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Grounded Theory Method of Research


Ground theory method was developed by Glaser and Strauss (Barney G. Glaser, 1967). This method is used as a qualitative research method to develop a theory that can explain events, behavior, give predictions and control over situation.

According to Glaser and Strauss (1967):

"The basic theme in our book is the discovery of theory from data systematically obtained from social research."

Grounded theory method follows a stepwise procedure; a procedure that is repeated till such a time when a researcher feels that he or she is no longer able to gain any further knowledge or insight from new data. The procedure is repeated until a researcher decides that whatever he finds from new data is a repetition of the previously collected data and nothing new is known.

Steps involved in Grounded Theory Method:

In order to understand the steps involved in grounded theory method one can follow the analogy of a botanist who is preparing taxonomy of herbs found in a certain location.

Suppose that a certain scientist Mr. A is preparing taxonomy of herbs found in a certain location along with his team of assistants. These Assistants have to search for the herbs and bring whatever they find to Mr. A.

Suppose these assistants, on their very first day brought three hundred herbs to A. Mr. A receiving these hundred herbs, will now proceed on to classify them. 

For these herbs, though they are different in color, yet have other features which are more prominent and more meaningful for the purpose of classification as compared to colors; for instance the texture. Mr. A now selects his way of classification and organizes these three hundred herbs according to texture.  He makes five categories of texture including thorny, very rough, rough, smooth, and silky. He adjusted and organized all the herbs according to their texture. For example there were 50 herbs he recognized as smooth, 60 as silky, 80 as rough, 40 as thorny and 70 as very rough. 

Suppose next day he received 50 more herbs, now about some of the herbs he is unable to decide as to where he should place them. There are herbs that appear to him belonging to the categories of roughness and smoothness simultaneously. This leads him to ponder over the differences and similarities in herbs falling in different classes. On comparison, he now defines each classification conceptually, clearly spelling out the characteristic properties of each of the categories.

On the basis of this comparison and consequent defining of the categories, this person is now ably to compare each new herb with the existing category on the basis of its attributes. However, on the basis of this comparison he finds that some herbs are different in character from the previously identified categories, and in order to accommodate these new herbs he establishes a new category. This new category lies between roughness and smoothness. Similarly there are certain herbs that lie between thorny and very rough, so he has to create a yet another category between thorny and very rough.

He sends his assistant on a daily basis to collect herbs, and his seven categories each day receive some new members. However after a few days Mr. A found that no new herbs are coming and his assistants are bringing those herbs which they had already brought to him. Mr. A. now declares that all the seven categories are saturated and no new inclusion is possible so he is closing the data collection.

Now Mr. A writes a report and in this report he says that the core idea according to which he has classified everything is texture, and there are all in all seven types of texture according to which he has developed his taxonomy. Mr. A's classification is a successful one and in developing this classification he used a method that resembles grounded theory method. 

Suppose you are researching on street violence as a social researcher, in a cosmopolitan city. There are several newspapers that report on the issue, each day you also interview a few people from administration, criminals and victims, and there are T.V programs on the issue as well. So you are getting a lot of data. This data should be conceptualized and analyzed, and then given a form of a theory explaining and connecting various elements of data.

The way a grounded theorist precedes is like this:

Each bit of data, an interview, a news report, is to be broken up into concepts. Concepts are formed the reported data or incidents.  For instance consider the following report:

