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December 15, 2017

Reflections Of The Year!

It has now come to that time of year where I begin to wind down for Christmas and begin reflecting on what has occurred during the year: the changes to my thesis, philosophical beliefs, methodological directions and understanding of the phenomena of interest, and what I can carry forward into the next year with significant strides and potential. And, what a year it has been! It has been a year of realisations, progress, doubt, and changes.


Reflecting on this time a year ago, I had just been assessed by the Upgrade panel and was in the middle of transitioning between philosophical and methodological directions. Because of the doubts I had of my own research methodology, which occurred after submitting the first upgrade paper but before the upgrade presentation, and the issues raised during the upgrade process, I had to resubmit the upgrade process with my new thoughts and new directions that I had been thinking about (and some which came about through discussion with the panel and my supervisor). I was forming an ontological battle in my mind. Methodologically speaking this was clear: I dropped the mixed methods approach as I had doubts about this approach, which were confirmed by the assessment panel, and kept the Grounded Theory method, but upgraded it from a method to a methodology. Grounded Theory plays a much more important role in my research now than it had previously, only I had not realised the significance of its role till just before the upgrade presentation. But ontologically it was a battle between realism and relativism: was I viewing reality as independent of my own thoughts? Is there a reality independent of my own thoughts? Or is reality simply constructed in my mind? Is reality relative and contextual, and therefore consist of no objective qualities? I eventually came to the realisation in late summertime that I am simply unable to pigeon-hole the beliefs that I have about reality, given the context of the research and of the phenomena of interest. From this realisation of the complexity of my beliefs I am now coming to the belief that my ontology is a mixture of moderate realism, along with aspects of pragmatism, complexity theory and phenomenology. Epistemologically, it appears that my beliefs about knowledge is a mixture of interpretivism and contextualism. The finer details of both sets of beliefs, such as the relationship between aspects of ontological beliefs, between aspects of epistemological beliefs and the wider relationships between ontology and epistemology (eventually working into the methodological justifications) need to be worked out more clearly and comprehensively. However, the fact that I have come to realise this diversity of my beliefs is what I could consider to be a key highlight of the year, and a key stepping point in the research progress. I am continuously questioning my own beliefs, however, and continuously reading more about ontological and epistemological theories.


The upgrade process was a really interesting experience. What was originally meant to have been a three thousand word paper eventually turned into a near seven thousand word mini dissertation! But I did enjoy this, and I felt that it really helped me to set the foundations for the eventual realisation that my philosophical beliefs are more complex than I had ever previously realised, and really helped me to focus on aspects of the phenomena I wanted to explore. But even then, things have changed or altered slightly since submitting the second upgrade paper, but that is the nature of research. It never stands still and you can never really say that what you think currently really is or will be the case in the future. I’m viewing things in the data that I had not realised before, and I’m viewing my own beliefs and questioning my own beliefs in ways that I had not originally thought of. This is a part of what I call ‘Meta Philosophy’ and during the year, especially during the summertime where I found myself becoming more consciously aware of the complexity of my philosophical beliefs, I have found this to be an increasingly important aspect of describing the foundations and roots of my research design. I have talked a fair bit about Meta Philosophy during the summertime on this blog, though I shall have much more to say about this subject in the future especially in the thesis.


As for the thesis, I feel much more focussed and settled in my mind about the directions I want to take. Even at the beginning of the year, I didn’t feel I had a lot of clarity because of the philosophical and methodological transitions that were taking place even up to late summertime. Now, whilst there are finer details to work out and explore, as there shall always be, I do feel much clearer now and have greater levels of clarity in general when it comes to my thesis, my identity as a researcher, my research design and therefore the way that I view and want to explore the phenomena of interest. I feel much clearer with the role and function of literature in my grounded theory project though I appreciate that different people will have slightly different approaches, but I feel more confident with my own approach. I will know for sure during the next year however if this approach I have in mind shall work. I feel confident that the three literature review chapters I have planned will work and will be well written and will achieve all the goals and aims that I have for each chapter. I feel that I have progressed well with drafting aspects of some of the chapters of the thesis during the year: the first literature review chapter (which I am now tentatively calling the Function of Education within a Contemporary Society), the third literature review chapter where I critique various relative learning models and theories, and the methodology chapter particularly the beginning sections where I detail the ontological and epistemological beliefs, and their impact on the selection and use of the methodology and method. Obviously this and all other chapters are work in progress, but I do feel better that after months of doubt, of questioning, of experimenting, of restructuring and rewriting the outline and exploring lots of research papers that I have a workable structure.


I just have my fingers crossed that I have what it takes to deliver a sound, comprehensive, well written, original thesis.


What are the root causes of the changes that have taken place as outlined? Along with the upgrade paper I’ve also sourced inspiration and influence from the CES Conference and the process of publishing my second research paper. I have talked much about the CES Conference during the year, but here it suffices to simply say that I am really pleased to have been afforded the opportunity to present some of my findings at the time at the conference, and the feedback I received from the audience and subsequent discussions that took place at other conference presentations were invaluable. They were invaluable because they made me realise the importance of describing and explaining some aspects of the phenomena in ways that I had previously valued but had not realised their importance to include in the thesis. Secondly, the feedback and the general conference experience enabled me to realise who I am becoming as a researcher and therefore assisted in developing my identity, which I strongly emphasised in the subsequent published reflection of the conference.


The CES experience therefore was a major highlight, as was being able to have a second research paper published based on critically reflecting upon my experience as a conference presenter and attendee. The paper included ideas I am working on regarding the impact that our epistemological beliefs have on our identity, identity development and experiences of academic conferences. Secondly, the paper contained other ideas that I have regarding the way in which conferences play a role in our professional development and thesis development. Attempts were made at identifying a relationship between the two ideas. The experience of writing and editing the paper and working with the reviewers was again invaluable to the development of thesis directions, and of who I am as a researcher.


