Grounded theory (GT) is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the construction of theories through methodical gathering and analysis of data. Grounded theory is a research methodology which operates inductively, in contrast to the hypothetico-deductive approach. A study using grounded theory is likely to begin with a question, or even just with the collection of qualitative data. As researchers review the data collected, repeated ideas, concepts or elements become apparent, and are tagged with codes, which have been extracted from the data. As more data is collected, and re-reviewed, codes can be grouped into concepts, and then into categories. These categories may become the basis for new theory. Thus, grounded theory is quite different from the traditional model of research, where the researcher chooses an existing theoretical framework, and only then collects data to show how the theory does or does not apply to the phenomenon under study.
- 1 Background
- 2 Philosophical underpinnings
- 3 Stages of analysis
- 4 Premise
- 5 Nomenclature
- 6 Split in methodology and methods
- 7 Use in other research methods
- 8 Use in various disciplines
- 9 Benefits
- 10 Criticisms
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Grounded theory is a general methodology, a way of thinking about and conceptualizing data. It focuses on the studies of diverse populations from areas like remarriage after divorce (Cauhape, 1983) and Professional Socialization (Broadhed, 1983). The Grounded Theory method was developed by two sociologists, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss. Their collaboration in research on dying hospital patients led them to write Awareness of Dying in 1965. In this research they developed the constant comparative method, later known as Grounded Theory Method. There were three main purposes behind the publication of The Discovery of Grounded Theory:
- Rationale of the theory to be grounded is that this theory helps close the gap between theory and empirical research.
- Helped in suggesting the logic of grounded theories.
- This book helped to legitimize careful qualitative research. This was seen to be the most important because, by the 1960s, quantitative research methods had taken an upper hand in the fields of research and qualitative was not seen as an adequate method of verification.
This theory mainly came into existence when there was a wave of criticism towards the fundamentalist and structuralist theories that were deductive and speculative in nature.
After two decades, sociologists and psychologists showed some appreciation for the Grounded theory because of its explicit and systematic conceptualization of the theory. The Discovery of Grounded Theory (1967) was published simultaneously in the United States and the United Kingdom, because of which the theory became well known among qualitative researchers and graduate students of those countries.
The turning point for this theory came after the publishing of two main monographs/works which dealt with "dying in hospitals". This helped the theory to gain some significance in the fields of medical sociology, psychology and psychiatry. From its beginnings in health, the grounded theory method has come to prominence in fields as diverse as drama, management, manufacturing and education.
Grounded theory [Pakyu] combines diverse traditions in sociology, positivism and symbolic interactionism as it is according to Ralph, Birks & Chapman (2015) "methodologically dynamic". Glaser's strong training in positivism enabled him to code the qualitative responses, however Strauss's training looked at the "active" role of people who live in it. Strauss recognized the profundity and richness of qualitative research regarding social processes and the complexity of social life, Glaser recognized the systematic analysis inherent in quantitative research through line by line examination, followed by the generation of codes, categories, and properties. According to Glaser (1992), the strategy of Grounded Theory is to take the interpretation of meaning in social interaction on board and study "the interrelationship between meaning in the perception of the subjects and their action". Therefore, through the meaning of symbols, human beings interpret their world and the actors who interact with them, while Grounded Theory translates and discovers new understandings of human beings' behaviors that are generated from the meaning of symbols. Symbolic interactionism is considered to be one of the most important theories to have influenced grounded theory, according to it understanding the world by interpreting human interaction, which occurs through the use of symbols, such as language. According to Milliken and Schreiber in Aldiabat and Navenec, the grounded theorist's task is to gain knowledge about the socially-shared meaning that forms the behaviors and the reality of the participants being studied.
Stages of analysis
|Codes||Identifying anchors that allow the key points of the data to be gathered|
|Concepts||Collections of codes of similar content that allows the data to be grouped|
|Categories||Broad groups of similar concepts that are used to generate a theory|
|Theory||A collection of categories that detail the subject of the research|
Once the data are collected, grounded theory analysis involves the following basic steps:
- Coding text and theorizing: In grounded theory research, the search for the theory starts with the very first line of the very first interview that one codes. It involves taking a small chunk of the text where line by line is being coded. Useful concepts are being identified where key phrases are being marked. The concepts are named. Another chunk of text is then taken and the above-mentioned steps are being repeated. According to Strauss and Corbin, this process is called open coding and Charmaz called it initial coding. Basically, this process is breaking data into conceptual components. The next step involves a lot more theorizing, as in when coding is being done examples are being pulled out, examples of concepts together and think about how each concept can be related to a larger more inclusive concept. This involves the constant comparative method and it goes on throughout the grounding theory process, right up through the development of complete theories.
