Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Grounded Theory and Theory?


I visited a great group of researchers today, members of the Qualitative Health Research Collaboration  at Sydney University and much of our discussion centered around issues related to the role of theory when using grounded theory methods and how this method differs from discourse analysis.

Some of the main issues we discussed were:

1. Theory is still important in Grounded Theory, but it comes after coding, rather than before. We try and situate the emergent theory back into those present in the literature and can pursue cricial or sociological forms of analysis at this point

2. That we must differentiate between classic and constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz). For Charmaz the results of research of this kind are not objective but co-constructed

3. That while grounded theory is fundamentally inductive it can help to try theories on for size deductively, especially when we are getting stuck trying to find higher order concepts

4. That grounded theory might be less useful when you are exploring sociological phenomenon or those where your participants are marginalised

It might also be useful to understand the roots of grounded theory in the philosophy of symblic interactionism

A foundational principle within symbolic interactionism has been that human beings are distinguished from other animals by their use of symbols (Blumer, 1962; Mead, 1934/67). In fact, symbols have been understood as the very basis of social interaction, mediating between stimulus and response. Symbols are abstract representations of social objects that enable people to communicate both verbally and nonverbally and understand each other’s intentions and actions. Because social action and interaction are symbolic in nature, people interpret the objects in their environment and the behaviors of others around them and, rather than reacting directly, respond on the basis of their interpreted meaning of those objects and actions (Blumer, 1962; Charon, 1992; Meltzer, 1972).

............................Milliken and Schrieber 2012

This reading lends itself well to constructivism, given the theory developed serves as a symbol of the interaction and meaning making between researcher and participants.


  1. Way to go, QRP and Sydney group! Sounds like you are doing some good work sorting out some important issues!


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