In summary: the key highlights of the year were successfully passing of the upgrade process from MPhil (Master of Philosophy) to DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy), the successful CES conference experience, and the publication of my second paper. Also, I feel much clearer now with my thesis, with my philosophical beliefs, methodological directions and understanding of the phenomena of interest. Whilst much more work needs to be carried out, the foundations that I have laid during the year should lead to much greater and more significant strides throughout the next year. I will, of course, be keeping you all up to date via this blog!


But for now, thank you very much for the kind comments that I’ve had during the year from blog readers. It’s fascinating to know that people I’ve never met before can become so interested in what I am writing. It’s nice to think about this blog and my writings having some sort of influence on others and inspiring others in that way. That is, of course, should be a reason why we become Ph.D. students and want to be involved in the world of academia.


Thanks again for reading, and as this is the final post of the year on this blog I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year, and I look forward to writing much more on here during the next year!
 


December 14, 2017

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.

Summary:


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!


December 13, 2017

Reflection of Applying Initial Stage of Grounded Theory, Part A: Philosophical Stance

My experiences of engaging with grounded theory at a practical level from the late summer till just a couple of weeks or so ago illuminate the importance and role of philosophical beliefs. I have confirmed to myself since the summertime that the philosophical stance of a researcher not only gives rise to the need of grounded theory, but also determines philosophy-data-source compatibility. I have come to realise over the past few months that different types of text documents hold differing existence properties, different knowledge characteristics, and different properties that enable access to this knowledge. Although, access to the knowledge held within text based documents are arguably realised more through the methodology and methods that are selected, rather than our philosophical beliefs. Researchers, regardless of access to held knowledge within text documents, need to think about the way in which their philosophical beliefs not only impact their engagement with reality, but also act as a lens through which different text documents are perceived and analysed. The researcher needs to be mindful of the characteristics and values held by the text documents, and the meanings, interpretations and assumptions that are placed upon each document.


As an example, an interview transcript arguably holds a constructivist or relativist existence where the document portrays or represents a single voice (relativist) and knowledge that can be a co-construction between researcher and participant (constructivist) depending on the nature, structure and purposes of the interview. A discussion transcript is more difficult to define, in my opinion, because a discussion transcript represents multiple voices and can change context and knowledge content over time. I am finding, however, that context of learning is having a profound impact on what I perceive and hypothesise what is occurring within the data. This context is not just the environment within which the research is taking place, but also the context of the learning content, which is altering and shaping the course of the learning that takes place, and the knowledge that occurs.


As has been documented on this blog, during the summertime I came to the realisation that my ontological and epistemological beliefs are more complex than I had previously been consciously aware of, hence I was not able to align my beliefs with a single pre-existing ontological or epistemological perspective or theory. What I have arrived at now is the realisation and awareness of my ontological beliefs being a mixture of realism, pragmatism and complexity theory, and my epistemological beliefs leaning towards interpretivism and contextualism. This, I feel, at least in part, lies at the intersection between the philosophical grounding of Glaser, Strauss, Charmaz and Bryant.


What does that mean in the actual practice of using grounded theory? I am still working through my ideas (I have no doubt that this shall also be the case beyond the Ph.D. but that is the nature of research), but currently the impact that my ontological and epistemological beliefs on my use and understanding of grounded theory are briefly described as follows:


Ontological beliefs:


Realism: my belief that there is a reality independent of our minds implies that I perceive certain text documents as being capable of capturing the events and instances of learning processes, and that these events and instances occur regardless of whether or not participants are consciously aware of their existence. I suppose more generally it could be argued that learning can happen whether or not the learner is consciously aware of the fact that they are learning, or are engaged with some sort of learning activity. Since I am not a hard-line realist (I consider myself more of a moderate: subtle realism, influenced by the writings of Michael Hammersley) I do not believe that what I observe in the data fully or accurately mirrors reality itself. What I perceive to happen in the data needs further testing and exploration.


Pragmatism: it is argued that pragmatism is well suited for research that aims to change practice in some way. My issue with pragmatism however is that it does not concern itself with ontological and epistemological issues therefore it is not concerned with truth, but with usefulness. If something can be usefully applied within a practical context and if it offers real value to whoever is applying that something, then it would be considered adequate. There are aspects of Pragmatism that I do agree with regarding its use with grounded theory, such as the idea of fallibilism, with Bryant leading the way for such discussions. Fallibilism suggests that knowledge is always fallible and never represents the truth of reality, therefore, as mentioned earlier, I always accept the possibility of my emerging theory, whilst progressing towards truth, can never fully represent truth. I need to be careful here though, because whilst a theory can arguably never represent truth there cannot be two assessment systems that represent truth equally: one must be able to represent truth over the other.


Complexity Theory: learning processes, as previously described, have a complex existence. They have a complex existence because characteristics and events related a learning process could either be perceived to occur, or actually occurs, at any given point. Question: can a learning event that is actually occurring at any given point, or could probably occur, be perceived to be occurring? Another question: just because an event is perceived to be occurring, does it mean that it is actually occurring? Here we have a battle between perceptual occurrence and actual occurrence, along with the possibility or probability of occurrence. I’m dealing with phenomena here so the way that I perceive and interact with phenomena might not be in complete alignment with the intentions and beliefs of the learning participants. With this, I can also observe elements of Phenomenology in my ideas here, but these ideas are as yet incomplete and are continuing to be worked on and developed further. Another interesting aspect to the existence and occurrence of events is that context can influence what can be perceived to or can actually exist (e.g., technological environments might alter significantly what can be perceived or actualised compared to face to face learning environments).