Hunt for Long Island Killer
Amidst the efforts to comb the New York beach, and to scan it from truck roof tops and ladders, the statement given by the county police Commissioner, betrays that police has not found any decisive clues about the whereabouts of the unknown serial killer, who has allegedly murdered around 04 prostitutes in the city. According to Suffolk county police commissioner, Richard Dormer, they are still searching for additional remains and there is a chance that a new discovery may bring decisive clues with it. According to the sources, police has adopted a methodic approach to solve this case, and they are working on all possible options to identify the murderer.
According to a forensic expert, such investigations proceed slowly and no hasty conclusions are made. However, the investigation is right now directed towards establishing the fact that all the victims were killed by the same or different murderers. Furthermore, police is also trying to find out similarities and differences among the victims, to identify a pattern behind this heinous crime.
Most of the women, whose bodies are found, were prostitutes and were operating their business through Craigslist. This similarity has caused a security threat in other women who are in the same business. Among the prostitutes, the belief that the murderer only targets petite girls who are hardly 4 to 4.5 feet tall is a cause of relief for those who are above five. On the other hand those who are below five are curbing the anxiety through thinking that the victimized women committed security blunders, and they met this Dracula of a client all alone, at an insecure venue.

However, crime against prostitutes and street criminals is nothing new. Since street criminals and prostitute cannot contact police, neither to report violence nor to share any evidence, for snitching makes them a target of violence in their own community, and police never provides any protection to a snitch, therefore the chances that more prostitutes will fall victim to such crimes is greater than ever. Police should provide security to prostitutes to stop what is happening now. Police on the other hand, instead of providing security to prostitutes, is now raiding prostitute rings. Recently seven members of such a ring are arrested to double the feelings of insecurity among prostitutes.    
 A serial killer or any criminal is essentially a highly opportunistic person, who ceases every opportunity to avenge the misgivings he has faced in his life. So, there is no wonder that prostitutes, physically weak and socially out casted, who do not worth any protection from the law, even though they are also citizens of the state, are falling victim to this serial killer.  
 Long Island inhabitants who were preparing for the summer festivities and joys before the discovery of a serial killer in their area, are now feeling threatened. They are not in any sense concerned with the fact that all victims were prostitutes; for them the only important thing is that somebody is killing human beings, and this slaughter should be stopped by the law enforcing agencies.

On this news report researcher can perform what grounded theorists call open coding in the following manner.

The first few lines yield following concepts:

Search of the killer from the truck roof tops
Serial killer
Long Island
Prostitutes as Victims
Clues and whereabouts of murderer
Police Chief
Victims’ bodies 
Forensic Expert
Nature of Investigation
Similarities
Differences
Pattern of Crime
Method of doing Business
Violence against street criminals

Like the scientist working on herbs, the social scientist also has to categorize these concepts. So, looking at data, suppose the researcher develops following categories:

Victims
Investigations
Pattern of Crime
Clues
People's opinion

So this process of identifying concepts and categories from data is called open coding.

Now the researcher has to put under each category, concepts belonging to it. This means he has to put everything that is related to the category of investigation under it, similarly concepts related to other categories are also to be placed beneath the categories to which they belong. This is called axial coding.

After completing axial coding, the researcher has to select a core category from the data, or the list of categories developed in open and axial coding. The core category is such that every other category is related to it and explains it. In the above example, the core category is found as the social response towards serial killing in Long Island. The core category is like the sun and other categories are like planets revolving it.
This selection of the core category and relating it to other categories is called selective coding.
Selective coding yields theory. It consists of the propositions resulting from relating core category to other categories.
Now the developed theory is to be saturated or tested or extended. Keeping in view one of these or all of these aims (as the aims of research require) one has to sample another case. Since this sampling is motivated from the theory, therefore it is called theoretical sampling.


There are certain procedures used in grounded theory. These include, theoretical sampling, Constant comparison and category and theory saturation. A researcher develops categories and tries to saturate them. By saturation it is meant that he is interested in finding new cases or concepts or incidents that relate to a specific category. When a researcher can no longer find anything new related to a category and any attempt to know something new ends up in knowing old things that is called saturation of a category.

Similarly when a researcher finds that nothing is being added to the developed theory, he decides that now the theory is saturated.
By constant comparison it is meant that each time a researcher has to compare the new bits of data with the previously categorized bits. And in doing so a researcher is able to decide where to place a new bit of data.
Thus proceeding, a researcher develops a theory that can explain the data collected on a certain topic. Like a scientist organizes a data collected, through classifications.

By: Khalid Jamil Rawat


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