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Introduction to Grounded Theory

By Steve Borgatti
En: http://www.analytictech.com/mb87/introtoGT.htm
!i"cu""ion drawn #rom:
Glaser and Strauss. 1967. The Discovery of Grounded Theory.
Strauss and Corbin. 1990. Basics of Qualitative Research.
Goal" and $er"pective
The phrase "grounded theory" refers to theory that is developed inductively fro a
corpus of data. !f done "ell# this eans that the resulting theory at least fits one dataset
perfectly. This contrasts "ith theory derived deductively fro grand theory# "ithout the
help of data# and "hich could therefore turn out to fit no data at all.
Grounded theory ta$es a case rather than variable perspective# although the distinction
is nearly ipossible to dra". This eans in part that the researcher ta$es different cases
to be "holes# in "hich the variables interact as a unit to produce certain outcoes. %
case&oriented perspective tends to assue that variables interact in cople' "ays# and
is suspicious of siple additive odels# such as %()*%
"ith ain effects only.
+art and parcel of the case&orientation is a coparative orientation. Cases siilar on
any variables but "ith different outcoes are copared to see "here the $ey causal
differences ay lie. This is based on ,ohn Stuart -ills. /1012# A system of logic:
Ratiocinative and Inductive) ethod of differences && essentially the use of /natural3
e'periental design. Siilarly# cases that have the sae outcoe are e'ained to see
"hich conditions they all have in coon# thereby revealing necessary causes.
The grounded theory approach# particularly the "ay Strauss develops it# consists of a set
of steps "hose careful e'ecution is thought to "guarantee" a good theory as the
outcoe. Strauss "ould say that the 4uality of a theory can be evaluated by the process
by "hich a theory is constructed. /This contrasts "ith the scientific perspective that ho"
you generate a theory# "hether through dreas# analogies or dub luc$# is irrelevant5
the 4uality of a theory is deterined by its ability to e'plain ne" data.3
%lthough not part of the grounded theory rhetoric# it is apparent that grounded theorists
are concerned "ith or largely influenced by eic understandings of the "orld5 they use
categories dra"n fro respondents theselves and tend to focus on a$ing iplicit
belief systes e'plicit.
The basic idea of the grounded theory approach is to read /and re&read3 a te'tual
database /such as a corpus of field notes3 and "discover" or label variables /called
categories# concepts and properties3 and their interrelationships. The ability to perceive
variables and relationships is tered "theoretical sensitivity" and is affected by a
nuber of things including one.s reading of the literature and one.s use of techni4ues
designed to enhance sensitivity.
%()*% t6rino ingl6s para %n7lisis de *arian8a
)f course# the data do not have to be literally te'tual && they could be observations of
behavior# such as interactions and events in a restaurant. )ften they are in the for of
field notes# "hich are li$e diary entries. %n e'aple is here.
&pen 'oding
)pen coding is the part of the analysis concerned "ith identifying# naing# categori8ing
and describing phenoena found in the te't. 9ssentially# each line# sentence# paragraph
etc. is read in search of the ans"er to the repeated 4uestion ""hat is this about: ;hat is
being referenced here:"
These labels refer to things li$e hospitals# inforation gathering# friendship# social loss#
etc. They are the noun" and verb" of a conceptual "orld. +art of the analytic process is
to identify the more general categorie" that these things are instances of# such as
institutions# "or$ activities# social relations# social outcoes# etc.
;e also see$ out the ad<ectives and adverbs &&& the properties of these categories. =or
e'aple# about a friendship "e ight as$ about its duration# and its closeness# and its
iportance to each party. ;hether these properties or diensions coe fro the data
itself# fro respondents# or fro the ind of the researcher depends on the goals of the
!t is iportant to have fairly abstract categories in addition to very concrete ones# as the
abstract ones help to generate general theory.
Consider "hat is iplied in the follo"ing passage of te't /Strauss and Corbin pg. 7035
Te(t )ragment *
)ne thing that is being discussed here is +%!(. !plied in the te't is that the spea$er
vie"s pain as having certain properties# one of "hich is !(T9(S!T>5 it varies fro a
little to a lot. /;hen is it a lot and "hen is it little:3 ;hen it hurts a lot# there are
conse4uences5 don.t "ant to get out of bed# don.t feel li$e doing things /"hat are other
things you don.t do "hen in pain:3. !n order to solve this proble# you need +%!(
?9@!9=. )ne %G9(T )= +%!( ?9@!9= is drugs /"hat are other ebers of this
category:3. +ain relief has a certain AB?%T!)( /could be teporary3# and
9==9CT!*9(9SS /could be partial3.