As for my epistemological beliefs:

Interpretivism: There is an element of interpretation because coding data segments is based on my perceptions of what is occurring or happening within the data: the events, patterns, happenings, relationships, objects, instances etc. The knowledge that I gain from the transcripts that I analyse using grounded theory is really an interpretation: I interpret data segments to mean something and I label each data segment with a relevant code to represent the meaning I place upon that data segment. Here, however, is where my realist ontological beliefs come into play: because I view reality as being independent of my beliefs and that truth is a progressive journey, I have the belief that my knowledge and interpretations do not mirror reality itself. Therefore, my interpretations, hypotheses etc that are products of the data analysis are tested against further data, several times before being confirmed as part of the emerging theory.

Contextualism: what I am coming to realise is that subtle changes to the context within which the learning process occurs can mould and shape the direction and formation of that learning process and therefore, what I can perceive happening within the data. I think my ideas of contextualism is probably a little different to what other philosophers and authors define as contextualism, but I’m still working on these thoughts.

That’s Part A completed! The next blog post shall briefly cover the application of Grounded Theory, where I discuss the way in which I applied the initial coding stage: open coding, and the writing of memos.


November 27, 2017

A Grounded Theory Update: Coding and Memos

Initial Stage of Grounded Theory Coding


Coding the data using the initial stage of the Grounded Theory process, known as Open Coding or Initial Coding, has progressed substantially since the previous update. In fact, I’ve actually completed the task of coding through the first set of data during the previous week, which I had not expected but has put me ahead of schedule!


Just as a brief reminder, Open Coding or Initial Coding refers to identifying concepts within the data and the use of codes that summaries or describes the meaning or characteristics of that particular data segment, and therefore identifies these concepts. You could say that coding gives data segments an identity that you can refer to time and time again as you progress through your coding, depending on the characteristics that you identify and interpret within each data segment. You are essentially making practical, empirical observations of the data, and interpreting that data to mean something that is of value or in some way contributes towards characterising the phenomenon of interest that you are exploring. Whilst all your codes and code-data segment matching is an interpretive process, it is also objective as all codes are grounded in the data, particularly with the process of comparisons between data segments for similarities of characteristics. I shall be talking more about this in my future short blog series of Grounded Theory from next week.


At the time of writing this blog post, I think I have about twenty or more different codes that I have used across the whole data set, and this is actually a reduction on the amount produced during previous coding sessions. What I am increasingly discovering within the grounded theory approach is the influential impact and role of context on my interpretations, and perhaps the way that I should be interpreting and coding the data, and identifying the appropriateness of code-data segment matching. What is assigned a particular type of code in one context would be coded as something completely different in another context. This appears to be the nature of exploring learning processes and phenomena using grounded theory: the understanding and acquirement of knowledge regarding the development and process of learning differs between contexts. With collaborative learning for example, the collaborative activities, processes and communication shifts and moulds what is happening within the data as time progresses, and can illuminate different patterns at different times depending on the context; depending on what is being dealt with at the time. It is simply not a case of observing a particular process and thinking that it’s always universally understood because learning processes and phenomena have a nuanced existence that is shaped and moulded by events, happenings, actions and others within collaborative situations.


Therefore, as a grounded theory researcher, when you are exploring learning phenomena, the context that envelopes or provides the basis for the learning process is able to mould and shape this learning process over time, yet grounded theory enables you to identify the nuanced existence and subtle differences between the characteristics of similar concepts. Beyond reading the textbooks on grounded theory, the biggest learning curve and learning experience of my application of grounded theory has been trying to understand the importance of context and the way in which this really impacts my interpretations and observations of the data. I’m still learning now. I’m still wondering and questioning if I have really coded everything correctly even though I have checked through things several times during the past week and have altered the coding where I feel necessary.

Writing Memos


Along with coding, I’ve also been writing plenty of memos. Memos is a technique of grounded theory that helps you to build your theory by capturing all of your thoughts about the development of your codes, what you have observed, the similarities and differences that you find between coded segments, and the comparisons between different coded segments e.g., their characteristics and contrasts between similar and different concepts and what makes those data segments really what they are.


Additionally, all this information contributes valuable insights and input into your theoretical sensitivity and theoretical awareness of the data, as well as developing theoretical sampling. Theoretical sampling is a qualitative sampling method that determines what to sample next (e.g., what information or data you need next) based on the emerging theory: the observations and questions derived from the data and the codes all guiding and directing the next set of data to pick up and analyse. I shall be talking about this more either during the short blog series of grounded theory or at some point early next year.

What Next?


Focussing on rewriting the memos shall be the focus of the rest of the week in an attempt to communicate my ideas more clearly, to tidy them up a bit, and to reduce their number and organise them into something that makes a bit more sense. The set of memo writing sessions just completed involved writing a memo page (in some cases several pages) per code, within which each data segment coded with that respective code was explained and compared to previous segments in order to identify and locate subtle differences between each segment, leading in some cases to identification of potential categories (which are basically a combination of various codes and provides the core of the theory) and categorical properties and dimensions.


Writing a memo per code worked fine for a while, and the potential categories identified so far are suitable although these obviously need to be re-examined continuously (shall talk more about categories next month) but what I have realised is I have been taking these data segments out of their context and trying to explain them as standalone entities. As I went deeper into the data I began to realise that data segments can be logically connected, therefore trying to explain them independently of each other was becoming an increasingly difficult task. I found myself referring to these logically connected data segments in order to provide a contextual explanation for the data segments and their difference between other similarly coded data segments.

