Grounded Theory Method of Research

Categories: Mixed




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 and behaviors, and gives valid predictions to establish a control over the 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.”

The need to develop this method was to replace the theory verification trend that dominated sociology research during the times when they wrote this book. Most of the work in sociology comprised verification of grand theories presented by great sociologists. Glaser and Strauss wanted to change this environ and they introduced grounded theory method to replace the trend of verification of past theories.


According to Glaser and Strauss, the method utilized in grounded theory research is basically of a constant comparison. Constant comparison method involves the comparision of the events reported in the dat. This comparision of the events helps in forming concepts. Similar types of events or incidents are labelled under one concept. Then these concepts are further categorized under different categories. So the constant comparision method first reduces the incidents or events reported in the day to concepts, and then it reduves these concepts to categories.The method works through coding. The first step in which the individual incidents or the events are put under concepts is called open coding.

Suppose a researcher receives data from a leprosy patient about how he or she handles his disease. The data report various incidents involving usinfg different techniques of massage, dressing, and  medications.  The incidents involving massaging will be coded under the concept ‘massage’, the incidents involving ‘medication’ under the concept ‘medication’ and the incidents involving dressing of the sours or bumps under ‘ dressing. This then is called open coding.

Then the researcher observes that all such concepts are basically related to a single category; the category of pain management, for the patient does all these activities to manage his her pain. That is called axial coding.

From data many such categories can be formed. Like from the data gathered from the experiences of a patient of leprosy, one can genertate the categories, like pain management, how a patient spends his/her time, how a patient handles depression, how a patient handles the economic issues, how a patient maintains his her existence while coping up with the disease, etc. 


Finally from among the categories thus formed, a core category is to be selected, and each of the category is to be related to this core category yielding the theory, called a grounded theory. This is called selective coding.

For instance in the above example the category how a patient maintains his her existence while coping up with the disease seems the main concern, or the core category, and everything else is important in relation to this one concern; how to live a life with leprosy! That is then the core or the central category. While one describes how a person can maintain his existence with leprosy through using the subordinate categories like pain management, time spending, dealing with depression, economic and social issues, one forms a theory to explain the life of a patient of leprosy.


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 the 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 the taxonomy of the herbs found in a certain location. Suppose that a certain scientist Mr. A is preparing a taxonomy of the 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 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 their 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 30 herbs which he recognized as smooth, 20 as silky, 10 as rough,20 as thorny and 20 as very rough. Supposethe the  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 able 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 procedes is like this: Each bit of data, an interview, a news report, is to be broken up into concepts. Concepts are formed from the reported data or incidents. For instance consider the following report:
Hunt for Long Island’s Serial 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
Pattern of Crime
Method of doing Business
Violence against street criminals

So this process of identifying the concepts from the data is called open coding. But to complete this process the invesitigator has to form categories, the general concepts.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:

Pattern of Crime
People’s opinion

After the open coding is completed, the researcher has to put under each category, the concepts belonging to it. This means he has to put everything that is related to the category of investigation under it, similarly the concepts related to other categories like clues, people’s opinion etc,  are also to be placed beneath the categories to which they belong.

This is called axial coding. After completing the axial coding, the researcher has to select a core category from the data, or the list of categories developed in the 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 the serial killing in Long Island. According to Corbin and Strauss(1990)the core category is like the sun and other categories are like planets revolving around it. This selection of the core category and relating it to other categories is called the 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. 

The procedures used in the grounded theory 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 the 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 the 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 a researcher has to compare the new bits of data with the previously categorized bits; 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