? Another interesting point made in the same presentation, and other presentations referring to teacher identity, was the use of teachers as applications of surveillance: should teachers play a role of observing children and surveying those at risk of being exposed to or expressing terrorist-like characteristics? Who defines what a terrorist-like characteristic is? In what way can these definitions be separated from normal childhood games and behaviour? Would cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers be perceived as terrorist-like characteristics?

Teachers, according to the research presented, generally reject this role because it goes against their perceptions of themselves as teachers and the general identity of being a teacher, which in turn brings about questions regarding what are perceived to be social norms, trends, and psychological mindsets linked to a particular identity. If a teacher perceives their role and identity as a teacher and not some terrorist surveyor they will not accept the idea of observing children for potential terrorist based characteristics. Further, adopting such a role brings about questions of ethics, obligations and morals. Researchers, as an example, have the moral and ethical duty to inform relevant authorities, parents and, in some cases, the children themselves that they are being observed in some way for a research project. Is it therefore moral and ethically correct that teachers might be able to observe without permission? Might it become a definition of the job of teaching? Would you want YOUR child to be observed in such a way without you knowing, in an attempt to ensure that the child observed British values? Where did these British values come from anyway? Who defines them and why? Who is anybody to dictate what defines a British identity, when British countries themselves cannot agree if whether or not they want to be part of a British union?


Considerations of the Research Context


Just writing this blog post from the top of my head (and following a reedit) it’s already reached over a thousand words and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the conference, as for the purpose of this post I’m thinking about a single aspect: the influence of Globalisation on our Education system in a changing world although this actually wasn’t the focus of my presentation but regardless of that, it is an important concept for Ph.D. candidates in Education and researchers in general to consider. When we are thinking about psychological and social processes within the specific contexts of our research practice and designs it is important to think about the wider society outside of our research contexts and the impact politics, society, economy and so on have had on the phenomena of research interest. This is particularly important when engaging with the relationship between theory and practice, and in the way that our developing theories can integrate with practice and provide it with benefits, and in turn the way that observations of practice can integrate with theory (told you integration can be beneficial!)


Summaries


In summary then, the conference itself was absolutely fascinating and has presented me, as you can imagine, with opportunities to reflect and critically engage. It has most certainly been a worthwhile experience attending the conference and every presenter both orally and poster wise made an important contribution and every discussion has been highly valued and is being reflectively and critically engaged with.


In summary of the general theme of this blog post, Globalisation as part of this changing world has introduced benefits, but it is also playing havoc with the Education system in terms of safeguarding and protecting values, norms and customs that are perceived to be British, and in the identity of a teacher. However, it should be asked if there really can be a set of agreed upon British values and customs and the way in which this should be introduced and taught (e.g., criticisms are raised against extreme Islamic teaching: can the same be raised about extreme nationalist teachings? In what way should this be monitored and approved by official standards, and who would define and develop these standards in the first place?). Additionally, it has to be questioned to what extent the benefits and negative aspects of globalisation are actually perceived or actualised, and the extent to which the media and Governments are using globalisation as a cover up for any mishaps that they refuse to take responsibility of.


Regardless, it’s the role of the Education system to keep up with all changes that occur nationally and internationally, but whether or not it is doing this effectively, ethically, and morally and whether or not it’s based more on ideological assumptions rather than practical realities is a matter of continuous debate and much research.


May 01, 2017

My Current Thinking About Grounded Theory

As mentioned in the previous blog post I still have many unanswered questions, and whilst some questions have been answered and thoughts have been developed from reading many research papers and textbooks, which itself is an ongoing task, many of these questions will be answered as I continue to code through the data and experiment with different Grounded Theory procedures. Experimenting with these procedures shall assist with my understanding, decision and selection justification of the most appropriate procedure for the type of data, disciplinary contexts, and the phenomena itself.


My Current Philosophical Position

At the Philosophical level, I am aligning with the idea of Philosophical fluidity: because Glaser’s writings have been interpreted as philosophically neutral (although there are writings that do suggest that it leans methodologically towards positivism, and some suggest critical realism) and Strauss and Corbin’s writings suggest non-formal adherence to procedures, along with their later writings lining out pragmatism and symbolic interactionism as being the underlying theories of their grounded theory, it can be argued that Grounded Theory encourages philosophical fluidity.


