Written by Dr Hannes Nel
Hello, I am Hannes Nel and I will discuss Grounded Theory in this post.
What is grounded theory?
Grounded theory is a type of inductive thematic analysis (ITA).
It was developed by Glaser and Strauss in the 1960s.
Glaser and Strauss supported symbolic interactionism as a philosophical perspective.
How is grounded theory used?
Grounded theory uses inductive reasoning to generate the theoretical understandings, of research by grounding the theory in the data that the researcher collected.
It is a highly systematic method for mostly studying social experiences, interactions and structures.
Grounded theory discovers, develops and provisionally verifies phenomena.
This means that the data originate in the framework for the study and should deliver logical and relevant conclusions.
Integrating grounded theory with other research and data collection methods
It is almost always necessary to use grounded theory in conjunction with one or more other research methods.
Any data collection method may be used in conjunction with grounded theory methods, bearing in mind that data collection should build on a naturalistic, interpretive philosophy.
Grounded theory methods specify analytical strategies, not data collection methods.
- Is a qualitative research approach.
- Requires an open mind, objectivity and ethical and responsible analysis of data.
- Is especially popular amongst those who study humanistic sciences.
- Can also be used for the study of non-human phenomena.
The purpose of grounded theory
The primary purpose of grounded theory is to generate theory from observations of real life.
Grounded theory aims at the discovery of regularities, the identification of categories or elements and the establishment of their connections.
Theoretical models and new theoretical concepts and arguments should be created and continuously revised as you collect and analyse data.
Grounded theory holds as a basic view that qualitative researchers do not go around testing an existing body of knowledge, but rather that they build new theory by allowing their data collection to steer their thoughts and conclusions into the unknown.
The grounded theory process
Grounded theory research should be done in a specific and well-defined context.
The research should be grounded in social reality and not be just an exercise in theorizing.
It uses a typical research process of data collection, data analysis, coming to conclusions, and formulating findings.
Findings should be transformable into formal theoretical models.
The process of collecting data is a prerequisite for analysis, while theory development should result from the analysis.
Researchers sometimes think that grounded theory is about the research process, especially data collection and analyses.
Although data collection and analysis are important research activities, the essence of grounded theory does not lie in the research process but rather in the attitude of the researcher towards the data and the purpose of the research.
It requires that each piece of the data is systematically compared with other data on the same or related issue or topic.
You should not ignore small units of text.
It just might have the potential to improve current theory and practice.
At the same time, you should not waste time with data that is clearly of no significance, because analysis is a time-consuming activity.
You can compare existing data with other existing data or with new data.
Grounded theory is based on the subjective experiences of humans.
You may also use your own experiences to understand the experiences of others.
Guard against just adopting the ideas, perceptions or models of others.
If you do this, you run the risk of just packaging old, existing knowledge differently.
Verification is a natural element of any scientific research because it strengthens the authenticity and validity of the findings and provides you with a measure of security.
Data collected should not be over-verified, because grounded theory epistemology leans strongly towards the generation of new theory rather than the analysis of existing theory.
Deconstruction can be used to lend a good measure of authenticity to the data.
Do not neglect to acknowledge the work of other researchers that you consulted and quoted.
You can use dedicated computer programmes to arrange, compare and analyse the data that you collected.
ATLAS.Ti is an example of software that you can use.
There are a good number of others. I am just mentioning ATLAS.Ti because it is the one that I used and am familiar with.
You can easily find suitable software by just Googling for them.
Most dedicated computer programmes make use of coding.
Coding can be described as a sophisticated form of notecards like the ones that we used many decades ago.
You will create codes for salient data with most of the available relevant software.
You can also write explanatory notes in the form of memorandums.
The programme groups related codes and memorandums together.
This enables you to get a clear and holistic picture of concepts and arguments so that you can more easily come to conclusions and findings.
Your findings should be or lead to new knowledge, theories and models.
From the codes and memorandums, new theory and new theoretical models can be discovered through inductive reasoning.
You will, of course, not be required to develop new knowledge or theories on master’s degree level, but you will need to show that you understand and can apply existing knowledge and theories.
Inductive reasoning entails systematic data collection and analysis which leads to discovery, development and verification.
Most importantly, dedicated programmes substantially simplify the process of writing your research report.
Grounded theory methodology needs not to be limited to computer analysis only.
You can, for example, still use the old notecard system or you can develop your own system on a computer.
The value of grounded theory
Grounded theory enables you:
- To step back and critically analyse situations.
- To recognise the tendency towards bias.
- To think abstractly.
- To be flexible and open to helpful criticism.
- To be sensitive to the words and actions of respondents.
- To adopt a sense of absorption and devotion to the work process.
Utilizing grounded theory for research should enable you to see beyond the ordinary and to arrive at new understandings of social life.
The most important value of grounded theory is that it enables you to generate theory and to ground that theory in data.
Paradigms that can be used with grounded theory
Before we look at paradigms that can be used with grounded theory – don’t be too concerned if at this stage you do not know the paradigms.
I will discuss 29 such paradigms in later posts.
I suggest that you then return to my earlier posts on research methods to get the bigger picture.
Any paradigmatic approach can be used with grounded theory.
Mostly, however, grounded theory displays elements of post-modernism as well as symbolic interactionism.
Post-modernism lends itself to the achievement of formal theory while symbolic interactionism implies that the study is grounded in a specific empirical world.
As already mentioned, grounded theory requires elements of interpretivism as well.
There are two versions of grounded theory, namely objectivist and constructivist grounded theory.
Objectivist grounded theory is rooted in a positivist paradigmatic approach.
The objectivist viewpoint claims that it is possible to discover objective truth.
The data already exists, and you will need to discover theory from them.
Constructivist grounded theory has its roots in an interpretivist paradigmatic approach.
The constructivist viewpoint rejects the objectivist viewpoint, contending that there is no objective truth waiting to be discovered.
Constructivist grounded theory assumes that truth exists only through interaction with the realities of the world.
Meaning is, therefore, constructed rather than discovered.
The following are the elements of grounded theory:
- The purpose of grounded theory is to build new theory.
- Current theory or observation can serve as the basis for new theory.
- Grounded theory deals with how data and phenomena are interpreted and used rather than how they are collected.
- You should systematically review units of data as they become available.
- Any research method should utilize the philosophy behind grounded theory, meaning that any researcher should be open-minded and objective.
- Building new theory requires analytical induction, meaning that new theory emerges from collected data inductively through a series of steps.
- Grounded theory requires the development of five interrelated properties.
- The theory must closely fit the relevant field of study in which the new theory will be used.
- The new theory must be readily understandable to laymen concerned with the field of study.
- The new theory must be relevant to a multitude of diverse daily situations within the focus area of the field of study.
- New knowledge should be generalizable as widely as possible.
- The new knowledge must allow those who use it to have enough trust in the validity and accuracy of the new knowledge, theories and models.
- Dedicated computer programmes enable you to discover regularities in data, to identify categories or elements and to establish their connections.