- Memoing and theorizing: Memoing is the process by which the running notes of each of the concepts that are being identified are kept. It is the intermediate step between the coding and the first draft of the completed analysis. Memos are field notes about the concepts in which one lays out their observations and insights. Memoing starts with the first concept that has been identified and continues right through the process of breaking the text and of building theories.
- Integrating, refining and writing up theories: Once coding categories emerge, the next step is to link them together in theoretical models around a central category that hold everything together. The constant comparative method comes into play, along with negative case analysis which looks for cases that do not confirm the model. Basically one generates a model about how whatever one is studying works right from the first interview and see if the model holds up as one analyze more interviews.
Theorizing is involved in all these steps. One is required to build and test theory all the way through till the end of a project.
Grounded theory method is a systematic generation of theory from data that contains both inductive and deductive thinking. One goal is to formulate hypotheses based on conceptual ideas. Others may try to verify the hypotheses that are generated by constantly comparing conceptualized data on different levels of abstraction, and these comparisons contain deductive steps. Another goal of a grounded theory study is to discover the participants' main concern and how they continually try to resolve it. The questions the researcher repeatedly asks in grounded theory are "What's going on?" and "What is the main problem of the participants, and how are they trying to solve it?" These questions will be answered by the core variable and its subcores and properties in due course.
Grounded theory method does not aim for the "truth" but to conceptualize what is going on by using empirical research. In a way, grounded theory method resembles what many researchers do when retrospectively formulating new hypotheses to fit data. However, when applying the grounded theory method, the researcher does not formulate the hypotheses in advance since preconceived hypotheses result in a theory that is ungrounded from the data.
If the researcher's goal is an accurate description, then another method should be chosen since grounded theory is not a descriptive method. Instead, it has the goal of generating concepts that explain the way that people resolve their central concerns regardless of time and place. The use of description in a theory generated by the grounded theory method is mainly to illustrate concepts.
In most behavioral research endeavors, persons or patients are units of analysis, whereas in GT the unit of analysis is the incident. Typically several hundred incidents are analyzed in a grounded theory study since usually every participant 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 a general method that can use any kind of data even though the most common use is with qualitative data (Glaser, 2001, 2003). However, although working with probabilities, most GT studies are considered as qualitative since statistical methods are not used, and figures are not presented. The results of GT are not a reporting of statistically significant probabilities 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. A theory that is fitting has concepts that are closely connected to the incidents they are representing; this is related to how thorough 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 are compared to existing data. A GT is never right or wrong, it just has more or less fit, relevance, workability and modifiability.
A concept is the overall element and includes the categories which are conceptual elements standing by themselves, and properties of categories, which are conceptual aspects of categories (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The core variable explains most of the participants' main concern with as much variation as possible. It has the most powerful properties to picture what's going on, but with as few properties as possible needed to do so. A popular type of core variable can be theoretically modeled as a basic social process that accounts for most of the variation in change over time, context, and behavior in the studied area. "GT is multivariate. It happens sequentially, subsequently, simultaneously, serendipitously, and scheduled" (Glaser, 1998).
All is data is a fundamental property of GT which means that everything that the researcher encounters when studying a certain area is data – not only interviews or observations but anything that helps the researcher generating concepts for the emerging theory. According to Ralph, Birks & Chapman (2014) field notes can come from informal interviews, lectures, seminars, expert group meetings, newspaper articles, Internet mail lists, even television shows, conversations with friends etc. A related technique consists of conducting self-interviews and treating those interviews like any other data, coding and comparing it to other data and generating concepts from it.
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 it involves conceptualizing all the incidents in the data, which yields many concepts. These are compared as more data is coded, 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.
- On a related note, Strauss and Corbin (1990, 1998) also proposed axial coding and defined it in 1990 as "a set of procedures whereby data are put back together in new ways after open coding, by making connections between categories." They proposed a "coding paradigm" (also discussed, among others, by Kelle, 2005) that involved "conditions, context, action/ interactional strategies and consequences." (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 96)
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 the core variable is chosen, researchers selectively code data with the core guiding their coding, not bothering about concepts with little importance to the core and its subcores. Also, they 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.
Theoretical memoing is "the core stage of grounded theory methodology" (Glaser 1998). "Memos are the theorizing write-up of ideas about substantive codes and their theoretically coded relationships as they emerge during coding, collecting and analyzing data, and during memoing" (Glaser 1998).
