28   Grounded theory revisited (4)


Speaking only for myself ...


My initial reasons for exploring the grounded theory literature were threefold. I try to choose some of my reading so that it takes me into unfamiliar territory. I supervise some theses where people want to be more open to the situation they are researching. And I thought I might make more explicit my understanding of action research by exploring a different methodology.

It is the third of these which now occupies my attention. I was surprised by the extent of the parallels between action research and grounded theory. As a consequence I think I now have clearer ways of explaining some aspects of action research.

Let me mention a few of them.

First, the distinction between emergent and hypothesis-testing research. Or, to use the terms I prefer (as more transparent): data-driven and theory-driven research.

I had formerly thought of much qualitative research as essentially data-driven. Since then I have been following some of the more recent debate between Glaser and Strauss. It has led me to a realisation that much qualitative research is less open to the research situation itself than (without thinking about it) I would previously have imagined.

In other words, there is a theoretical tradition which is taken more or less as given. The researcher uses it to make sense of the data. Qualitative research may not be as explicitly focussed on specific hypotheses as experimental research. But there are hypotheses, often implicit, which place boundaries on what one can understand of a situation.

(In case you are wondering, I do accept that we bring all sorts of presuppositions to our research. There are theories and concepts and assumptions which colour our perceptions. I think this is potentially true whatever the variety of research we engage in. However, I think there are effective ways of protecting oneself against allowing these assumptions to colour the interpretations we develop.)

Second, what is the place of literature in research? I have argued for some time that in some forms of research it didn't make sense to read the relevant literature beforehand. (This was before I realised that Glaser makes the same argument in the grounded theory literature.) In much of the practitioner work I do, I often do not know enough to judge which literature will be found to be relevant.

So I encourage thesis candidates I supervise to regard literature as something to which they can compare emerging explanations.

Grounded theory encourages the treatment of literature as data: as just more data, with similar status to the data collected in other ways during a study. This will help candidates to provide additional justification for not engaging in a traditional literature review, I think.

Third, there is a strong emphasis in grounded theory on the simultaneous collection and interpretation of data. This better allows the data to guide interpretation and methodology. There is a clear parallel here to the tight spiral of action research, with the same advantages.

In all, I find it confirming of action research methodology that a different methodology, developed for different purposes, demonstrates such a clear parallel to action research processes.


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