Because my philosophical beliefs align with a realist philosophy; specifically, a realist ontology and an interpretivist, critical epistemology (ideas are continuously being developed here) I can safely reject Charmaz and Clarke’s variants of Grounded Theory as they align themselves with constructivism and post-modernism respectively. I can also argue the rejection of Bryant’s Grounded Theory as appropriate as it aligns with a Pragmatist philosophy but this might not be black or white as I am currently engaged with debates about the methodological level of grounded theory.

Methodological Considerations

My current engagement with the methodological aspect of grounded theory refers to the following questions:


Which procedures of grounded theory are most relevant to a realist conceptualisation of Grounded Theory? Therefore, which version of Grounded Theory out of Glaser, Strauss or even Bryant would be most relevant? Would I have to think about a combination of procedures? Or do I have to in some way create a new procedure? A specific focus in answering this question revolves around debates of Axial Coding, and its relevance to the context of research.


Another question is, what difference does coding for a process introduce to Grounded Theory? Grounded Theory has most popularly been used for coding for experiences and beliefs of a phenomena as opposed to coding for structure and sequences of a process in non-interview based documents and transcripts. From my ongoing readings, I have not come across much literature that covers grounded theory use for developing a substantive theory from observations of a process, as opposed to building a theory from experiences and beliefs.


Therefore, following from this, in what way does a realist Philosophy contribute towards understanding a process from non-interview documents as opposed to understanding a process from the beliefs and experiences of participants as reported in interview based transcripts? What are the philosophical differences here in general? I know that constructivism relates to interview based transcripts, but what about realism and interpretivism and their links with non-interview based documents? Can we assume that interpretivism is some internal process of meaning making and application of meaning on constructs and aspects of reality (reality of the argumentation process) we consider real? What can a realist Philosophy say about qualitative data in general, in contrast with or complementary to constructivist perspectives?


Reflection and Pushing Forwards


Comparing my thoughts documented in much earlier blog posts I do appear to be more settled on grounded theory from a Philosophical perspective and continuously building philosophical arguments for grounded theory. The main area of current contention is the methodological level; specifically, knowing the exact grounded theory procedures to use and this can only be understood as I progress through coding of data and experiment with coding procedures complemented by appropriate reading. Further questions revolve around the way in which the type of theory produced from grounded theory (known as a substantive theory) explains the phenomena of research, and in what way this type of theory can develop into formal theory in the future beyond the Ph.D.


There is a lot to think about here, but I feel that I am placed somewhere in the middle of everything: I am coming from that land of philosophical and methodological confusion of wondering what on Earth do I use and why, to coming to be settled on philosophical perspectives and general methodological approaches. What I am starting to do now is push myself along this philosophical and methodological spectrum towards the side where I am developing philosophical justifications and arguments for the research design, and generally understanding, experimenting with and justifying selections of variants of grounded theory approaches.


Therefore, I have come from the land of philosophical and methodological confusion (Genesis if you’re reading this, no plagiarism intended) to a general sense of philosophical and methodological clarity although specific confusion (for lack of a better term) still exists, and now pushing myself towards specific and detailed clarity. I can tell this is happening because I have felt ready to start writing the thesis, and I have already made a formal start to drafting sections.


Onwards!


Grounded Theory: Philosophically, Methodologically, and Disciplinary fluid?

Grounded theory initially appeared straightforward but it did not take long to realise its complex nature and intense debates surrounding philosophical, methodological and, most recently discovered, disciplinary issues. I first encountered grounded theory through Charmaz’s Constructivist Grounded Theory and read through her book thinking that it would be most relevant to my philosophical beliefs at the time. As I understood the phenomena of interest and the general context of my research through much reading of existing empirical literature revolving around the phenomena of interest, I began to realise that I’m not a constructivist, but a realist. Constructivism and therefore constructivist grounded theory became increasingly irrelevant because of its leaning towards there being multiple realities (I have a belief in a single reality, but not a single reality that is easily discoverable or understood) and an emphasis of the co-construction of meaning between researcher and participant (context of my research does not facilitate such a relationship). I therefore discovered the works of Glaser and Strauss (1968) and Strauss and Corbin (1990) and to this day it hasn’t been easy to decide which is the most relevant to my research and there is a reason for this, which I shall explain further.