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 researchers compare incidents to incidents and then concepts to concepts in the evolving theory. In memos, they develop ideas about naming concepts and relating them to each other and 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 are 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 people write memos, the ideas become more realistic, being converted from thoughts into 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.
Serendipity is used as a sociological method in grounded theory, building on ideas by sociologist Robert K. Merton, who in Social Theory and Social Structure (1949) referred to the "serendipity pattern" as the fairly common experience of observing an unanticipated, anomalous and strategic datum which becomes the occasion for developing a new theory or for extending an existing theory. Robert K. Merton also coauthored (with Elinor Barber) The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity which traces the origins and uses of the word "serendipity" since it was coined. The book is "a study in sociological semantics and the sociology of science", as the subtitle of the book declares. It further develops the idea of serendipity as scientific "method" (as juxtaposed with purposeful discovery by experiment or retrospective prophecy).
In the next step memos are sorted, which is the key to formulate the theory for presentation to others. Sorting puts fractured data back together. During sorting lots of new ideas emerge, which in turn are recorded in new memos giving the memo-on-memos phenomenon. Sorting memos generates theory that explains the main action in the studied area. A theory written from unsorted memos may be rich in ideas but the connection between concepts is weak.
Writing up the sorted memo piles follows after sorting, and at this stage the theory is close to the written GT product. The different categories are now related to each other and the core variable. The theoretical density should be stratified so that concepts are mixed with description in words, tables, or figures to optimize readability.
In the later rewriting the relevant literature is woven in to put the theory in a scholarly context. Finally, the GT is edited for style and language and eventually submitted for publication. Most books on grounded theory do not explain what methodology details to include in a scholarly article; however, some guidelines have been suggested.
No pre-research literature review, no taping and no talk
GT according to Glaser gives the researcher freedom to generate new concepts explaining human behavior. This freedom is optimal when the researcher refrains from taping interviews, doing a pre-research literature review, and talking about the research before it is written up. These rules makes GT different from most other methods using qualitative data.
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, the GT method increases 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 counter-productive 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. However, Kathy Charmaz counters this point, insisting that transcribing, coding, and re-coding are integral to the development of the theory.
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 researchers content with what they have and negative feedback hampers their self-confidence. Talking about the GT should be restricted to persons capable of helping the researcher without influencing her final judgments.
Split in methodology and methods
Ralph, Birks & Chapman (2015) explain the split in divergence grounded theory methodology in the article "The Methodological Dynamism of Grounded Theory" and how grounded theory has been influenced by varying schools of thought over the years.
Since their original publication in 1967, Glaser and Strauss have disagreed on how to apply the grounded theory method, resulting in a split between Straussian and Glaserian paradigms. This split occurred most obviously after Strauss published Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists (1987). Thereafter Strauss, together with Juliet Corbin, published Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques in 1990. This was followed by a rebuke by Glaser (1992) who set out, chapter by chapter, to highlight the differences in what he argued was original grounded theory and why, according to Glaser, what Strauss and Corbin had written was not grounded theory in its "intended form" but was rather a form of qualitative data analysis. This divergence in methodology is a subject of much academic debate, which Glaser (1998) calls a "rhetorical wrestle". Glaser continues to write about and teach the original grounded theory method.
According to Kelle (2005), "the controversy between Glaser and Strauss boils down to the question of whether the researcher uses a well-defined 'coding paradigm' and always looks systematically for 'causal conditions,' 'phenomena/context, intervening conditions, action strategies' and 'consequences' in the data, or whether theoretical codes are employed as they emerge in the same way as substantive codes emerge, but drawing on a huge fund of 'coding families.' Both strategies have their pros and cons. Novices who wish to get clear advice on how to structure data material may be satisfied with the use of the coding paradigm. Since the paradigm consists of theoretical terms which carry only limited empirical content the risk is not very high that data are forced by its application. However, it must not be forgotten that it is linked to a certain micro-sociological perspective. Many researchers may concur with that approach especially since qualitative research always had a relation to micro-sociological action theory, but others who want to employ a macro-sociological and system theory perspective may feel that the use of the coding paradigm would lead them astray."
Glaser originated the basic process of Grounded theory method described as the constant comparative method where the analyst begins analysis with the first data collected and constantly compares indicators, concepts and categories as the theory emerges.
