Most chapters in the first GT methodology "The Discovery of Grounded Theory" (6995 Google Scholar citations May 2007) (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) were written by Glaser, trained in methodology generation. Glaser alone wrote the second methodology "Theoretical Sensitivity" (Glaser, 1978) and has since written five more books on the method and edited five readers with a collection of GT articles and dissertations (see Literature at end). The Grounded Theory Review is a peer-reviewed journal publishing grounded theories and articles on different aspects of doing GT.
Strauss and Juliet Corbin (Strauss & Corbin 1990) took GT in a different direction from what Glaser had outlined in Theoretical Sensitivity and the 1967 book. There was a clash of ideas between the discoverers and Glaser in 1992 wrote a book arguing against the Strauss & Corbin book chapter by chapter.
Hence GT was divided into Strauss & Corbin’s method, see grounded theory (Strauss) and Glaser’s GT with the original ideas from 1967 and 1978 still in operation. The following article deals with GT according to Glaser.
If your research goal is accurate description, then another method should be chosen since GT is not a descriptive method. Instead it has the goal of generating concepts that explain people’s actions regardless of time and place. The descriptive parts of a GT are there mainly to illustrate the concepts.
In most behavioral research endeavors persons or patients are units of analysis, whereas in GT the unit of analysis is the incident (Glaser & Strauss 1967). There are normally at least several hundred incidents analyzed in a GT study since every participant normally reports many incidents. When comparing many incidents in a certain area, the emerging concepts and their relationships are in reality probability statements. Consequently, GT is not a qualitative method but a general method that can use any kind of data even if qualitative at the moment are most popular (Glaser, 2001, 2003). However, although working with probabilities, most GT studies are considered as qualitative since statistical methods are not used, and figures not presented. The results of GT are not a reporting of facts but a set of probability statements about the relationship between concepts, or an integrated set of conceptual hypotheses developed from empirical data (Glaser 1998). Validity in its traditional sense is consequently not an issue in GT, which instead should be judged by fit, relevance, workability, and modifiability (Glaser & Strauss 1967, Glaser 1978, Glaser 1998).
Fit has to do with how closely concepts fit with the incidents they are representing, and this is related to how thoroughly the constant comparison of incidents to concepts was done.
Relevance. A relevant study deals with the real concern of participants, evokes "grab" (captures the attention) and is not only of academic interest.
Workability. The theory works when it explains how the problem is being solved with much variation.
Modifiability. A modifiable theory can be altered when new relevant data is compared to existing data. A GT is never right or wrong, it just has more or less fit, relevance, workability and modifiability.
All is data is a fundamental property of GT which means that everything that gets in the researcher’s way when studying a certain area is data. Not only interviews or observations but anything is data that helps the researcher generating concepts for the emerging theory. Field notes can come from informal interviews, lectures, seminars, expert group meetings, newspaper articles, Internet mail lists, even television shows, conversations with friends etc. It is even possible, and sometimes a good idea, for a researcher with much knowledge in the studied area to interview herself, treating that interview like any other data, coding and comparing it to other data and generating concepts from it. This may sound silly since you don’t have to interview yourself to know what you know, but you don’t know it on the conceptual level! And GT deals with conceptual level data.
Open coding or substantive coding is conceptualizing on the first level of abstraction. Written data from field notes or transcripts are conceptualized line by line. In the beginning of a study everything is coded in order to find out about the problem and how it is being resolved. The coding is often done in the margin of the field notes. This phase is often tedious since you are conceptualizing all incidents in the data, which yields many concepts. These are compared as you code more data, and merged into new concepts, and eventually renamed and modified. The GT researcher goes back and forth while comparing data, constantly modifying, and sharpening the growing theory at the same time as she follows the build-up schedule of GT’s different steps.
Selective coding is done after having found the core variable or what is thought to be the core, the tentative core. The core explains the behavior of the participants in resolving their main concern. The tentative core is never wrong. It just more or less fits with the data. After having chosen your core variable you selectively code data with the core guiding your coding, not bothering about concepts with little importance to the core and its subcores. Also, you now selectively sample new data with the core in mind, which is called theoretical sampling – a deductive part of GT. Selective coding delimits the study, which makes it move fast. This is indeed encouraged while doing GT (Glaser, 1998) since GT is not concerned with data accuracy as in descriptive research but is about generating concepts that are abstract of time, place and people. Selective coding could be done by going over old field notes or memos which are already coded once at an earlier stage or by coding newly gathered data.
Theoretical codes integrate the theory by weaving the fractured concepts into hypotheses that work together in a theory explaining the main concern of the participants. Theoretical coding means that the researcher applies a theoretical model to the data. It is important that this model is not forced beforehand but has emerged during the comparative process of GT. So the theoretical codes just as substantives codes should emerge from the process of constantly comparing the data in field notes and memos.
Memoing is also important in the early phase of a GT study such as open coding. The researcher is then conceptualizing incidents, and memoing helps this process. Theoretical memos can be anything written or drawn in the constant comparison that makes up a GT. Memos are important tools to both refine and keep track of ideas that develop when you compare incidents to incidents and then concepts to concepts in the evolving theory. In memos you develop ideas about naming concepts and relating them to each other. In memos you try the relationships between concepts in two-by-two tables, in diagrams or figures or whatever makes the ideas flow, and generates comparative power. Without memoing the theory is superficial and the concepts generated not very original. Memoing works as an accumulation of written ideas into a bank of ideas about concepts and how they relate to each other. This bank contains rich parts of what will later be the written theory. Memoing is total creative freedom without rules of writing, grammar or style (Glaser 1998). The writing must be an instrument for outflow of ideas, and nothing else. When you write memos the ideas become more realistic, being converted from thoughts in your mind to words, and thus ideas communicable to the afterworld. In GT the preconscious processing that occurs when coding and comparing is recognized. The researcher is encouraged to register ideas about the ongoing study that eventually pop up in everyday situations, and awareness of the serendipity of the method is also necessary to achieve good results.
No pre-research literature review. Studying the literature of the area under study gives preconceptions about what to find and the researcher gets desensitized by borrowed concepts. Instead, grounded theories in other areas, and GT method books increase theoretical sensitivity. The literature should instead be read in the sorting stage being treated as more data to code and compare with what has already been coded and generated.
No taping. Taping and transcribing interviews is common in qualitative research, but is counterproductive and a waste of time in GT which moves fast when the researcher delimits her data by field-noting interviews and soon after generates concepts that fit with data, are relevant and work in explaining what participants are doing to resolve their main concern.
No talk. Talking about the theory before it is written up drains the researcher of motivational energy. Talking can either render praise or criticism, and both diminish the motivational drive to write memos that develop and refine the concepts and the theory (Glaser 1998). Positive feedback makes you content with what you've got and negative feedback hampers your self-confidence. Talking about the GT should be restricted to persons capable of helping the researcher without influencing her final judgments.
Glaser founded the Grounded Theory Institute in 1999 as a non-profit web-based organization (www.groundedtheory.com), which describes itself on its webpage as "dedicated to the evolving methodology of Dr.Barney G. Glaser, Ph.D.". The Institute provides an online forum for the discussion of grounded theory, and publishes the journal, "The Grounded Theory Review." The Institute also includes the Sociology Press, which Dr. Glaser founded in 1970.
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