Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Philosophical Roots of Classical Grounded Theory: Its Foundations in Symbolic Interactionism

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Philosophical Roots of Classical Grounded Theory: Its Foundations in Symbolic Interactionism

Article excerpt

The relationship between classical Grounded Theory (Glaser, 1978; Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and the interpretive tradition of Symbolic Interactionism is strong and historical. Although this relationship has been discussed in previous publications as a "given," limited literature has explained the connections between their salient assumptions and concepts precisely and thoroughly (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986; Crotty, 1998; Speziale & Carpenter, 2007). Hence, the purpose of this paper is to provide a thorough and precise discussion about the congruency between the ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions of Grounded Theory and Symbolic Interactionism. Furthermore, a hypothetical example about smoking among college students that can be addressed from a Symbolic Interactionist/Grounded Theorist perspective is included in this paper to illustrate this relationship.

This paper will be useful for qualitative researchers who seek a fuller understanding of how the assumptions and concepts provided by Symbolic Interactionism can inform the researcher who adopts a Grounded Theory methodology to investigate human behaviour. In other words, grounded theorists who adopt Symbolic Interactionism as a philosophical underpinning for their studies need to understand how the participants' behaviours have been shaped through social interaction in a particular context. That is, the researcher's goal is to understand the behaviour and the meanings people give to their experience in a natural setting in order to discover the basic psychosocial process (Glaser, 1978). According to Chenitz and Swanson (1986), conceptualizing human behaviour in its context helps researchers to examine the behaviour in relation to the social circumstances, rules, laws, and conditions that govern the shared meanings of objects and affect human behaviour.

This paper is divided into three sections. The first section sheds light on the concepts of Symbolic Interactionism that help the reader to fully understand this comparison from a philosophical angle. Thus, in the first section the authors address the salient concepts of Symbolic Interactionism. In the second section we discuss the compatibility between the main goal of both Grounded Theory and Symbolic Interactionism in a manner that differs from the account by Milliken and Schreiber (2001). The focus of the third section pertains to the relationship between the assumptions of Grounded Theory and the assumptions of Symbolic Interactionism followed by a conclusion.

Concepts of Symbolic Interactionism

This first section addresses the salient concepts of Symbolic Interactionism. These concepts include: the self-concept (the "I" and "Me"), the object (e.g., self as an object), "role-taking," "looking-glass self," and definition of the situation.

The Self-Concept

The purpose of this section is to give a thorough discussion about the self-concept and the communication process of its components ("I" and "Me"). The self is defined from the Symbolic Interactionism perspective as a complex interpretive process that involves a continuous communication between the "I" and the "Me;" that is, the "I" acts and the "Me" defends, evaluates, and interprets the self as reflected by others (Mead, 1934). The discussion that follows illustrates this process of the internal self communication.

According to Mead (1934), the "I" is a reaction of humans to the attitudes of the others. It is the impulsive, spontaneous, unorganized, and never fully socialized and therefore uncontrolled part of the human self. Because of the "I," humans always surprise themselves by their actions, but their actions never get into experience until the internal communication between "I" and "Me" finishes. Thus, "I" gives humans a sense of freedom and initiatives for their behaviours.

Mead (1934) considered the "I" as a human subject, and the "Me" as the social self and human object that arises through interactions with others. …

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