Grounded theory

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Ronny Gunnarsson. Grounded theory [in Science Network TV]. Available at: Accessed July 28, 2017.

The empirical-atomistic research approach often first forms a hypothesis (= not yet tested theory) which is then being tested. The hypothesis is a theoretical construction based on previous research and new ideas. The purpose of grounded theory is to do the opposite, that is, creating new theories purely based on observation of the reality you unconditionally explore. Hence, in grounded theory there is no prior hypothesis to test. Grounded theory originated in sociology and hence focus on what happens in relations between people. Grounded theory is an empirical-holistic approach which describes step by step how to create new hypotheses based on observations. Grounded theory is the qualitative research approach that is closest to the empirical-atomistic approaches.

Historical background

In the early 1960s sociological research were characterized by to be construction of hypotheses and theories without any empirical basis. Barney Glaser, a statistician at Columbia University, was critical and called this “ground-less theory”. In the mid 1960s, Glaser is working with Anselm Strauss, a researcher in qualitative methods at the University of Chicago. Together they did a project on problems around dying and published their results 1967 in the book Awareness of Dying. During this project they develop a new method to analyse their observations and published this in 1967 in the book The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Their main idea was that any new theory must be based on collected data, not on any predetermined theory.

Grounded theory gained in importance in areas such as public health and nursing research during the 1980s and 1990s.  Grounded theory did not develop new concepts within philosophy of science like philosophers within the life -world concept did.

In 1987 Strauss published Qualitative analysis for social scientists and it became obvious that Glaser and Strauss had developed different interpretations on how to apply grounded theory. This divergence still exists.

Grounded theory is a practical methodology less initially anchored in philosophy than phenomenology or life-world hermeneutics. Later grounded theory developed some similarities to life-world hermeneutics in that it states that grounded theory does not develop “objective theories” but rather that theories developed are a construct of the researchers preconceptions in interaction with informants.

(Under construction)

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