Grounded theory approach to social research is a respectable schema to undertake when a theory is not available to explain a process. However, this does not mean that a researcher can start any study based on just ideas and not know anything of the basic milieu of the research subject. This article will give a brief insight into the definition and background of the Grounded Theory approach. It will also demonstrate the different types of grounded theories and expand on the procedure involved with them. Part of the paper will also look into applying the Grounded Theory framework into my research interest and my opinion on this particular research approach.
Being one of the major forms of qualitative methodologies of research approach, the intent is to move beyond the narrative and generate or ascertain a theory, an abstract analytical schema of a process. A fundamental idea is that the theory developed does not come “off the shelf,” rather it is generated or “grounded” in data from participants who have experienced the process. Thus, the Grounded Theory research approach is a qualitative study design in which the inquirer produces a broad-spectrum explanation of a process, action, or interaction shaped by the views of a large number of participants (Creswell, 2007).
Grounded theory was developed in 1967 by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss, who felt that the dominant theories used in research at the time were often inappropriate and ill-suited for participants under the study. The line of attack was to acquire information from the field research, that is to say that data which is grounded within the research work (Creswell, 2007). Researcher is to interpret that data and generate hypothesis based on the gathered information. Systematic grounded theory originated in 1967 with Glaser and Strauss; however, recently two more grounded theory perspectives were introduced by Charmaz and Clarke which deviate from the structured approach to grounded theory that was developed in 1967. Charmaz (2006) advocates for a constructivist approach, while Clarke (2005) argues that social situations should be the unit of analysis for grounded theory.
The Systematic Grounded Theory approach is used to develop a theory that explains processes, actions, or interactions on a topic of interest. The researcher customarily interviews about 20 to 30 people through several visits to the field and the information is saturated into different categories (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). These participant samples in the research are chosen through a theoretical sampling to help the researcher develop best form of theory. Analysis of the new emerging data is done through comparing it with data available in the old categories. The data analysis process begins with open coding which is coding the data for its major categories of information. These data are then analyzed even further by focusing on a particular category and more categories are formed within it. The original category is called the core and this form of coding is labeled as axial coding. Types of categories that are identified within the core are causal conditions, strategies, contextual and intervening conditions and consequences. Information that the axial coding provides are then infused into a visual model that is established which is called the axial coding paradigm. The final step is selective coding in which researchers take the model and develop proposition that interrelate the categories in the model and assembles a story that describes the interrelationship of categories in the model (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Strauss and Corbin (1998) further enhance their model by developing a conditional matrix which is a coding device to help the researcher make connection between the macro and micro conditions influencing the phenomenon that they want to study.
The Constructivist Approach to grounded theory emphasizes diverse local worlds, multiple realities, and the complexities of particular worlds, views, and actions. This approach lies solely within the interpretive approach of qualitative research that has flexible guidelines and on researcher’s interpretation. The focus in this approach is on learning about the experiences within hidden networks, situations, relationships, and making visible unseen hierarchies of power. The emphasis in the approach is placed on views, values, beliefs, feelings, and ideologies of individuals (Charmaz, 2006). The data gathering method is similar to the Systematic Grounded Theory approach in that it allows for theoretical sampling; however, for coding procedure this approach emphasizes the use of active codes such are gerund-based phrases (Charmaz, 2006). The researcher takes an active role in the inquiry as they bring personal values, experiences to the research process as well. This also plays a major part in making decisions regarding priorities and questions to be asked in the information gathering process. The inferences drawn from this system of grounded theory research according to Charmaz (2005) are usually suggestive, incomplete, and inconclusive. This may also lead to a research which does not have a proper flow for it to be continued further.
Fundamental problem with grounded theory is that it may feel like the research is not following a set path and not resulting in a proper understanding of what the research is trying to achieve. Another issue is that there is a possibility of discriminant sampling where the researcher gathers information from individuals that are similar to the first person that they interviewed. Also, if no proper categories are formed within the initial phases of the research and axial coding does not result in any significant data then researcher might find themselves spending years in research without developing a concrete theory. This will become a total wasted effort in part of the researcher and research participants might get dejected by the situation and distance themselves from the researcher for any later data gathering endeavor.
Within sociological research approaches qualitative research methods are relatively newly developed. The Grounded Theory approach provide a researcher with a convenient research approach to interact with participants and get necessary information; which they can then utilize to develop a hypothesis for the research. Using either the Systemic Grounded Theory approach or the Constructivist Grounded Theory a researcher can do a study that moves beyond the description and to generate a theory. Even though there is a genuine chance that doing a research using a grounded theory approach may not produce a substantial theory; nevertheless, this approach gives researcher opportunity to understand the research subjects better and develop a theory based on their experiences.