Grounded Theory Methodology: Positivism, Hermeneutics, and Pragmatism

By Age, Lars-Johan | The Qualitative Report, November 2011 | Go to article overview
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Grounded Theory Methodology: Positivism, Hermeneutics, and Pragmatism


Age, Lars-Johan, The Qualitative Report


Although grounded theory methodology (Glaser, 1978, 1998, 2003; Glaser & Strauss, 1967) has been widely adopted in scientific research in recent decades, this qualitative methodology has been the subject of various interpretations and criticisms from a variety of perspectives. Some authors have classified grounded theory methodology as a positivist methodology (Charmaz, 2006), whereas others have considered it to be an interpretive methodology (Brown, 1995; Goulding, 1998). Barney Glaser is one of the two originators of grounded theory methodology in 1967 and Glaser (1998) himself claimed that the methodology occupied a pragmatic position that went beyond other philosophical schools of thought. Regarding the difficulty to classify this particular methodology, Gustavsson (1998) mentioned that it has been subjected to criticism from both subjectivists and objectivists.

The present study aims at analysing grounded theory in terms of various philosophical schools of thought. It is hoped that such an analysis will provide insights regarding the different philosophical perspectives inherent within this particular methodology. In other words, the purpose of this commentary is to position Glaserian grounded theory methodology in terms of the philosophical paradigms of positivism, philosophical hermeneutics, and pragmatism. Also, practical implications of this analysis are also discussed.

The report of this study begins with a brief description of grounded theory methodology. Secondly, I present researchers perspective in order to describe my own relations to this topic. Thirdly, I use two general question of science in order to position the Glaserian grounded theory methodology in terms of the philosophical paradigms of positivism, hermeneutics, and pragmatism. Based on this analysis, a picture of Glaserian grounded theory methodology is emerging that implies that influences from all these different philosophical traditions are found within this particular methodology, an insight that has practical implication in terms of opening up this methodology to a broader use.

Grounded Theory Methodology

According to Glaser (1978), data collection in grounded theory methodology begins with a "sociological perspective [of a] general problem area [rather than a] preconceived conceptual framework" (p. 44). The researcher thus begins with an attitude of openness, which seeks to ensure that the "the emerging of concepts never fails" (Glaser, 1978, p. 44).

The next step involves the generation of various categories by "constant comparison" of data through a procedure known as "open coding" (Glaser, 1978; Glaser & Strauss, 1967). According to this procedure, which permeates the whole research process, "incidents are compared to incidents [and then] concepts to more incidents" (Glaser, 1978, p. 62), in order to generate more conceptual properties. Finally, concepts are compared to concepts in order to integrate the theory.

By continuing this procedure of constant comparison, the researcher then establishes a "core category" (Glaser, 1978, p. 95), which is a category that holds all other categories together. When the core category has emerged, the researcher undertakes the process of selective coding (Glaser, 1978), whereby incoming data are compared to the core category in a more precise manner than when the categories were first established. In this process of "selective coding," only variables related to the core category are considered.

The way in which the various categories are related is considered under a process of theoretical coding (Glaser, 1978). This process is facilitated by the writing down of so-called "theoretical memos" (Glaser, 1978, p. 83) that elaborate on the theoretical codes. These "theoretical memos" represent immediate notations of emerging ideas about categories and how they inter-relate. These memos are then sorted into a theoretical outline. Finally, a process described as "theoretical writing" (p.

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