Adapt or Adopt: Developing and Transgressing the Methodological Boundaries of Grounded Theory

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Aims.  While acknowledging that there is an existing debate regarding the nature of grounded theory, the aim of this paper is to highlight a number of common and key areas/issues where adaptation/adoption of Glaserian grounded theory in nursing-related studies often occurs. These issues are: the differences between conceptual description and conceptual theory; beginning the study with a ‘general wonderment’ or a more defined research question; establishing the credibility of the theory; identifying a basic psycho-social process and emerging vs. forcing.

Background.  Since the development and introduction of grounded theory in 1967, the number of studies, in a wide range of disciplines including nursing, that purport to be using a grounded theory method has grown enormously. While Glaser and Strauss acknowledged then that it was entirely appropriate for the methodology to evolve and develop, some of the studies that claim to be based on grounded theory methodology share little methodological similarity, and at times, bear only a passing resemblance to Glaserian grounded theory.

Discussion.  Some methodological transgressions in papers that purport to be grounded theory studies are such that it would be inaccurate to term the resulting method grounded theory at all. Instead such studies are more accurately thought of as a form of qualitative data analysis. Such transgressions include a study that has no evidence of conceptualization; one that does not identify a basic psycho-social process; and one that moves from ‘emerging’ to ‘forcing’. Other methodological adaptations of grounded theory, such as beginning the study with more than a general wonderment and broadening the approach to establishing the credibility of the theory, are more in keeping with Glaser and Strauss’ position on the evolution of the method. In such cases, it is necessary to distinguish such methods from ‘pure’ Glaserian grounded theory, and it would be prudent and methodologically accurate to describe the resulting method as ‘modified’ grounded theory.


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