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1 Grounded Theory Contents 1 Introduction Applications of grounded theory Outline of the design Strengths and weaknesses of grounded theory References Introduction This supplement expands the introduction to grounded theory in Chapter 6. Along with additional details of how to carry out a grounded theory study it offers an overview of the design s strengths and weaknesses, along with additional references for further study. Grounded theory was originally expounded by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss in their 1967 book The Discovery of Grounded Theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Reacting against what they saw as the dominance of hypothetico-deductive, theory-testing approaches, Glaser and Strauss proposed grounded theory as a way of building theory systematically using data obtained from social research. Since its first appearance, grounded theory has gone on to become currently the most widely used and popular qualitative research method across a wide range of disciplines and subject areas (Bryant and Charmaz 2007: 1). A key feature of grounded theory is that data collection and analysis are interrelated and iterative, with the analysis beginning as soon as the first data are collected and shaping further data collection. Usually the overall approach is described as inductive but some writers (e.g. Reichertz 2007) argue that grounded theory also employs abductive logic in its iteration between data and emerging theory. 2 Applications of grounded theory Grounded theory is widely encountered in organisation and management research, including information systems, organisational change and leadership where the aim is theory building. Management Research: Applying the Principles 2015 Susan Rose, Nigel Spinks & Ana Isabel Canhoto 1

2 In terms of our categorisation of research questions, grounded theory is particularly suited to investigating how questions. This can include a focus on micro-level actions and interactions in response to a situation or problem as well as stage models of change and development. Why research questions can also be addressed using grounded theory. Dey, for example, (2007: 178) argues that causal explanation is central to the method. Grounded theory may be particularly helpful when looking at causality through the lens of human agency, for example managers decision-making (Partington 2000). 3 Outline of the design Presenting a unified picture of grounded theory is not easy because the approach has developed in different directions since Glaser and Strauss book was first published (Locke 2001). In this section, therefore, we seek to highlight some of the key features of grounded theory, whilst recognising that considerable variation exists in practice. Figure 1 Key steps in a grounded theory research design The starting point is shown in Figure 1 as the research question, although as with some other qualitative designs this may be subject to further refinement as the research progresses. Note that Figure 1 does not include any explicit reference to prior theory. In keeping with the Management Research: Applying the Principles 2015 Susan Rose, Nigel Spinks & Ana Isabel Canhoto 2

3 inductive theory-building orientation, researchers doing grounded theory are encouraged to begin the research not weighed down by lots of prior theory. This does not mean entering the field with a blank mind (Suddaby 2006: 634) but instead underlines the primacy of the data in grounded theory development. This raises questions about the role of the traditional literature review in a grounded theory study. One approach is to integrate literature into the findings section of the report, where it can be used to show the area of management knowledge to which the research has contributed through critiques of earlier studies and comparison with the research findings. Another option is for the literature review to retain its more traditional place early in the report to show the study s context whilst incorporating an additional critical review in the findings section. Whatever option is adopted, you should avoid treating grounded theory as an excuse to ignore the literature (Suddaby 2006: 634) The iterative character of grounded theory is captured in Figure 1 by depicting the fieldwork and analysis process as a cycle consisting of four components: Theoretical sampling. A characteristic of grounded theory is its sampling approach, known as theoretical sampling, which is directed at supporting theory development. Rather than being fixed in advance, sampling is adjusted in response to emerging theory; additional data might be collected, for example, to allow a particular concept to be investigated in more detail. Data collection. Grounded theory can involve multiple data collection methods including in-depth interviews and observation, as well as document analysis, offering the possibility of triangulation of sources and aiming to gather rich data [that] get beneath the surface of social and subjective life (Charmaz 2006: 13). Grounded theory is primarily associated with qualitative data, although Glaser and Strauss (1967) also referred to the use of quantitative data in their original text. Data analysis. Grounded theory adopts a coding approach to data analysis. This is a process in which the researcher derives and develops concepts from the data (Corbin and Strauss 2008). Activities, happenings or events in the raw data are treated as indicators of some phenomenon which is then given a conceptual label, called a code. As analysis continues the researcher looks for other instances in the data that seem to be examples of the same phenomenon and codes them accordingly. The coded concepts form the building blocks of the emerging theory and during the analysis process become progressively more numerous and more abstract. Variants of coding Management Research: Applying the Principles 2015 Susan Rose, Nigel Spinks & Ana Isabel Canhoto 3

4 play a central role in much qualitative analysis and we review them in more detail in Chapter 14. Theoretical saturation. The cycles of data collection and analysis continue until no new insights or new dimensions to categories are being identified. This is the point of theoretical saturation. Throughout the coding process, the researcher iterates between data and emerging theory. This is known as constant comparison and involves constantly comparing coded data with other pieces of similarly coded data. Constant comparison can aid precision in the development of concepts and also guard against researcher bias by continually challenging concepts with fresh data (Charmaz 2006: 9). As you work you should capture your thoughts about the data, emerging concepts and ideas for future directions in the form of memos. Memos are more than just a research diary or log; they can help the creative process of theorising. Locke (2001: 51) argues that memoing helps us to literally write our way to naming what we perceive in the data. You should keep your memos so that they can be revisited later. Used in this way they can form a bridge between fieldwork, theory development and writing the final report. The final stage of the process in Figure 1 is the grounded theory itself. The precise form that it takes will, of course, depend upon the findings of the research but Strauss and Corbin (1998) have proposed a coding paradigm intended to help with data analysis by suggesting what to look for when coding. A version of this is shown in Figure 2 consisting of five elements: 1. The central phenomenon that is the focus of the study. 2. The causal conditions that contribute to the phenomenon. 3. The context in which the phenomenon is embedded. 4. The actions and interactions taken by people in response to the phenomenon. 5. The consequences of those actions and interactions. Figure 2 Coding paradigm (adapted from Corbin and Strauss 1990, Strauss and Corbin 1998, Corbin and Strauss 2008) Management Research: Applying the Principles 2015 Susan Rose, Nigel Spinks & Ana Isabel Canhoto 4