What I shall do next is rewrite the memos and add more details about the context. Instead of writing about each data segment as stand alone entities, I shall now write about complete units of logically connected data segments. This way, I can break the unit down into constituent segments and attempt to explain them individually and then discuss their relationship to each other as part of that unit. Doing it this way, I think I can then explain the meaning of individual segments without losing its contextual meaning and relationship with other segments. And, I can compare data segment to data segment, and data unit (a series of logically connected data segments) to data unit. It makes sense, um, well, currently in theory……..

What’s The Aim Then?


At the conclusion of the week I aim to have a complete coded first set of data (shall be rechecking again), a full set of rewritten memos and an updated theoretical framework. This will then, as far as I am currently aware of, bring grounded theory work to a conclusion for the year. I shall send everything off to the supervisor for feedback and guidance, and up to the Christmas holiday I shall work on the first literature review chapter, and write the blog series on Grounded Theory!


Plenty to come; watch this space (or just read the blog!)


November 17, 2017

Initial Reflections of Reapplying Grounded Theory to Previously Coded Data

During the past week I have focussed on applying Grounded Theory to my data. The current task is to recode the data that had previously been coded in order to find or discover anything new that had not been previously observed. It is quite fascinating when you have reread the collected data several times, because with each reread you do observe interactions, events, happenings, and actions that were not previously perceived or observed. You begin to construct hypotheses and explanations that you had not previously constructed, thought about, or even were anywhere near being consciously aware of their importance and relevance to your research. This is the beauty of Grounded Theory! It’s not simply the case of trawling through all of your data and note every observation on your first reading, and that’s it. It takes several readings to really get to know the data you are going to be coding, and beyond that it takes several readings to observe everything that is going to be observed.
But even if we have reread all the data several times, is it really possible to observe every single event, happening, interaction, object, action and so on in relation to our aims and objectives? There are means and ways in which we can be sure that what we are observing or perceiving is as close to the data (or reality) as is possible through abductive reasoning and Hypotheses testing. But this does not enable us to become consciously aware of every event, action, interaction, happening, and objects that could possibly be observed in the data. I wonder if this is actually possible? Can this possibility or impossibility even be known? In what way can something be known or something be missed if we do not become consciously aware of or theoretically sensitised to its existence?


Earlier, I caught myself in a mode of thinking that I am coming to know is very much incompatible with Grounded Theory, and is something I need to slap out of myself. During lunchtime I was planning out the afternoon work when a sudden realisation came over me: you cannot plan Grounded Theory work. Yes! You read that right. You cannot plan Grounded Theory work. Ok, I said to myself that I intend on recoding ten separate sets of data but I was basing the quality of what I do on the quantity of what I was going to achieve. This is impossible because with grounded theory, what matters is not the quantity of data that you code within a particular session, but the detail, depth and breadth of your observations of what is happening in the data. This detail, depth and breadth of observations not only come from what you observe and code in the data, but also of the theoretical memos that you write. These memos capture your thoughts and ideas about what might be going on in the data as well as enabling you to compare between data sets, to compare data segments and codes, and to hypothesise and imagine beyond what you are observing in the data. Perhaps what you are observing beyond the data relates to what you had previously read about in existing published literature.


I am finding that coding the data is not taking too long but I do need to be careful not to rush anything, and to be careful that the codes that I construct closely relates to the reality of what is occurring in the data, whilst at the same time accepting that I might not be fully reflect reality because of my philosophical beliefs influencing the way I use Grounded Theory and indeed engage with the data.


What is taking the time is writing the memos. Heck, earlier I wrote a memo on what I was observing in the data within particular data points and it came to over three thousand words! Other memos have come to a few hundred words each. The most unpredictable aspect of grounded theory I find is when it’s appropriate to write a memo, because inspiration can occur at any point in your reading of the data.


The interesting point here is that you are not being guided fully by your prior knowledge and theoretical understanding of what you are observing, but you are being guided by the data itself shaped by your philosophical beliefs. The data itself is guiding when I write a memo, what the content might be, and the purpose of the memo. I cannot predict when or where I shall write a memo and therefore, this is the main reason why it’s difficult to quantify your grounded theory work plan of any single session you do grounded theory work. You have to simply let go of control and let the data and your philosophical beliefs shape and guide what you do, when, where, why, and in what way.


In general, as I recode the data I am observing events, objects, happenings and occurrences of phenomena that I had not previously observed, understood, perceived, or was aware of. I think because of my readings of Philosophy and the increased awareness of my own philosophical beliefs, as well as all the other readings I have carried out for the literature review so far, has helped me to become more theoretically sensitised and arguably more aware of what is going on in the data. This is not to say that I have a complete and full understanding because this understanding is forever in development, and I have to argue if I can really reach the ultimate reality of what is really going on in the data. Hence, the data and the use of the Grounded Theory methodology are shaped by my philosophical beliefs. Nevertheless, this might explain why I have been able to observe what I have not previously observed. I can view things beyond the data that I had not been able to view before, but I have to be careful here that I still ground abstract thoughts and concepts in the data itself.


It’s an exciting journey! Lots of ideas and observations going around, which I never thought were possible just a few weeks ago. This is the beauty of grounded theory and of unchaining yourself from dogmatic, restricted approaches to thinking and research. With grounded theory you have to think as broadly, as detailed, as comprehensively and as complete as you possibly can, whilst keeping everything grounded in the data itself. Hence the name, “grounded theory!”


‘till next time!


November 05, 2017

Ph.D Update: Literature Review Progress, and current Grounded Theory thoughts

Literature Review Update


The first literature review chapter drafting has officially begun, and during the week I have been able to write more structural and content details (the vision) of the chapter whilst exploring the relevant literature. The vision of the chapter is taking shape: it shall provide the social, pedagogical, and technological context of the phenomena of interest. The chapter shall detail the notion of a contemporary society, the relationship between Education and society, and the way in which technological advancements have assisted Educational aims and directions connected to the notion of contemporary societies. Debates about contemporary society, Education and technology provide the basis for explaining why there is a need to focus research upon the particular learning phenomena, and explain the importance of the focus.


