Grounding Grounded Theory: Guidelines for Qualitative Inquiry

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9780122146404: Grounding Grounded Theory: Guidelines for Qualitative Inquiry

Professor Dey's persuasive, instructive, critical, engaging, and often humorous investigation places many elements of grounded theory under close scrutiny. In searching out the methodological principles on which grounded theory is built, he reveals its main features as a qualitative research methodology for social research and the issues fundamental to understanding it. He also highlights the disagreements between the originators of grounded theory, their reasons, and their effects. His enlightened perspective thereby makes sense of the ways in which grounded theory approaches some of the key issues in qualitative analysis, such as coding and categorization, analysis of process, and generation of theory. It critically considers what grounded theory has to offer qualitative inquiry; and explores the principles and methodologies raised during the course of grounded theory's evolution.

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About the Author:

Ian Dey is Head of the Department of Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh. His interests include policy and prejudice, with particular reference to reproduction; health and employment; family studies; issues in work and welfare; development policies; and qualitative methods.

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From the Introduction Let us begin this inquiry with the obvious question: what is grounded theory? We can start with a summary of some of the main tenets of grounded theory identified in a recent text (Creswell, 1998) on five traditions in qualitative inquiry. Among other points, Creswell suggests that

The aim of grounded theory is to generate or discover a theory
The researcher has to set aside theoretical ides to allow a "substantive" theory to emerge
Theory focuses on how individuals interact in relation to the phenomenon under study
Theory asserts a plausible relation between concepts and sets of concepts
Theory is derived from data acquired through fieldwork interviews, observations, and documents
Data analysis is systematic and begins as soon as data becomes available
Data analysis proceeds through identifying categories and connecting them
Further data collection (or sampling) is based on emerging concepts
These concepts are developed through constant comparison with additional data
Data collection can stop when new conceptualizations emerge
Data analysis proceeds from "open" coding (identifying categories, properties, and dimensions) through axiel coding (examining conditions, strategies, and consequences) to selective coding around an emerging story line
The resulting theory can be reported in a narrative framework or as a set of propositions

While we can amend or extend this list, it does convey some of the main tenets usually identified with grounded theory. As grounded theory becomes more popular and influential, we can expect summaries of this sort to become commonplace. Given the uncertainties that afflict social research and the knowledge it produces, there is something undeniably reassuring in the identification and repetition of key points setting out a methodological perspective. However, in this chapter, I suggest that a conventional summary of this kind provides only a very partial answer to the question: what is grounded theory? In fact, there are different and inconsistent answers, depending on where we look for one.

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