The first book, The Discovery of Grounded Theory, published in 1967, was "developed in close and equal collaboration" by Glaser and Strauss. Glaser wrote "Theoretical Sensitivity" in 1978 and has since written five more books on the method and edited five readers with a collection of grounded theory articles and dissertations.
The Glaserian method is not a qualitative research method, but claims the dictum "all is data". This means that not only interview or observational data but also surveys or statistical analyses or "whatever comes the researcher's way while studying a substantive area" (Glaser quote) can be used in the comparative process as well as literature data from science or media or even fiction. Thus the method according to Glaser is not limited to the realm of qualitative research, which he calls "QDA" (Qualitative Data Analysis). QDA is devoted to descriptive accuracy while the Glaserian method emphasizes conceptualization abstract of time, place and people. A theory discovered with the grounded theory method should be easy to use outside of the substantive area where it was generated.
Strauss and Corbin's approach
Generally speaking, grounded theory is an approach for looking systematically at (mostly) qualitative data (like transcripts of interviews or protocols of observations) aiming at the generation of theory. Sometimes, grounded theory is seen as a qualitative method, but grounded theory reaches farther: it combines a specific style of research (or a paradigm) with pragmatic theory of action and with some methodological guidelines.
This approach was written down and systematized in the 1960s by Anselm Strauss (himself a student of Herbert Blumer) and Barney Glaser (a student of Paul Lazarsfeld), while working together in studying the sociology of illness at the University of California, San Francisco. For and with their studies, they developed a methodology, which was then made explicit and became the foundation stone for an important branch of qualitative sociology.
Important concepts of grounded theory method are categories, codes and codings. The research principle behind grounded theory method is neither inductive nor deductive, but combines both in a way of abductive reasoning (coming from the works of Charles Sanders Peirce). This leads to a research practice where data sampling, data analysis and theory development are not seen as distinct and disjunct, but as different steps to be repeated until one can describe and explain the phenomenon that is to be researched. This stopping point is reached when new data does not change the emerging theory anymore.
In an interview that was conducted shortly before Strauss' death (1994), he named three basic elements every grounded theory approach should include (Legewie/Schervier-Legewie (2004)). These three elements are:
- Theoretical sensitive coding, that is, generating theoretical strong concepts from the data to explain the phenomenon researched;
- theoretical sampling, that is, deciding whom to interview or what to observe next according to the state of theory generation, and that implies starting data analysis with the first interview, and writing down memos and hypotheses early;
- the need to compare between phenomena and contexts to make the theory strong.
Grounded theory method according to Glaser emphasizes induction or emergence, and the individual researcher's creativity within a clear frame of stages, while Strauss is more interested in validation criteria and a systematic approach.
A later version of GT called constructivist GT, which was rooted in pragmatism and relativist epistemology, assumes that neither data nor theories are discovered, but are constructed by the researcher as a result of his or her interactions with the field and its participants. Data are co-constructed by researcher and participants, and colored by the researcher's perspectives, values, privileges, positions, interactions, and geographical locations. This position takes a middle ground between the realist and postmodernist positions by assuming an "obdurate reality" at the same time as it assumes multiple perspectives on these realities. Within this approach, a literature review is used in a constructive and data-sensitive way without forcing it on data.
More recently, a critical realist version of GT has been developed and applied for generating mechanism-based explanations for social phenomena (Kempster and Parry 2011, Oliver 2012, Bunt 2016, Hoddy 2018). Critical realism (CR) is the philosophical approach associated with Roy Bhaskar which argues for a structured and differentiated account of reality in which difference, stratification and change is central. In contrast to positivism and idealism, CR combines a realist ontology with an interpretivist epistemology. A CR approach to GT shares with Strauss and Corbin's approach a commitment to abduction but it includes a retroductive step for identifying causes and conditions. A critical realist grounded theory produces an explanation through an examination of the three domains of social reality: the 'real', as the domain of structures and mechanisms; the 'actual', as the domain of events; and the 'empirical', as the domain of experiences and perceptions.
Use in other research methods
Grounded theory has provided part of the basis for the research methodology known as the data percolation methodology. While the latter accepts the formulation of hypotheses, it first recommends that the researcher immerses him/herself in ground research free of preconceived ideas or biases. A series of steps are proposed to ensure the research leads to results that are as meaningful as possible after having percolated the mass of data. Notably, the data percolation methodology, unlike grounded theory, accepts the formulation of a so-called emerging model, which, as the name suggests, evolves as the researcher moves from a grounded approach to a hypothetico-deductive method back to testing the emerging model in the research field again. Like the grounded theory, data percolation has also been found effective in social sciences, including in analyzing functional psychopathy.