Beyond detailing more of the chapter content and structure, and rewriting the first paragraph about a million times or so before I became somewhat happy with it (took a while to find a starting point: still not fully happy with it, but shall look at the starting point again soon), I found that Grounded Theory reading needed extra focus. Deciding this was the result of being generally happy with current progress of the literature review, and also because I felt at the time I had to decide what grounded theory procedure to adopt. Although I have been open to the possibility of having to combine different methods of grounded theory from different authors to suit the complexity of the research, deciding on the way in which grounded theory should be or can be applied, and which procedures to adopt (and possibly create), to my research is not quite straightforward.


Brief Update on current Grounded Theory thoughts


During the week I have read through selective chapters of “The Discovery of Grounded Theory” by Glaser and Strauss, “Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory” by Strauss and Corbin, and “Constructing Grounded Theory” by Charmaz. Glaser, Strauss and Corbin are who I consider to be among the key Grounded Theory authors alongside Clarke and Bryant. At the time of writing this post however I have yet to reread the work of Clarke and Bryant and have yet to read through the other publications of Glaser, Strauss and Corbin (these are current tasks however) therefore , this section of the blog post refers only to the aforementioned texts. I therefore acknowledge and accept that views presented here are tentative and changeable. But, it suffices for the purposes of tracking the continuous development of my understanding and thinking about Grounded Theory.

The key authors do share common ground, upon which stands the most common and typical features of a grounded theory implementation: the importance of a coding procedure, of theoretical sampling, of theoretical saturation, of writing theoretical memos, of using a constant comparison method, and of developing theory. The key areas where the authors disagree are the nature and application of the coding procedure, and Philosophical perspectives.

From my readings of the texts, all authors appear to support different philosophical traditions. Glaser and Strauss (and perhaps which can also be found in Glaser’s later writings) lean towards pragmatism and realism; Strauss and Corbin appear to lean towards a post-positivism perspective, and Charmaz appears to lean towards a Constructivist approach with hints of post-modernism. Because of the complexity of my philosophical beliefs (a middle-range realist ontology accompanied by an interpretivist / relativist epistemology), there are philosophical and methodological claims and approaches of all key authors that I agree with, and some I do not.

Arguments for and against claims and approaches are driven by the nature of the research problem, the source of the data, and the nature of the relationship between myself and the research participants. Strauss, Corbin and Charmaz base their writings on interview data located within Ethnographic designs, and advocate a strong connection between researcher and research participants. This is, I find, more so with Charmaz as there is a section in her book pertaining to the use of Grounded Theory within Ethnographic research.


The design of my Grounded Theory research therefore differs to what Strauss and Corbin and Charmaz appear to be discussing, and appears to be closer to Glaser’s more realist grounded theory writings. But this is not actually that easy to suggest as it appears (at least tentatively) that ontologically I align with Glaser whilst epistemologically I align with Strauss, Corbin and Charmaz. This is why at the practical level, the application of grounded theory procedures is not straightforward.

Thankfully, at the practical level of procedures, the key authors do agree in general on the purpose, function, process and application of the beginning coding procedure (termed either “open coding” or “initial coding”), the general idea of merging codes and classifying similar codes into categories, and the development or “filling out” of these categories within the realm of theoretical saturation. What happens next with the filled out categories in order for these categories to be investigated and linked theoretically to form a theory is a matter of substantial debate and disagreement among all key authors (and, indeed, many critics and commentators of Grounded Theory).

Whilst I need to give some consideration to the later coding stages, I’m more concerned at present about the beginning coding stage. I have coded some of the data before, but for various reasons beyond the scope of this blog post I shall be reanalysing the data as I am viewing the data from a slightly different perspective than before. I am not utterly convinced that my codes that I have initially created make sense, so shall be combing my way through them soon before continuing with more coding of the data.

What I am assuming shall happen is that I shall be able to select (or create, as necessary) and apply the correct coding procedures as defined by either Glaser, Strauss, Corbin and Charmaz (and others) depending on the way that I perceive the nature, structure and the processes involved with constructing the data, and the way that I think the coding is progressing. The only way this is possible, in my view, is to code the data, examine and integrate codes to form categories, and really develop and explore these categories. I think it is only then will I be able to decide the direction of the next stage beyond initial coding and category development.

The problem I have is that the source of data for coding is different in nature to what is typically and commonly used by grounded theorists. Therefore, this is providing unique challenges. But these challenges, whilst formidable, will be overcome!

Or so I keep telling myself………

‘till next time!


October 27, 2017

Ph.D. Update: Literature Reviews, and the Literature Management Process

During the past couple of weeks following my brief time off, the focus has been the identification, selection, evaluation and organisation of literature, and the development of the appropriate documenting procedures of these phases. All of these phases are part of what I call the literature management process. I’ve also been amending the literature review chapters’ structure and layout.


Literature Review Development


Those who have been reading my blog for a long time might remember me talking about different types of literature reviews e.g., meta-analysis and meta-synthesis, and the possibilities of adopting a style suitable for my research. At the time, I was planning a mixed methods methodological approach, which eventually proved to be unworkable. Altering my methodological approach from mixed methods to grounded theory entailed vast changes to engagement with literature. The role and placement of different types of literature is the subject of much debate among grounded theorists. Whilst discussing these debates is way beyond the aim of this blog post, it suffices to state that there is consensus among grounded theorists as to the placement of the literature within a grounded theory thesis: the literature review chapters, and the results and discussion chapters. Each placement entails (in my view) different types of literature, and different purposes. I shall return to further discussion of placements, types and purposes of literature within a grounded theory thesis at a later time.


