Is grounded theory for me?

theory word cloudAfter immersing myself with grounded theory for the past 3 weeks, I can say that using grounded theory is no easy task. For one, grounded theory can be used as both methodology and method (aww, welcome to the philosophical world!). Or, it can also be thought of as a meta-theoretical assumption and a methodology. Either way, it stands on two worlds. Cecez-Kecmanovic (2011) did a great job in explicating this issue in greater details. With these two standpoints, grounded theory requires extra consideration for anyone thinking of doing it. This particularly includes how you are going to bring up your research technique to generate theory.

The problem with much research that we have seen so far (in the workshop) is, there are too many studies claim using grounded theory when they only embrace one of those two different layers (i.e., method & technique). This is a phenomenon that has been picked up by Urquhart (2001) and has remained prevalent to date. We cannot simply blame researchers who use grounded theory partially, though. One thing that I learn from research is the justification that the researcher provides in the decision that s/he makes. Thus, if the justification were valid, we may agree on the selection & use of grounded theory in that particular case.

To me, however, you can only use grounded theory in its full respect. There is no point in using grounded theory only for technique’s sake. Data collection & analysis in grounded theory are so peculiar. They go hand in hand in deriving the concepts and categories which form theories. It is almost irrational to use the suggested techniques in grounded theory, but then you don’t want to come up with theory. I think most studies which do not claim to use grounded theory in full respect are trying to be conservative and defensible due to some shortcomings in their data collection or analysis. Because if you have a solid application of grounded theory in your technique, why wouldn’t you want to come up with theory?

On the contrary, there are also a number of studies which claim the use of grounded theory in full respect (and thus resulting in a theory), but they fail to provide enough evidence on the validity of their theory generation. This is mainly due to lack of rigor in the techniques. e.g., unclear grounded theory philosophy (Glaser, Strauss, Charmaz), non-solid coding strategy. In order to be successful in using grounded theory, one must master both the philosophy and practical guidelines of grounded theory.

In terms of my own research – which unfortunately is still in early phase – I will probably not be using it. First, because this is largely an unknown territory for me (despite the activities we did in the workshop). I am still unconvinced by the promise of grounded theory that is able to generate theory from qualitative data without any preconceived ideas. There are a lot of issues concerning validity here, and they require a lot of justifications. For one, qualitative research is messy because of the interpretation that comes along with it. How grounded theory can generate a formal theory simply from qualitative data is unthinkable for me at the moment (especially in Glaserian or Straussian approach because they are more positivistic). When Glaser & Strauss (1967) argue that theory should ’emerge’ from data, I immediately think (until now) that it is MAGIC. How else would you describe such process? Of course as a researcher you will have biases and predisposition. Charmaz’s constructivist grounded theory seems to fare better as far as justification is concerned because it assumes interpretivist paradigm. Secondly, on being pragmatic, my current supervisors are not the best resource available for this particular method. And, I do not see the need to use grounded theory in order to achieve my research objectives. I will definitely use qualitative research techniques, but not necessarily the ones suggested in grounded theory.

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