Glaser & Strauss (1969) Grounded Theory

Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of Grounded Theory. Chicago: Aldine.

Used to explore unexplained phenomenon, Grounded Theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) is a qualitative research methodology derived from pragmatism (Mead, 1967)  and symbolic interactionism (Blumer, 1969). Grounded Theory was designed as “a reaction against … ‘grand’ theories produced through the logico-deductive method of science” (Denscombe, 2007), i.e. speculative theories that are neither grounded to research nor to the real world, so can lack validity and be irrelevant to the people they concern (Layder, 1993).  Grounded Theory does not test hypotheses nor merely describe phenomenon. Through empirical fieldwork in social settings, Grounded Theory explores participants’ perspectives and actions to generate theory grounded in the complexities of the real world. Researchers strive to be open-minded and theoretically sensitive.  Data is not forced to fit any preconceived ideas.

Grounded Theory has an emergent structure.  The research questions, literature, sampling, data collection, coding, categories, concepts all remain open throughout the cyclic and cumulative research process so that emerging concepts can be explored further.  Grounded Theory is not random, but follows lines of enquiry in consistent but yet flexible ways.  Research processes and interpretations are recorded in memos to provide an audit trail. The social setting is clearly defined.  The research questions focus on “What is happening… ?” and “How are…?”.  The literature review is an ongoing process.  Representative sampling is not used, and instead flexible theoretical sampling (purposive and criterion sampling) is used to explore concepts further.  Everything is considered data, e.g. semi-structured and unstructured interviews, focus group interviews, transcripts, observations, journal/blog entries, questionnaires, professional documents and academic literature.  During interviews, open questions are used to empower participants share experiences and perspectives. Data is coded using gerunds to remain close the participants’ words and actions. However, the data does not speak for itself (like in ethnographical research), but instead is analysed through cycles of constant comparative analysis, which compare data to data to identify emerging categories and concepts. Cycles of constant comparative analysis continue throughout the research process until a point of saturation is reached and new data fits into existing codes and categories.  Although sometimes not accepted in more traditional research settings where quantitative experimental and statistical analysis still reign, Grounded Theory is recognised as authoritative empirical research rationale. Grounded Theory is interpreted.  Researchers can identify with a Glaserian or Straussian version, or follow first or second generation theorists.

3 thoughts on “Glaser & Strauss (1969) Grounded Theory

  1. Finally!!! THANK YOU! Not only for explaining Grounded Theory in simple, understandable English, but also for making it attractive to newbie researchers like me. Phew!

    • Hey thanks for the feedback. I put this stuff out there more for my writing (thinking) practice. Nice to know it’s helpful. I get lots of questions about what I’m doing. Grounded Theory isn’t so well known in this corner of Europe, sometime I need to justify qualitative research.

  2. Julie
    This is very good. You are going to make a great Grounded Theorist. I’m sharing this with my students. You are an excellent role model and this will be so helpful to others.

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