Use in various disciplines
Grounded theory is "shaped by the desire to discover social and psychological processes" However grounded theory is not restricted to these two disciplines of study. As Gibbs points out, the process of grounded theory can be and has been applied to a number of different disciplines such as medicine, law, and economics to name a few. Grounded theory has gone global among the disciplines of nursing, business, and education and less so among other social-psychological-oriented disciplines such as social welfare, psychology, sociology, and art.
Grounded theory focuses more on the procedure and not on the discipline. Rather than being limited to a particular discipline or form of data collection, grounded theory has been found useful across multiple research areas (Wells 1995). Here are some examples:
- In psychology, grounded theory is used to understand the role of therapeutic distance for adult clients with attachment anxiety.
- In sociology, grounded theory is used to discover the meaning of spirituality in cancer patients, and how their beliefs influence their attitude towards cancer treatments.
- Public health researchers have used grounded theory to examine nursing home preparedness needs through the experiences of Hurricane Katrina refugees sheltered in nursing homes.
- In business, grounded theory is used by managers to explain the ways in which organizational characteristics explain co-worker support.
- In software engineering, grounded theory has been used to study daily stand-up meetings.
- Grounded theory has also helped research in the field of information technology to study the use of computer technology in older adults.
- In nursing, grounded theory has been used to examine how bedside shift report can be used to keep patients safe.
The benefits of using grounded theory include:
Ecological validity: Ecological validity is the extent to which research findings accurately represent real-world settings. Grounded theories are usually ecologically valid because they are similar to the data from which they were established. Although the constructs in a grounded theory are appropriately abstract (since their goal is to explain other similar phenomenon), they are context-specific, detailed, and tightly connected to the data.
Novelty: Because grounded theories are not tied to any preexisting theory, grounded theories are often fresh and new and have the potential for innovative discoveries in science and other areas.
Parsimony: Parsimony involves using the simplest possible definition to explain complex phenomenon. Grounded theories aim to provide practical and simple explanations about complex phenomena by converting them into abstract constructs and hypothesizing their relationships. They offer helpful and relatively easy-to-remember layouts for us to understand our world a little bit better.
Grounded theory has further significance because:
- It provides explicit, sequential guidelines for conducting qualitative research.
- It offers specific strategies for handling the analytic phases of inquiry.
- It streamlines and integrates data collection and analysis and
- It legitimizes qualitative research as scientific inquiry.
Grounded theory methods have earned their place as a standard social research method and have influenced researchers from varied disciplines and professions.
Critiques of grounded theory have focused on:
- Its misunderstood status as theory (is what is produced really 'theory'?),
- The notion of 'ground' (why is an idea of 'grounding' one's findings important in qualitative inquiry—what are they 'grounded' in?)
- The claim to use and develop inductive knowledge.
These criticisms are summed up by Thomas and James. These authors also suggest that it is impossible to free oneself of preconceptions in the collection and analysis of data in the way that Glaser and Strauss say is necessary. They also point to the formulaic nature of grounded theory method and the lack of congruence of this with open and creative interpretation – which ought to be the hallmark of qualitative inquiry. They suggest that the one element of grounded theory worth keeping is constant comparative method.
Goldthorpe has put forth some criticisms of grounded theory as an effort to synthesize variables oriented as empirical studies and radical choice theory. Grounded theory allows for modifications in the formulated hypotheses at the start of the empirical research process. In grounded theory, researchers engage in excessive conceptualization and defend this as "sensitivity to context." Because of this, convergent conceptualization becomes impossible.[?] As a result of these two arguments, grounded theory escapes the testing of theory. There is a very thin line between context and regularities. Goldthorpe supports this criticism in a review of three overlapping literatures: historical sociology, comparative macrosociology, and ethnography. On the one hand, historical sociology is good at analyzing long term processes of structural change, but on the other hand, its reliance on secondary sources opens several possibilities of bias. Comparative macro-sociology may be able to contextualize with reference to institutions and historical path-dependencies, but its focus on constellations of singular causal forces makes it difficult to break with long outdated mechanical models of reasoning. Ethnography may closely analyse actual mechanisms of interaction, but it doesn't provide acceptable knowledge about underlying generative processes, since it is unable to deal with variation within and across locales. Goldthorpe's core arguments are in terms of rational action theory and probabilistic statistical models. Grounded Theory can be reductive in the search for general patterns across a population, and even the selective coding process does not fully cover the contextual issues.
