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An Overview of
Grounded Theory
Dr. Simon Hayhoe, London
Paper Delivered to Vrije Universiteit, Brussel (Free
University, Brussels), Department of Psychology, 1st October
The principles of this lecture
To give you an informed overview of
Grounded Theory.
To introduce you to the context of
Grounded Theory.
To show you the relevance of
Grounded Theory.
To show an example of a Grounded
To show references, from which
more can be read.
How did Grounded Theory
Sociologists Glaser and Strauss’
study of dying in a California
Found no real theory to test against
this subject.
Developed the methodology of
Grounded Theory to give them a
method of developing a social theory
of dying in hospital using only
existing data gathering methods.
What Grounded Theory
A “loose”, less structured method of
developing and testing theory
simultaneously than traditional, empirical
However, had more structure that Clifford
Geetz’s thick description
A system of testing and retesting theories
over a period of years.
A system of describing society through
abstract notions, rather like a play
describes a fictional/documentary
A creative method of breaking away from
highly structured analyses.
Core philosophical principles
of Grounded Theory
Data is data. You can use both qualitative
or quantitative! Although this form of
analysis is usually associated with
qualitative studies.
Anti-positivist. Grounded Theory is a strong
ally of Popper and Kuhn. It believes that
theories are man-made and evolve.
A belief that all data and existing theories
are equal. Even supporting studies in
existing refereed journals have equality
with data freshly collected in the field.
It argues that researchers are not
hierarchical, and all researchers’
experiences are valuable.
Why use Grounded Theory?
You may be in an area where there is little
or no theory in existence.
You may not agree with existing theories.
You may want to evolve and take
ownership of a theory over your lifetime.
You may not want to test existing
You may want to mix qualitative and
quantitative data.
You may want to collect a broad range of
data beyond more structured methods.
Disadvantages of Grounded
Felt by some to be wishy-washy.
Difficult to gain funding, as each project
has no specific beginning or end.
A relatively young and developing
It is not developed to test hypotheses.
Inadequate for comparing two theses.
Can be inadequate for projects with
specific aims, such as evaluations.
Forms of data collection
Just about anything really!
Usually involves qualitative data
collection, particularly interviewing.
Grounded Theory studies also tend
to feature observations.
Statistical information is usually
regarded as secondary source data.
Self reviews and field diaries are
also – sometime contentiously –
used as data.
Forms of coding
Open coding. If there is a form of
pilot study in the Grounded Theory,
this is it. This form identifies
concepts and actors.
Axial coding. Connecting the
concepts and actors.
Selective coding. This is re-entry into
the field in order to find the stories
behind the connections between
actors and their concepts.
The cycle of analysis
Open Coding
Axial Coding
Selective Coding
Treating data like writing an
everlasting play
Open coding is like choosing the
characters and main events in
your play.
Axial coding is like choosing
your plot.
Selective coding is like choosing
the story lines that put the plots
and sub-plots together.
Sampling people and phenomena
as casting and writing a play
Initial data gathering for Open coding
involves trying to select a
representative sample of subjects
and their situations.
Axial coding is finding representative
subjects and researching their plots
in detail.
Selective coding involves
researching a select sample
according to their interactions with
other actors and plots to analyse the
stories that are being told in the play.
Example of a Grounded
A study of a Bruxelles research
Open coding of subjects in the
group and their roles.
Axial coding of their roles and
Selective coding of certain
individuals according to their
interactions with other subjects
and plots.
Computer programs designed for
the analyses of Grounded Theory
Useful references
Barney Glaser: Doing Grounded
Theory Research, The Grounded
Theory Perspective, Theoretical
Strauss & Corbin: Strategies of
Qualitative Research.
Chapters in Lincoln & Denzin’s
Qualitative Research and
Robson’s Real World Research.
Thankyou so much for your time.
Et bon chance avec vous recherche!