Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grounded Theory: Staying Conceptual & Entering An Area of Interest

I presented my emerging theory today and received a lot of helpful feedback. I want to blog about two key ideas: Staying Conceptual, and Entering An Area of Interest.

1. Staying Conceptual

Staying conceptual is something that I had understood was important, but until now, hadn't quite got the bearings of how to do it. Doing grounded theory requires going back and forth between conceptualizing and theoretically sampling data that is often descriptive in nature. I have a tendency to get caught up in the description such that I lose sight of the concepts. The notion of "conceptual description" is very helpful. Many so-called grounded theory studies describe concepts rather than tie them together through Theoretical Codes.

Today's wikipedia entry on Grounded Theory explains theoretical codes in this way:

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.

Two of my friends had defended their dissertations using grounded theory. One used Charmaz and the other used Strauss & Corbin. In both cases, what they had presented were really "conceptual descriptions." The first one using Charmaz just had a list of themes -- I am not even sure if s'he even had concepts come to think of it. The second one using Strauss & Corbin had concepts but s'he did not have a Core Category nor did s'he tie the concepts together through theoretical codes. Classic grounded theory emphasizes the importance of a core category as well as theoretical codes to bring the fractured concepts together.

This is theorizing!

And the theoretical codes, like the concepts (also known as substantive codes), need to emerge from the data, and not be forced onto the data.

The good news is, even with just a core category and a list of conceptual descriptions that have emerged from data (without tying them together with theoretical codes), one can have a brilliant, respectable piece of work. Such is the power of classic grounded theory.

2. Entering An Area of Interest

Many grounded theories that I have read have pertained to a specified population or a group of people. That was how I understood the word "substantive theory": that is applies to a particular group of people, e.g. the homeless, cancer patients, etc. I was not sure how one could enter into an area of interest where it applies to an action, say, "nagging."

However, in talking with Barney Glaser today, he clarified that what is more important is to have an area of interest, and just jump into the area and begin to collect data. You never know where it is going to lead you. He gave the example of one study which looked at Greek Dancing. This study came up with the a main concern or core category that pertained to something having to do with the rigorous exchange of partners, and having to manage that. Barney also cited his grounded theory of inheritance as another example.

So one could study nagging by simply jumping into data collection and follow the analysis where it leads, using the classic GT questions.

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That's it. No clever post today. Just a little movement towards better understanding of classic grounded theory at Oldest Varsity.

1 comment:

Lonely Dissertator said...

I am recopying a comment from Pak Ngah here, edited for anonymity! :-)

Hi [...],

I just recovered from a self-inflicted ailment. Hehehe. Very long story to tell. You see, I have hyperthyroidism and conducted an experiment on myself by not taking the medicine (carbimazole and propanolol) and the outcome was just indescribably painful. I won't ever do the same experiment again on myself.

I wished I have done some research using CGT 10 years ago so that I understand what theoretical sensitivity really means.

Experience in doing CGT research is crucial in theory development. Unfortunately I don't have enough experience. But the good news is the older the CGT researcher is the better. Old mind (like Glaser's) for instance is quick to sniff the latent theory embedded in the data.

[...] I really want to discuss my thesis with you. I will be seeing [...] to determine which topic is suitable for my research.

Safe journey home.