There are several key authors of grounded theory: Glaser and Strauss (1968), Strauss and Corbin (1990), Charmaz (2000), Clarke (2003) and Bryant (2016), with each contextualising grounded theory within different philosophical assumptions and methodological approaches (as in, different coding procedures from what I can currently understand). Charmaz as mentioned contextualised grounded theory within a constructivist philosophy following criticisms of Glaser and Strauss’s approaches as leaning too much towards positivism, whilst Clarke positioned Grounded Theory within the context of post-modernism following criticisms of all previous versions. Bryant makes Grounded Theory relevant to practice-based research by positioning Grounded Theory within a Pragmatist philosophy. All these different versions of Grounded Theory have arguably come about through the professional separation of the pioneers of Grounded Theory: Glaser and Strauss.


Initially, Glaser and Strauss were united in their criticisms of social science research and the dominating positivist, objectivist, theory testing approaches to understanding the social world, and embarked on a mission to change that and eventually developed Grounded Theory, which initially was an inductive approach to develop a theory to explain social phenomena.


After a while however, the disciplinary differences and, therefore, theoretical differences between Glaser and Strauss led to their professional break up with each following their own paths to developing grounded theory, with Glaser’s version becoming known as Classical Grounded Theory, whilst Strauss’ version became known as Straussian Grounded Theory. Discussion of the exact differences between the two is beyond the purpose of this blog post but it suffices to say that Straussian Grounded Theory focusses more on combining theory building and theory testing approaches (inductive-deductive or some form of abductive logic) and consists of an extra coding procedure known as Axial Coding, which has been the subject of much criticism from Glaser and Charmaz, and much debate among other authors.


Glaser himself in various research papers and books has highly criticised Straussian Grounded Theory for being too prescriptive and therefore limiting theoretical creativity; however, Strauss and Corbin have both stated that Grounded Theory researchers should not follow a strict adherence to Grounded Theory procedures, but to view the procedures as a guide and therefore adapt according to their research context. And this, I would argue, is where we find the roots of much diversity and fluidity within grounded theory.


Philosophical and Methodological Fluidity


From the writings of Glaser it appears that he opposes the different versions of grounded theory arguing they have transitioned beyond the point where they can reasonably be called Grounded Theory.


The problem with this opposition however is that it has been argued that Glaser’s Grounded Theory is philosophically neutral and can therefore be aligned with any Philosophical position. It’s almost as if Glaser’s opposition focusses on methodological differences rather than Philosophical differences, but it’s the very argument that Philosophy influences methodology that suggests the existence of both philosophical and methodological fluidity. Glaser’s apparent Philosophical neutrality and Strauss and Corbin’s recommendations not to subscribe to strict adherence of Grounded Theory procedures evidences the existence of this fluidity of movement between differing Philosophical positions therefore enabling different variations to be presented. But there is a near limitless debate about this fluidity from all the key authors of Grounded Theory along with discussions from other methodologists and qualitative researchers, but in general there is movement towards this fluidity within research designs as written by some key contemporary methodological authors, all of which I shall be covering in the thesis to some extent.


Disciplinary fluidity


A paper written by Carter and Little (2007) has recently begun to encourage me to think further about the use of Grounded Theory in my research. They present a series of hypothetical scenarios involving a fictional character named “Anna” and a series of considerations she has had to make when designing a research study, and the eventual selection of grounded theory in her study. Briefly, this is encouraging me now to think more about disciplinary assumptions and disciplinary contexts that shall play host to Grounded Theory, and in what exact way and why certain grounded theory procedures are relevant to the discipline within which the phenomena of interest is situated. Additionally, I have to think more about the genesis of the particular version of grounded theory that I desire to use.


Therefore, currently I plan to use Strauss and Corbin’s variant of Grounded Theory. But I have many questions now particularly surrounding the debate about axial coding. I shall be covering some of these questions and thoughts in the next blog post.


References:


Bryant, A (2017): "Grounded Theory and Grounded Theorising: Pragmatism in Research Practice," Published by Oxford University Press


Carter, S.M., Little, M "Justifying Knowledge, Justifying Method, Taking Action: Epistemologies, Methodologies, and Methods in Qualitative Research," Qualitative Health Research, 17 (10), pp 1316 - 1328


Charmaz, K (2014): "Constructing Grounded Theory" (2nd Edition). Published by Sage


Clark, A.E (2003): "Situational Analyses: Grounded Theory Mapping After The Postmodern Turn," Symbolic Interaction, 26 (4), pp 553 - 576


Glaser, B.G., Strauss, A, L (1967): "The Discovery of Grounded Theory," Published by Aldine Transactions


Strauss, A.L., Corbin, J. (1990): "Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory" Published by Sage. (Note that updated editions have been published throughout the years)


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