Random observation: true grounded theory vs. foreshadowed problems

Apr 02 2011 Published by under research

I’ve been to a couple dissertation defenses in which the candidate calls the analysis the grounded theory approach (a la Strauss and Corbin) and a committee member disputes it because strictly speaking, grounded theory method doesn’t start with codes found in the literature or developed in the conceptual framework – all codes are developed strictly from the text. Of course in my school, it’s pretty much heresy to not have a deep coverage of the literature and to jump off from there. Yet there’s always this pressure to name the analysis grounded theory.

Likewise there’s an idea that you go into the field naive or you have a closed mind. I was reading Stake (2000) this morning, and in note 10 on page 449 he quotes this long bit from Malinowsky (1922/1984, p.9) on foreshadowed problems

Good training in theory, and acquaintance with its latest results, is not identical with being burdened with ‘preconceived ideas.’ If a man set out on an expedition, determined to prove certain hypotheses, if he is incapable of changing his views constantly and casting them off ungrudgingly under the pressure of evidence, needless to say his work will be worthless. But the more problems he brings with him into the field, the more he is in the habit of moulding his theories according to fact, and of seeing facts in their bearing upon theory, the better he is equipped for the work. Preconceived ideas are pernicious in any scientific work, but foreshadowed problems are the main endowment of a scientific thinker, and these problems are first revealed to the observer by his theoretical studies.

Elsewhere I’ve railed against naming my epistemological approach. A member of my committee wanted me to say I was doing ethnography, but that’s not strictly the case. The pragmatic approach of Patton is really the thing. Also, I will certainly not be using a strict grounded theory approach to coding my data. What will I say in my actual dissertation? meh.

Not even touching on the whole discussion about how our field has no theory – or very little theory.


Corbin, J. M., & Strauss, A. L. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Stake, R. E. (2000). The handbook of qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin, & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 435-454). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

2 responses so far

  • There are many variants of qualitative analysis other than grounded theory which might be more useful for you. Have you had a look at Framework yet (Ritchie and Lewis)? If you don't need Grounded Theory, don't do it, and your supervisors should be able to find examiners who won't mark you down for choosing the qualitative approach that is most suited to your work and your worldview 😉

    • Christina Pikas says:

      Huh. I've done what I feel is a ton of reading on various analysis techniques and hadn't run across framework. I'll take a look.

      I guess my issue isn't so much in knowing how to analyze the data, but just that readers expect the method to be named, and often for that name to be grounded theory.