Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Tracing the History of Grounded Theory Methodology: From Formation to Fragmentation

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Tracing the History of Grounded Theory Methodology: From Formation to Fragmentation

Article excerpt

Grounded theory was the innovative brainchild of two American Sociologists, Barney G. Glaser and Anselm L. Strauss. Prior to meeting each other, Anselm Strauss received his BS in Biology from the University of Virginia (1939). He subsequently completed both his MA and PhD in sociology in the University of Chicago (1942, 1945). In 1960, at the age of 44, Strauss undertook an academic post with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where he later established and chaired a doctoral programme in sociology, assuming the role of director (Dicke, 1996; Birks & Mills, 2011). Meanwhile, Barney Glaser received a BA degree from Stanford University (1952). During two subsequent years of military services, he also studied literature at the Sorbonne University of Paris (France) and the University of Freiburg (Germany). With a strong aptitude for academics, Glaser later proceeded to embark upon a PhD in Columbia University (1961). On completion of his PhD, 33- year-old Glaser pursued a research alliance with Strauss in the University of California, San Francisco. At the time, Strauss had applied for, and successfully received, a grant to pursue a funded four-year research endeavour. Subsequently, Strauss recruited Glaser and together they undertook a study relating to interactions between medical staff and terminally ill patients in hospices, which they later titled the Awareness of Dying (1965).

The Genesis of Grounded Theory

Grounded theory was forged against the backdrop of Glaser and Strauss' disenchantment while undertaking the Awareness of Dying (1965) study. During this research Glaser and Strauss encountered and criticized the "overemphasis" of verifying theories to the detriment of actually generating the theory itself (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Moore, 2009). They asserted that the twofold process of firstly generating and subsequently verifying a theory should receive equal treatment within social research. However, they observed that "since verification has primacy on the current sociological scene, the desire to generate theory often becomes secondary, if not totally lost, in specific researches" (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 2). As well as encountering a misplaced emphasis on verification, Glaser and Strauss also criticized the dearth of social theory which is actually composed by empirical research (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 6). They stressed the need to generate theory which arises from (and accurately corresponds to) social research which they believed would be "more successful than theories logically deduced from a priori assumptions" (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 6). Glaser and Strauss contended that marrying theory construction with social research would produce a robust and astute hypothesis grounded in research. Consequently, Glaser and Strauss fashioned a pioneering methodology to address these issues and bridge the "embarrassing gap between theory and empirical research" (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 2).

Glaser and Strauss entitled their innovative methodology grounded theory to encapsulate its overarching objective to ground theory in empirical research. Glaser later abbreviated grounded theory as GT (Glaser & Holton, 2004). This acronym's will be utilised for the duration of this article. Glaser and Strauss reiterated that the ambition of GT is not verification of a preconceived theory, or capacious description, rather it is unambiguously defined by its exclusive endeavour to discover an underlying theory arising from the systematic analysis of data. Accordingly, the researcher arrives at a hypothesis (in the form of a theory) at the conclusion of the research which conceptualises the chief concern of the study. To achieve this objective Glaser and Strauss insisted that the researcher must approach the study inductively, with no preconceptions to prove or disprove, in order to uncover (and ultimately conceptualise) the principal concern of participants. …

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