Appraise the suitability of grounded theory and narrative inquiry.

Appraise the suitability of grounded theory and narrative inquiry.

Appraise the suitability of grounded theory and narrative inquiry.

PSY-850 Lecture 5


Appraise the suitability of grounded theory and narrative inquiry.

Contrast data collection, triangulation, and analysis methods employed in grounded theory and narrative inquiry.

Approaches to Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory and Narrative Inquiry


Grounded theory is an overarching method not limited to qualitative variables. Its purpose is to develop new theory about the topic of study that is deeply grounded in facts of the setting studied. Those facts are taken directly from writings, interviews, participant-observation, artifacts, and the daily activities of members in the setting studied. Grounded theory’s cofounders are Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1967).

Narrative inquiry has a narrower scope because it concerns strictly narrative events and not writings, interview responses, artifacts, or participant observations other than participation in a narrative. Its origin is less well-defined than grounded theory. Riessman (2001, 2005) is one of the prominent contemporary theorists of the method. The narrative approach can be applied within a grounded theory study, as can other qualitative methods. This method takes its data strictly from narrator-listener encounters conducted during a study. A narrative always involves a narrator, a listener, and the exchange of information. The exchange is not limited to the semantic content of the words and sentences spoken. An understanding of illocution (the effect of an utterance) is necessary, requiring study of the ordinary language philosophy of John Searle (Burkhardt, 1990) and his critics (Doerge, 2004).


Grounded Theory

Glaser and Strauss (1967) developed the grounded theory method while studying ill and dying patients at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. The grounded theory method seeks to conceptualize and form hypotheses about a situation and setting during the research process, without any preconceived ideas at the beginning.

What Glaser and Strauss were doing was called abduction, a logical process transcending induction and deduction, developed by the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1901), and more recently elaborated in Josephson and Josephson (1996). Abduction is the development (using informal induction, deduction, and intuition) of pretheories that are worth further exploration. In human consciousness, the phenomenon of emergence is a product of prior abduction that may be conscious, unconscious, or both. Emergence is the idea of complex ideas or patterns resulting from a system that initially appears simple. Emergence was developed by the psychologist Lewes (1875), and has grown to widespread importance in general systems theory (von Bertalanffy, 1950), natural and social processes (Prigogine, 2000), and other scientific fields.

It is not clear if Strauss and Glaser were aware of Peirce as they developed their method, since Peirce was not then widely known in American intellectual circles. His work in many areas is seminal, and he is actively studied around the world at such organizations as the Virtual Center for Peirce Studies (, and the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism ( Peirce’s writings on abduction and pragmaticism are essential for a root understanding of grounded theory in particular and qualitative methods overall.

Strauss and Glaser parted ways on essential elements of the grounded theory system some years after their 1967 book. Glaser’s (2001) methodological focus dwells on the emergence of new, locally grounded theories, a better understanding of the method, and becoming more able to minimize intrusion of the investigator’s individual preconceptions. Codes for data are developed from a vast informal body of preexisting abstractions, believed to be abstract enough to keep investigators free of bias from extant theories.

Strauss’s focus diverged, falling on consistency of method, validation, and systematic development of codes for data from within the sphere of a particular study (to keep investigators free of prevailing theories from outside that sphere). Strauss and Corbin (1997) emphasized the inherent conflict between the abstraction of theorizing (necessary for deep understanding) and the risk of distortion caused by the simplification of theory. This dilemma is the difficult path an investigator has no choice but to navigate.

Strauss was clearly concerned with refining a scientific method that seeks unbiased findings and maintains the falsifiability requirement of Popper’s (1959) postpositivist philosophy. Falsifiability has been and remains one of the two most widely accepted necessary properties for a theory to be called scientific; the other is predictive power.

Glaser’s vast body of abstract concepts for coding admits the risk of nonfalsifiability because of its size in the same sense that Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is argued by some to be able to explain any behavior (Grűnbaum, 1979). The result of Glaser’s concerns is a method that does the following:

·          Eliminates a primary cause of biased findings: investigator preconceptions

·          Generates central theoretical truths that relate facts from two or more different variables through a process of emergence from the collecting, coding and analyzing the data of a setting

·          Maintains a well-defined method that, if it is used in a consistent pure form, is subject to the test of falsifiability. This last may have not been an intention of Glaser’s, but it is a valuable consequence even so.

Many grounded theory investigators are unaware of the Glaser-Strauss divergence. As a consequence, there has been an evolutionary diffusion of the method into many hybrid forms by individual investigators. Awareness of the foregoing history enables one to evaluate any grounded theory study with deeper understanding and use one or both of the fully developed approaches.

Their differences form one of the most interesting and important debates in the philosophy of social science. All of Glaser’s and Strauss’s concerns are valid. The only evident conflict is in the approach to generating data codes used by a particular team of analysts. Otherwise, the concerns and recommendations of both could be implemented simultaneously.

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