Grounded Theory

The work makes use of the methodology of grounded theory, which is perfectly suitable for the generation of theoretical concepts (primarily from relatively unexplored fields), all the while introducing a high degree of methodological rigor. Grounded theory is considered to be one of the best-developed and most influential strategies with respect to qualitative research. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the work applied elements of this methodology (at the stage of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data), it could not have been adopted as the main research strategy due to its very restrictive requirements with respect to ignoring the researcher’s current knowledge. Admittedly, the present work also strove to suspend this knowledge in the process of generating theoretical concepts by applying relevant research procedures, but this does not mean that it relinquished theoretical preparation altogether - literature research comprised the first stage of the research process.

The methodology of grounded theory was formulated by Glaser and Strauss (1965) on the basis of their experiences in the course of their empirical research in healthcare institutions. Its general principles were laid out in a book titled “Discovery of grounded theory” (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Since then, the methodology of grounded theory has been constantly developed and used to research various phenomena from social and economic life (Turner, 1981; Martin & Turner, 1986; Strauss &c Corbin, 1990; Charmaz, 2006). In light of this methodology, the act of generating a theory is a flexible research process rooted in the systematic collection of empirical data. The conceptual categories upon which the theory is built have to be derived from the collected and analyzed data (Glaser &t Strauss, 1967). The imposition of procedures envisaged within the methodology of grounded theory is intended to lead to the generation of two fundamental kinds of theories, which are ranked among middle-range theories: substantive theories, which are developed for an empirical (substantive) research area and formal theories developed for a conceptual (formal) research area (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). In the case of research rooted in grounded theory, substantive theories take the foreground. Subsequently, on their canvas, a formal theory is generated (Glaser &c Strauss, 1967). The formal theory represents a higher order of abstraction, which considerably raises its usefulness with respect to predicting and explaining, with the possibility of relating the generated categories (and their properties) and generalized relationships between them to other research fields in which the occurrence of similar relationships is expected.

In the case of the methodology of grounded theory, hypotheses take the form of statements (or theses) pointing to the existence of relationships among categories (and their properties). Their testing does not consist of weighing the strength of those relationships (the most common method of testing hypotheses, especially in the case of quantitative research), but only of their empirical grounding, primarily in the context of the different conditions in which the identified relationships are present.1 This does not imply, however, that hypotheses generated on the basis of research within the methodology of grounded theory cannot be tested later - on the contrary. According to Glaser and Strauss (1967), the generated theory cannot be treated as the end product. Instead, given the opportunity, it should be developed and explained, as well as tested. For this reason, hypotheses derived from the theory should be clear enough to be able to be operationalized for the purposes of quantitative research. Quantitative data may serve as a valuable supplement to qualitative data (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). In other words, Glaser and Strauss have reversed the logic used in the deductive approach wherein research hypotheses are first generated and then tested on the basis of data collected at a later stage. To develop a theory, they postulate the use of the inductive method - as a theory is meant to “emerge from data” (Glaser, 1978; Glaser & Holton, 2010).

The theory, which is generated in the course of research, is a point of departure toward further, deeper literature studies (concentrated on the identified issues), held with a view to determining similarities and convergences with the obtained results. In this case, the subject literature is treated as another source of data, which must be integrated in the process of ongoing comparative analysis (Glaser & Holton, 2010). In accordance with the guidelines of the creators of the methodology of grounded theory - Glaser and Strauss - literature studies may only be held when the analytical core category emerges from the empirical material (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Grounded theory puts considerable stress on the above process - according to Glaser and Holton, one should “avoid unduly influencing the pre-conceptualization of the research through extensive reading in the substantive area and the forcing of extant theoretical overlays on the collection and analysis of data” (Glaser & Holton, 2010), or even - to reference the words of Glaser and Strauss from their seminal work on grounded theory - ignore altogether the theoretical literature and subject literature on the researched substantive area (Glaser &c Strauss, 1967), with a view to minimizing the influence of prior theories on the process of generating authorial meanings. Theories taken from subject literature at the initial stage of the research process may be too suggestive and thus “pollute” the emergence of categories (Glaser Sc Strauss, 1967), impairing the skill of the researcher to generate their own meanings and dimming their theoretical sensitivity (Glaser Sc Holton, 2010).

The requirement for the researcher to fully ignore knowledge and the inductive approach postulated by the creators of grounded theory are criticized in literature. It is impossible to fully “divest oneself” of one’s own knowledge and convictions in order to approach research as a tabula rasa - each research process is embedded within a specific theoretical framework and has its roots in existing terms and concepts. According to Charmaz (2005), no analysis is neutral as we do not approach research from the position of an uninitiated individual. As Tavory and Timmermans (2014) note, practitioners of grounded theory themselves have admitted that pure inductionism is impossible and some theoretical knowledge is necessary,2 while the formulation of theories on the basis of collected data is to a larger degree rooted in abductive reasoning than inductive reasoning.

According to Richardson and Kramer (2006), theoretical preparation is inevitable in grounded theory, with abduction being a kind of reasoning which accompanies the created theory. Both scholars consider the use of the inductive approach in grounded theory as one of the largest misconceptions tied to this strategy. In effect, they mirror the words of critique uttered by Kelle, as well as Coffey and Atkinson, on the method of theorizing required by the methodology of grounded theory, without any theoretical preparation whatsoever (which - in accordance with the arguments of its creators - could negatively influence the impartiality of the researcher in the given area) (Kelle, 1995; Coffey & Atkinson, 1996). According to Kelle (1995), grounded theorizing should be based on abduction, which helps “explain new and surprising empirical data through the elaboration, modification, or combination of pre-existing concepts”, while Coffey and Atkinson (1996) summarize their view shortly: “Abductive reasoning lies at the heart of grounded theorizing”. In grounded theory, theoretical preparation and the researcher’s initial concepts cannot be dismissed, as “an open mind does not mean an empty head” (Kelle, 1995). Referring to the words of Peirce, Coffey and Atkinson highlight that “our important ideas are not in the data”. For this reason, through analysis (even very detailed), the researcher is not able to develop any new ideas. In order to generate a theory, it is essential to perform certain intellectual, creative work with a view to generating ideas on the basis of the available data. The collected data are combined to generate (abductive) research hypotheses (Coffey & Atkinson, 1996). In such a case, prior knowledge (existing ideas, terms, theories) may be treated as additional heuristic tools or - as Gustavsen put it: “tool[s] to give meaning to experiences and to provide reference points for learning” (Gustavsen, 1996), i.e. relationships observed in data may be tied to knowledge which exceeds the bounds of data itself (Coffey & Atkinson, 1996).

Having made such an assumption, theoretical preparation no longer remains a problematic issue. On the contrary - it becomes an additional source of inspiration, all the while keeping to certain methodological rigor. Nevertheless, Kelle (1995) points out that this knowledge can be used much more flexibly than with hypothetically deductive research: theoretical knowledge and pre-conceptions serve as heuristic tools for the construction of concepts which are elaborated and modified on the basis of empirical data. Prior theoretical preparation cannot overshadow the specific nature of the phenomenon at hand - research should be approached with far-reaching openness, i.e. contrary to the belief that “the truth is settled beforehand”, in order to capture that which is unique in the given research area.

 
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