27   Grounded theory revisited (3)


Speaking only for myself ...

As you may have guessed from the last couple of occasional pieces, I've been reading some of the literature on grounded theory.  In observing its similarities to action research I think I've come to appreciate more the emergent nature of action research.  I've broadened my understanding of some of the ways in which that emergence can be achieved.

I've been further helped in this by reading some of Peter Checkland's and Sue Holwell's book Information, systems and information systems: making sense of the field (Chichester, UK: Wiley, 1998).  This book more firmly places soft systems methodology (Checkland's methodology) within an action research paradigm.

I don't know if Checkland explained it more clearly this time.  Perhaps I was more ready for it.  Checkland and Holwell describe research in a way which makes a lot of sense both for grounded theory (the form described by Glaser and Strauss, and especially by Glaser) and action research.  According to Checkland and Holwell, in research one uses ...

a[n epistemological] framework    F

operationalised as a methodology    M

to investigate an area of concern    A

in the course of which the researcher learns about and may modify each of F, M, and A.

To be honest, in the past I have been a bit cavalier about epistemology.  I didn't think we could wait for the philosophers to agree before we decided how to do research.

For that matter, I'm not yet persuaded it counts for all that much.  On balance I'm probably somewhere between a pragmatist and an agnostic, philosophically speaking.  I think about my philosophical assumptions.  I think, though, that I would do action research in pretty much the same way whatever philosophical hat I was wearing.

But now I can change my mind as I proceed.  I've been in favour for some time of spelling out methodological and situational assumptions.  With this extra flexibility, I find that the notion of starting with at least a few explicit philosophical assumptions appeals.


The preceding paragraphs are by way of background.  I can now consider the emergent nature of action research and grounded theory as having three dimensions: epistemology, process, and situation.  I'm thinking of these as equating respectively to Checkland's F, M and A.

How might I apply this?  I can try to spell out my assumptions about all three before I act.  I can check my experience against those assumptions during and especially after action.  As I accumulate experience I can seek out disconfirming evidence for assumptions under all three headings.

Emergent understanding of philosophy.  Emergent understanding of research processes.  Emergent understanding of the situation.

That appeals to the empiricist in me.


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