The grounded theory approach can be criticized as being empiricist; that it relies too heavily on the empirical data. Considers the fieldwork data as the source of its theories and sets itself against the use of the preceding theories Strauss's version of grounded theory has been criticized in several ways-
- Grounded theory focuses on a quasi-objective centered researcher with an emphasis on hypotheses, variables, reliability and replicability. This is contradictory with the more away from this more quantitative form of terminology in recent qualitative research approaches.
- It will not be appropriate to ignore the existing theories by paying less attention to the review of literature. The researcher invariably comes to the research topic by finding more about his or her own discipline.
- Grounded theory offers a complex methodology and confusing terminology to navigate, rather than a practical orientation to research and data analysis. Some processes, such as the 3 stage process with associated data fragmentation, may lead the researcher to lose the track of the overall picture which is emerging.
- Poorly put forth theoretical explanations tends to be the outcome where data are linked conceptually and early to existing frameworks. Concept generation rather than the formal theory may be the best outcome. (Grbich, 2007)
Grounded theory method was developed in a period when other qualitative methods were often considered unscientific. It achieved wide acceptance of its academic rigor. Thus, especially in American academia, qualitative research is often equated to grounded theory method. This equation is sometimes criticized by qualitative researchers[who?] using other methodologies (for example, traditional ethnography, narratology, and storytelling).
One alternative to grounded theory is engaged theory. It puts an equal emphasis on doing on-the-ground work linked to analytical processes of empirical generalization. However, unlike grounded theory, engaged theory is in the critical theory tradition, locating those processes within a larger theoretical framework that specifies different levels of abstraction at which one can make claims about the world.
- Data mining
- Engaged theory
- Explorative data analysis (EDA)
- Formal concept analysis
- Grounded practical theory
- Science 2.0
- Social research
- Patricia Yancey Martin & Barry A. Turner, "Grounded Theory and Organizational Research," The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, vol. 22, no. 2 (1986), 141.
- Faggiolani, C. (2011). "Perceived Identity: applying Grounded Theory in Libraries". JLIS.it. University of Florence. 2 (1). doi:10.4403/jlis.it-4592. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
- Strauss, A., & Juliet, C. (1994). Grounded Theory Methodology: An Overview. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln Handbook of Qualitative Research. 1st ed. (pp. 273–284).
- G. Allan, "A critique of using grounded theory as a research method," Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods, vol. 2, no. 1 (2003) pp. 1-10.
- See Glaser & Strauss, The Discovery of Grounded Theory, 1967.
- Fletcher-Watson, B (2013). "Toward a Grounded Dramaturgy: Using Grounded Theory to Interrogate Performance Practices in Theatre for Early Years". Youth Theatre Journal. 27 (2): 134. doi:10.1080/08929092.2013.837706.
- Ralph, N.; Birks, M.; Chapman, Y. (2015). "The methodological dynamism of grounded theory". International Journal of Qualitative Methods. 14 (4). doi:10.1177/1609406915611576.
- Aldiabat, Khaldoun; Navenec, Carole-Lynne (4 July 2011). "Philosophical Roots of Classical Grounded Theory: Its Foundations in Symbolic Interactionism" (PDF). The Qualitative Report. 16: 1063–80. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- "Clarification of the Blurred Boundaries between Grounded Theory and Ethnography: Differences and Similarities" (PDF). Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative Inquiry. 2. July 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- Bernard, H. R., & Ryan, G. W. (2010). Analyzing Qualitative Data: Systematic Approaches. California, CA: Sage Publication.
- Glaser & Strauss 1967
- Ralph, N.; Birks, M.; Chapman, Y. (29 September 2014). "Contextual Positioning: Using Documents as Extant Data in Grounded Theory Research". SAGE Open. 4 (3). doi:10.1177/2158244014552425.
- Savin-Baden, M.; Major, C. (2013). Qualitative Research: The Essential Guide to Theory and Practice. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-67478-2.
- Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003
- 1. Stol, K., Ralph, P. & Fitzgerald, B. (2016) Grounded Theory Research in Software Engineering: A Critical Review and Guidelines? Proceedings of the International Conference on Software Engineering. Austin, Texas: ACM, May.
- Kathy Charmaz, Constructing Grounded Theory, 2nd ed (London: Sage 2014 (2006)), pp1-7.
- Kelle, U. (2005). "Emergence" vs. "Forcing" of Empirical Data? A Crucial Problem of "Grounded Theory" Reconsidered. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research [On-line Journal], 6(2), Art. 27, paragraphs 49 & 50. 
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