The Grounded Theory Bookshelf

Dr. Alvita Nathaniel, DSN, APRN, BC, West Virginia University

The Bookshelf provides critical reviews and perspectives on books on
theory and methodology of interest to grounded theory. In this issue,
Dr. Alvita Nathaniel offers a review of Barney Glaser’s new book.

The Grounded Theory Perspective III: Theoretical
Coding, Barney G. Glaser (Sociology Press, 2005). 

Not intended for a beginner, this book further defi nes, describes, and
explicates the classic grounded theory (GT) method. Perspective III
lays out various facets of theoretical coding as Glaser meticulously
distinguishes classic GT from other subsequent methods. Developed
many years after Glaser’s classic GT, these methods, particularly as
described by Strauss and Corbin, adopt the grounded theory name
and engender ongoing confusion about the very premises of grounded
theory. Glaser distinguishes between classic GT and the adscititious
methods in his writings, referring to remodeled grounded theory and
its offshoots as Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) models.

The GT/QDA debate is reminiscent of the schism that developed
between the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce and his benefactor,
William James at the beginning of the last century. Peirce was a brilliant
philosopher and scientist. America’s most prolifi c philosopher, Peirce
originated the doctrine of pragmatism. Because Peirce’s writings
were a very high level of abstraction and diffi cult to understand,
James attempted to make them accessible to the popular academic
community through his own, more concrete writings. However, James
never got it quite right. Unhappy with James, failing to clarify his ideas
about pragmatism, and desiring to distinguish his original ideas from
those proffered by the more popular James, Peirce eventually changed
the name of his own theory to pragmaticism. Unfortunately, the new
name never caught on and the theory of pragmatism continues to be
popularly attributed to William James.

Like Peirce and his theory of pragmatism, Glaser remains faithful to the
original premises of classic GT. He continues the battle to distinguish
classic GT from QDA, viewing QDA as a rigid method with a low level
of abstraction and tendency toward preconception. He outlines in
Perspective III many ways that QDA violates the foundational ideas
of GT.

In particular, Glaser emphasizes that an understanding of “what is
going on” in an area of concern requires openness on the part of the
analyst/researcher to the natural emergence of the theoretical code.
The theoretical code emerges late in the GT process as the analyst
painstakingly hand sorts conceptual memos. This process requires
several elements such as the analyst’s proper use of conceptual
memos, openness to emergence, perspicacity, and patience. The
process is hindered or derailed entirely if the theoretical code is forced
through the use of a preconceived theoretical framework, a conditional
matrix, discipline specifi c codes, or “pet” codes.

Glaser effectively clarifi es his points through critique of various
writers and grounded theorists. He sorts through point by point the
writings of grounded theory “experts” from a number of disciplines and
comments on their level of understanding of the classic GT method.
This discussion will be particularly helpful to Ph.D. students who
are trying to learn both the fundamentals and the fi ner points of the
classic grounded theory method. It will also be helpful as background
for the Ph.D. student to use in discussions with dissertation/thesis
examiners.

Many quotes from what Glaser deems to be good examples of GT are
also helpful for clarifi cation purposes. Glaser comments on elements
of theories developed within a number of disciplines around the world.
The words of the original writers offers helpful examples to illustrate
the complex concepts underlying good classic grounded theory.
In addition, Glaser offers a few new theoretical codes, which have
emerged in grounded theory studies in the last few years.

Perspective III ends with a chapter on the impact of symbolic
interaction on grounded theory. This chapter will be welcomed by
grounded theory scholars. As anyone who reads grounded theory
studies knows, most grounded theory papers include a reference to
symbolic interactionism in the discussion of method. In most cases,
the analyst never again mentions symbolic interactionism. Glaser
views the symbolic interactionism claim to grounded theory as a
quest for an ontology and epistemology to justify GT—a quest that is
unnecessary. Classic grounded theory, is a “general inductive method,
possessed by no discipline, or theoretical perspective, or data type”
(p. 145). Glaser voices regret that grounded theory has been taken
over by symbolic interactionism, which serves to further remodel
the method. He welcomes symbolic interactionism as one data type
among many—all of which are suitable for GT analysis.

In conclusion, The Grounded Theory Perspective III: Theoretical
Coding
is a welcome addition to Barney Glaser’s collection of writings
about classic grounded theory. As an adjunct to his previous books,
especially Theoretical Sensitivity and Doing Grounded Theory, this
book will help both novice and experienced grounded theorists.
It serves to clarify areas of confusion about theoretical coding,
distinguish classic GT from remodeled GT methods, and answer
the symbolic interactionist question. It is a must-have addition to the
classic grounded theorist’s library.

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