The style of literature review, as conventionally defined and conventionally placed near the beginning of any Ph.D., thesis, within a grounded theory project is what I suggest (as far as I currently understand) to be narrative and contextualised. I am attempting to use, as mentioned before, the three literature reviews as a progressive narrative. The aim of the progressive narrative, in a nutshell, is to enable the reader to situate themselves within the educational and philosophical backdrop of the research, develop initial conceptual understanding and definitions of the phenomenon of research interest, and come to understand the need and value of the research.


These literature reviews have not changed in purpose since I previously wrote about them on this blog, but they have changed in content. The first chapter now exclusively focusses on discussing society, Education and Pedagogy and the relationships between them in order to provide a backdrop or background to the phenomenon of interest. The first chapter also aims to evaluate existing debates, discussions and theories that explain and describe the way in which Education meets the needs of a modern, post-industrial society, and also to evaluate and discuss pedagogical approaches appropriate for modern learning settings. All discussions shall lead to development of arguments for and against different social, educational and pedagogical approaches, theories and perspectives regarding their suitability for facilitating and supporting the learning phenomenon of interest.


The second literature review shall now exclusively focus on discussing and explaining what I believe to be the core set of initial concepts relating to the general phenomenon of interest, and concepts that have initially defined the direction of the grounded theory analysis. Indeed, some of the changes I have already made to the literature reviews in terms of addressing initial concepts have been the result of initial grounded theory coding of the data as part of the earlier Upgrade Process.

The third literature review shall now exclusively focus on evaluating and critiquing the various existing empirical, analytical models relating to measuring and assessing the phenomenon of interest in various learning contexts.

What has come across as obvious is that you can do your best to define the structure and layout of any literature review by thinking about the initial set of concepts you have developed, or have identified through previous experience or previous readings of the phenomenon of interest. However, you can never really tell with any sense of certainty what the layout shall be till you start reading the literature. It is therefore only through reading the literature and writing the literature reviews that you become fully aware of the form, structure, layout and content the literature review shall and can take. But, I do believe that it is not a waste of time to at least initially outline your literature review based on the concepts you already have, because those initial concepts are your starting points. Again this is a matter of debate among grounded theorists, but I am starting to believe in the importance of having some initial concepts to at least to begin your investigation.


As the theory emerges from the data, concepts can be derived from the theory’s categories, properties and relationships between categories and properties that could act as further inputs into the earlier literature review chapters. More likely however, and more appropriately, these concepts shall guide me in my search for empirical literature that shall be used to verify and validate relationships between categories and properties, and therefore leading to a verifiable, workable, and validated theory. This would be in addition to verification and validation through the grounded theory process of theoretical sampling.


Literature Management Process


During the past couple of weeks I’ve also been carefully documenting the identification, selection, evaluation and organisation phases of the literature management process as so far completed at this time. Therefore, it’s nowhere near complete yet and shall not be completed till towards the end of the Ph.D. as this process is continuous due to the nature of grounded theory research. Even what I have completed now is in addition to previous literature management sessions. It’s only just recently that I’ve had an “ah ha” moment about the way I can write and present the literature management process. A part of this “ah ha” moment is the inclusion of ideas I had been developing several years ago about the way in which software could be used to assist with the evaluation and organisation phases, but these ideas are work in progress and I have yet to test these ideas out, but during the rest of the year I should be able to test some of my ideas.


At some point before my Christmas time off (or at least, before I get to the point where I am referencing Noddy Holder or Roy Wood instead of Strauss or Glaser), I shall be writing a blog series on the literature management process, in accordance to what I know and have experienced up to that point.

What’s next?


Lots on! I shall now more than likely be working on a few key tasks between now and Christmas. Rereading Grounded Theory from the perspective of my new philosophical understanding (becoming aware of the complexity of my own philosophical beliefs: have talked about this before and shall talk more about this in the future). This shall be followed by recoding data that had already been coded, and code more data and therefore, continue to develop the emerging theory. During the rereading of Grounded Theory and recording / coding of the data, I aim to write the first full draft of the first literature review chapter.


Lots to do and plenty of blogging material to come!


September 13, 2017

Phenomenology: what is it, and what are its possibilities for my Research?

Phenomenology has been defined as both a philosophical perspective and as a basis for various research programs and methodologies. My current understanding and interest of Phenomenology leads me to focussing on it as a philosophical movement as founded and discussed by the famous philosopher Edmund Husserl. Whilst I am sure that a phenomenological ontology can lead to a phenomenological research design it is not my intention to carry out a phenomenological study. Therefore, discussions of phenomenology as a research methodology are not relevant for this blog. At least, not at this time. My understanding of Phenomenology is continuous, therefore this blog post represents a snapshot of what phenomenology is.

What is Phenomenology?


There are many definitions of Phenomenology, but I shall focus this discussion on the definitions of it by its founder Edmund Husserl, who originally discussed phenomenology within the context of realism. It is the study of phenomena, the ways in which we experience phenomena, and what the structures of these experiences are, all from a first-person perspective. It can be suggested that phenomenology also includes the study of the relationship between phenomena, experience, and experiential structures in relation to that phenomena being experienced. Experiential structures is considered a main focus of Phenomenology, and various structures have been defined including intentionality, consciousness (of objects), perception, self-awareness, and consciousness of the self and others.