5 The layout of the coding paradigm in Figure 2 shows the close relationship between why and how forms of explanation in grounded theory. Note that the paradigm as presented here is not a finished theory but, as Strauss and Corbin (1998: 128) put it, a perspective or analytic stance that can help you organise and make sense of your data. Your final theory should be grounded in the data, not in an a priori conceptual framework. Research in practice 1 gives an example of a grounded theory study Research in practice 1 Example grounded theory The influences of information about labour abuses and consumer choice Valor s (2007) grounded theory study investigates how information about labour abuses in the clothing industry influences consumer choice. Concerned that previous studies had tended to oversimplify the purchasing process, the author chose grounded theory because it could explain a complex, multi-faceted problem, without reducing a priori the number and type of variables involved (Valor 2007: 677). The chosen data collection method was in-depth interviews with participants being selected on the basis of their lifestyles. Interview questions focused on past buying decisions and not asking directly about labour abuses to avoid introducing social desirability bias. Each interview was transcribed and analysed prior to conducting the next interview; sampling was continued until theoretical saturation was reached which was after a total of 11 interviews. Data analysis was carried out using a coding approach and emerging analytic categories were recorded in memos. The findings are presented in the form of a graphical model supported by quotations from the interviews and discussion of the findings in relation to existing literature. The model identifies ambivalence as a central category that arises as a result of the interdependent relationship between three factors labelled: perceptions of ethical obligation, conflicting self-identities and perceptions of the possibility of changing the system. The author discusses the implications for practice from the perspective of both (commercial) companies and non-governmental organisations campaigning for change in the industry. Management Research: Applying the Principles 2015 Susan Rose, Nigel Spinks & Ana Isabel Canhoto 5

6 4 Strengths and weaknesses of grounded theory It is important to acknowledge the contribution made by grounded theory. Firstly, Glaser and Strauss helped to create a climate in which the idea of data-driven theory building could be taken more seriously. Secondly, they bequeathed terminology and techniques, particularly in the area of data analysis, that have been extremely influential in qualitative research. More specific strengths of grounded theory include its potential to capture context and complexity in social action, to investigate emerging topic areas or to shed new light on existing topics. Glaser and Strauss (1967) also argue that the sort of theory produced by grounded theory methods makes sense to people involved in the situation being researched, increasing the potential for grounded theory to be used in applied research for a practitioner audience. As with any method, however, grounded theory is open to criticism. One of these is the debate over the role of prior theory and literature that we have already discussed. Divergent accounts of the nature of grounded theory have created difficulties for would-be researchers in wishing to adopt the method (as well as for writers providing a brief pen picture of it). Perhaps as a result of this, some commentators (Suddaby 2006, Bryman and Bell 2007: 585) have suggested that researchers claims to be using grounded theory do not always appear to be borne out by their actual practice. Certainly, the term grounded theory is often invoked in connection with theory building that makes little or no explicit reference to or use of core grounded theory concepts such as constant comparison. At the same time, as Suddaby (2006) points out, the apparent simplicity of the method can lead new researchers into thinking that grounded theory is easy whereas, in reality, the seamless craft of a well-executed grounded theory study is the product of considerable experience, hard work, creativity and, occasionally, a healthy dose of good luck (Suddaby 2006: 639). 5 References Bryant, A. and Charmaz, K. (2007). Introduction grounded theory research: Methods and perspectives. In: Bryant, A. and Charmaz, K. (eds.) The Sage handbook of grounded theory. London: Sage. Bryman, A. and Bell, E. (2007). Business research methods. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory. London: Sage. Management Research: Applying the Principles 2015 Susan Rose, Nigel Spinks & Ana Isabel Canhoto 6

7 Corbin, J. and Strauss, A. (1990). Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteria, Qualitative Sociology, 13(1), 3. Corbin, J. and Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Dey, I. (2007). Grounding categories. In: Bryant, A. and Charmaz, K. (eds.) The Sage handbook of grounded theory. London: Sage. Glaser, B. G. and Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine. Locke, K. D. (2001). Grounded theory in management research. London: Sage. Partington, D. (2000). Building grounded theories of management action, British Journal of Management, 11(2), Reichertz, J. (2007). Abduction: The logic of discovery of grounded theory. In: Bryant, A. and Charmaz, K. (eds.) The Sage handbook of grounded theory. London: Sage. Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Suddaby, R. (2006). From the editors: What grounded theory is not. Academy of Management Journal, 49(4), Valor, C. (2007). The influence of information about labour abuses on consumer choice of clothes: A grounded theory approach, Journal of Marketing Management, 23(7/8), Management Research: Applying the Principles 2015 Susan Rose, Nigel Spinks & Ana Isabel Canhoto 7

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