)ne can see that this sort of analysis has a very eic cast to it# even though ! thin$ that
ost grounded theorists believe they are theori8ing about ho" the "orld CisC rather
than ho" respondents see it.
The process of naing or labeling things# categories# and properties i" +nown a" coding
+ain relief is a a<or proble "hen you have arthritis. Soeties# the pain is
"orse than other ties# but "hen it gets really bad# "he"E !t hurts so bad# you
don.t "ant to get out of bed. >ou don.t feel li$e doing anything. %ny relief you
get fro drugs that you ta$e is only teporary or partial.
. Coding can be done very forally and systeatically or 4uite inforally. !n grounded
theory# it is norally done 4uite inforally. =or e'aple# if after coding uch te't#
soe ne" categories are invented# grounded theorists do not norally go bac$ to the
earlier te't to code for that category. Fo"ever# aintaining an inventory of codes "ith
their descriptions /i.e.# creating a codeboo$3 is useful# along "ith pointers to te't that
contain the. !n addition# as codes are developed# it is useful to "rite eos $no"n as
code notes that discuss the codes. These eos becoe fodder for later developent
into reports.
%n e'aple of a code note is found here.
,(ial 'oding
%'ial coding is the process of relating codes /categories and properties3 to each other#
via a cobination of inductive and deductive thin$ing. To siplify this process# rather
than loo$ for any and all $ind of relations# grounded theorists ephasi8e causal
relationships# and fit things into a basic frae of generic relationships. The frae
consists of the follo"ing eleents5
Element !e"cription
This is "hat in schea theory ight be called the nae of the
schea or frae. !t is the concept that holds the bits together.
!n grounded theory it is soeties the outcoe of interest# or it
can be the sub<ect.
Causal conditions
These are the events or variables that lead to the occurrence or
developent of the phenoenon. !t is a set of causes and their
Fard to distinguish fro the causal conditions. !t is the specific
locations /values3 of bac$ground variables. % set of conditions
influencing the actionGstrategy. ?esearchers often a$e a 4uaint
distinction bet"een active variables /causes3 and bac$ground
variables /conte't3. !t has ore to do "ith "hat the researcher
finds interesting /causes3 and less interesting /conte't3 than
"ith distinctions out in nature.
Siilar to conte't. !f "e li$e# "e can identify conte't "ith
moderating variables and intervening conditions "ith
mediating variables. Hut it is not clear that grounded theorists
cleanly distinguish bet"een these t"o.
%ction strategies
The purposeful# goal&oriented activities that agents perfor in
response to the phenoenon and intervening conditions.
These are the conse4uences of the action strategies# intended
and unintended.
!n the te't segent above# it sees obvious that the phenoenon of interest is pain# the
causal conditions are arthritis# the action strategy is ta$ing drugs# and the conse4uence is
pain relief. (ote that grounded theorists don.t sho" uch interest in the conse4uences
of the phenoenon itself.
!t should be noted again that a fallacy of soe grounded theory "or$ is that they ta$e
the respondent.s understanding of "hat causes "hat as truth. That is# they see the
inforant as an insider e'pert# and the odel they create is really the inforant.s fol$
Selective 'oding
Selective coding is the process of choosing one category to be the core category# and
relating all other categories to that category. The essential idea is to develop a single
storyline around "hich all everything else is draped. There is a belief that such a core
concept al"ays e'ists.
! believe grounded theory dra"s fro literary analysis# and one can see it here. The
advice for building theory parallels advice for "riting a story. Selective coding is about
finding the driver that ipels the story for"ard.
-eos are short docuents that one "rites to oneself as one proceeds through the
analysis of a corpus of data. ;e have already been introduced to t"o $inds of eos#
the field note and the code note /see above3. 94ually iportant is the theoretical note.
% theoretical note is anything fro a post&it that notes ho" soething in the te't or
codes relates to the literature# to a I&page paper developing the theoretical iplications
of soething. The final theory and report is typically the integration of several
theoretical eos. ;riting theoretical eos allo"s you to thin$ theoretically "ithout
the pressure of "or$ing on "the" paper.
%n e'aple of a theoretical eo is here.
Strauss and Corbin consider that paying attention to processes is vital. !t is iportant to
note that their usage of "process" is not 4uite the sae as @ave and -arch# "ho use
process as a synony for "e'planatory echanis". Strauss and Corbin are really <ust
concerned "ith describing and coding everything that is dynaic && changing# oving#
or occurring over tie && in the research setting.