Phenomenology offers descriptive accounts of experiences with little or no concern with causes or explanations of these experiences. This is because, according some writer suggestions, causes and explanations are concepts situated exclusively within the natural sciences and not contexts appropriate to phenomenology, notably social sciences and qualitative contexts. However, this is a subject of much debate, with writers and researchers arguing for and against the adoption of causal and explanatory accounts within social sciences. On a personal note, I have the belief that causes and explanations can be play a role in understanding social reality and social phenomena from a qualitative perspective, particularly theoretical development projects that uses grounded theory as the methodology. Although my research does not use grounded theory to discover and explain causes, grounded theory is used to develop a theory that provides non-causal explanations and understandings of specific learning phenomena


Phenomenology suggests that experience always involves some sort of object of reality. We cannot experience something without having an object of experience, therefore we cannot have an experience ‘about’ something or an experience ‘with’ something. It has to be an experience ‘of’ something. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the word ‘of’ defines a point of orientation, and hence when we experience something there has to be an object of that experience that exists and that we can experience. Before experiencing an object however, we must be consciously aware of that object’s existence and therefore, I find it difficult to agree with the notion of separating and isolating fully an object’s existence and the experience that it provides. How can something be experienced if you have not considered the existence of that something? This, I am coming to know, is not an easy question to answer in the social world because in the social world, what comes to existence is a result of interactions between people. More specifically, certain types of interactions bring about the existence of certain social objects.


Going deeper there is a question (of many): if interactions bring about the existence of certain objects, is it the process of interaction itself that brings social objects into existence or is it that the participants of that interaction are consciously aware of its existence? This leads to another question: can we be consciously aware of the existence or, perhaps better to suggest, the possibility of existence of social objects before engaging with interactions? We could, based on our reflections of previous interactions, but here we are thinking abstractly or theoretically and therefore, we cannot call abstracts an experience. This is because we would be thinking ‘about’ something, not thinking ‘of’ or experiencing ‘of’ something, or be conscious ‘of’ something. We would simply be thinking or being conscious about the possibilities and not experiencing the actualities, as far as I can currently understand. To be conscious we must be conscious of something, and therefore when we say that we are consciously aware we are effectively stating that we are consciously aware of a particular object.


This is just a snapshot of my current and ever developing thinking of the idea of consciousness and its relationship with awareness, experience, objects and existence. It’s a huge subject!


The Possibility of Phenomenology in my Research


A typical phenomenological project involves exploring the way in which participants experience the phenomena, with relevant data of such experiences collected most commonly using interviews. This is not what I am thinking about though. What I am thinking about is using phenomenology as a mode of introspection, self-analysis and self-reflection, which is a part of being conscious of who we are as Ph.D. researchers and therefore is a fundamental part of the Ph.D. experience. The Ph.D. and each example of a Ph.D. experience such as writing a journal paper, writing the thesis, attending a conference, attending specific presentations, setting up a seminar, etc., could all be explored phenomenologically.


When I read through some of the transcripts that I have collected, I observe things. I observe happenings, events, actions and possibilities that the participants appear not to have been able to perceive or realise. I can view beyond what the transcripts are telling me. I can hypothesise and theorise about what is happening, and what might happen in the future within similar situations in other transcripts. Using Grounded Theory, I can test and evaluate these hypotheses and develop them as part of the theory if necessary. But why? Why am I able to perceive social objects resulting from certain interactions but the participants were not able to perceive them? Do social objects that I perceive or become consciously aware of exists in reality at the time of perceiving or being aware of their existence, or possible existence? If not, then how can I perceive what exists and is there a need to hypothesise their existence and test against similar conditions and situations using grounded theory? How does this compare to what is perceived by the participants? How can I claim to know that what I perceive is real? What is the nature of my own awareness as a researcher?

More questions: What is the nature of existence of social objects? Do these objects really exist? How do these objects come into being within social interactions? Does existence entail perception? What about awareness? Do we have to become aware of something in order to perceive a social object as being real? What if our perceptions are fallible and that what is perceived to exist does not really exist? How can I tell that what I perceive is real, and, how can I tell that the way that I perceive is just and sound? What if I am able to be aware of the existence or occurrence of a social object but the research participants did not become aware of such? Would that mean there is an issue with my own awareness or their awareness? These are just some of the questions that I am now asking myself with regards to the occurrences / existence of social objects within a social reality. This is important because how can we say that something exists if we are just perceiving it? How can we know that what we perceive really exists and what gives us any justification to claim that something exists?


So many questions! Essentially, I am interested in investigating and exploring my own consciousness and awareness, and the ways in which these affect the experiences that I have and what I can perceive that others do not, and perhaps try to reason out why. This is, obviously, an ongoing process!


August 10, 2017

Ph.D Update: Multiple Changes Are Happening!

As part of our Ph.D. research and training, we must try to avoid polarising our beliefs and, therefore, subscribe to a stance, position, approach or method just because it appears to be the most convenient and approachable. What might be convenient and approachable might not be appropriate and relevant for the research problem and nature of the research context. It is part of our emerging identities as researchers to think very carefully about who we are and what we do, to take a critical stance towards every decision that we make, reflect on our decision making to ensure that there are no gaps that could cause methodological or practical problems, and to therefore ensure that every element of our research design connects reasonably and logically.


Earlier this week as part of the qualitative section of the methodology chapter, I began to describe the characteristics and features of qualitative research. As I began to relate characteristics and features to the research setting and context, phenomena of interest and the position of myself as the researcher (research positionality: I shall discuss this more in the future), I noticed that I was beginning to discuss the idea of complexity. Qualitative research, I was saying, is useful for exploring the nuanced, complex existence of social phenomena and the complexity of the setting of the phenomena of interest. It struck me there and then that this complexity of the existence of the phenomena of interest and the way that we come to know this complex existence was not mirrored by my awareness and discussions of my epistemological beliefs. What was going on here? Was I beginning to doubt my own epistemological beliefs? Or did I simply become immediately aware of the possible inadequate way in which I was perceiving and labelling my epistemological beliefs? This begs the question: can our epistemological beliefs shift as we progress through our research projects, or are our epistemological beliefs always in a constant state but that our awareness of their states continuously changes? Are epistemological beliefs therefore a construction in our minds, or do they pre-exist and we simply become more aware of them through various experiences?


Whilst I was tackling these complex questions (which are still being tackled), I completed the rough first draft of the qualitative section and began to tackle the grounded theory section. As I was writing this section I began reading through Birks and Mills (2015) publication “Grounded Theory, a Practical Guide.” Based on their comprehensive discussions of the philosophical and methodological developments of grounded theory, situated within the controversies and movements of the time, the authors advised students to be mindful of the possibility of what I call grounded theory methodological fluidity. I’ve talked about the idea of fluidity before and shall talk about this more in the thesis, but essentially the authors suggest that Ph.D. candidates should not simply subscribe to a specific grounded theory variety but to explore and experiment. Ph.D. candidates are therefore advised by the authors to draw upon and build upon the ideas and approaches of the multiple varieties and writers of grounded theory. This would lead to the development of a grounded theory approach that best matches the research problem, the nature of the research setting and context, the data collection method, and the position of yourself as the researcher. This overwhelmed me, because not only was I grappling with my own increased awareness of the complexity of my epistemological beliefs, I was also now beginning to grapple with the possibility of needing to draw from multiple varieties of grounded theory, and to build upon procedures and techniques presented in different varieties as necessary. I have the belief that there has to be a connection between the two: that a change in my awareness of my epistemological beliefs has led to a change in using grounded theory to analyse the phenomenon of interest.



Where am I with all of this now? Ontologically I’m still a realist: I still believe that there is a social reality that exists outside of our conceptualisations and perspectives of social reality and therefore there are social elements of social reality that do exist. The revelation here is that perhaps I have limited myself in the way in which I can come to understand these objective social elements or phenomena. Perhaps constructionism alone cannot fully capture everything that I am and everything that my epistemological beliefs have led me and are leading me in terms of my research design. But how can I at any time suggest that any particular epistemological stance really reflects how I can attain knowledge and understand phenomena of interest if my epistemological beliefs are continuously evolving? Or, more likely, that I am becoming more aware of what pre-exists in my mind? The simple fact is: I can’t! From the many months of reading and thinking about different epistemological stances, nothing really fits completely within my realm of coming to know about the phenomena of interest. This has to be because all of these difference stances: positivism, post-positivism, constructivism, constructionism etc follow set assumptions about the way that we as researchers come to know reality, the nature of our research problems, and our positionality. How we might come to understand and know about the phenomena of interest might follow a more post-positivist line, but my positioning of myself as the researcher and the way I engage with the data reflects a more dynamic approach. The best way I can really “label” my beliefs is to reread in more detail literature on different epistemologies and draw upon ideas and approaches from various authors and approaches, and develop strong argumentation for why I perceive the research setting and phenomena of interest the way that I do.


Methodologically, grounded theory is the only approach, situated in a qualitative methodology, that makes any sense to me. But what flavour now? Because of my increased awareness of my epistemological beliefs and the way in which I position myself in the research, and of the nature of the research setting, I cannot fully subscribe to the techniques and ideas of Strauss and Corbin’s version of grounded theory. I shall explore these issues and reasoning as the research progresses, but at this time it suffices to suggest that I will have to follow the advice of Birks and Mills (2015) and other authors. Their advice is to carefully, thoughtfully, reflectively, progressively, and critically draw on approaches and ideas from various key grounded theory authors (Glaser, Strauss, Corbin, Charmaz, Clarke and Bryant) that are most relevant and appropriate for my overall research design and research context. And, where necessary, to reformulate or build on existing grounded theory techniques.


Summary


To try to summarise all this: becoming more aware of the complexity of the research setting has caused me to become more aware of the complex nature of my epistemological beliefs. But a key question that I might like to tackle in the thesis is whether my epistemological beliefs have changed to become more complex, or if my epistemological beliefs have always been complex and I’ve only just become aware of this complexity. Can they change? Or is it simply the case that we become more aware of their complexity? Or is it a bit of both depending on what we experience and the way that we come to understand and build on this experience? This has to be reflected in my now new position on Grounded Theory: I cannot possibly capture the complexity of the research phenomena using just the procedures and ideas described by Strauss and Corbin. There has to be some sort of way that I can draw upon and build on the procedures and techniques from multiple authors that are most appropriate for my research design and research setting. But this I can only find out as I progress with my reading and testing of different techniques.


As for rereading the literature on epistemological theories and grounded theory approaches, as many authors state it’s not a matter of which array of writers you draw from and build upon, but it’s the way in which you can strongly defend and justify your positioning. What this means is there really are no right or wrong answers, but there is such a thing as a justifiable, defendable answer. And this, ultimately, forms the core of your thesis chapters and what you need to present at your viva. Overwhelming perhaps, and a little scary, but at the same time challenging, thrilling, motivating and exciting!


Reference / Bibliography


Birks, M., Mills, J (2015): Grounded Theory, A Practical Guide (2nd Ed). SAGE Publications


Urquhart, C (2013): Grounded Theory for Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide. SAGE Publications.


I have included Urquhart because she was the other author who influenced my now changing approach to grounded theory, though haven’t mentioned the author in the blog post as Birks and Mills publication was the first to really confirm the need for a change. That being said, both books are worth a read through if only to find out more about the idea of researcher leading the methodology and not methodology leading the researcher!


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!


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