Management Research and Grounded Theory: A review of grounded theorybuilding approach in organisational and management research.

Graham J.J. Kenealy, Ph.D.

Abstract

Grounded theory is a systematic methodology for the collection
and analysis of data which was discovered by Glaser and Strauss
in the 1960’s. The discovery of this method was first presented to
the academic community in their book ‘The Discovery of
Grounded Theory’ (1967) which still remains a primary point of
reference for those undertaking qualitative research and
grounded theory in particular. This powerful research method
has become very popular in some research domains; whilst
increasing in popularity it is still less prevalent in the field of
organisational and management research particularly in its
original form. This self reflexive paper sets out to explore the
possibilities for this imbalance which takes the discussion onto
the areas of methodological adaptation and training. It also
enters the debate about access to research subjects and provides a
succinct argument supporting the notion that grounded theory
should simply be viewed as a method that develops empirically
grounded conceptual theory.

Key Words: Grounded Theory Approach, Inductive Research,
Research Methods.

Introduction

By examining the dominant research paradigms in the
organisational and management research field, linked with a
review of grounded theory origins, this desk study serves to
understand how and why organisational and management
researchers contextualise and locate the methodology within
contemporary qualitative research. It then allows the authors to
build on this platform to show how grounded theory is viewed in
the organisational and management research field, particularly
from a novice researcher’s perspective.

Paradigms and Perspectives

Review the literature and it’s not difficult to find the
common threads by which researchers classify research methods.
The most common distinction is to classify research as either
qualitative or quantitative. Denzin and Lincoln’s work (2005)
provides a valuable comparison of the two methods; “qualitative
verses quantitative research”.

Quantitative research methods, originally developed and
used in the natural sciences, formed the basis and accepted
methodology that has become the norm in social science research
and subsequently organisational and management research.
Encompassing such techniques as surveys and laboratory
experiments, it generally leads to numerical data collection
facilitating mathematical and statistical modelling.

Qualitative research, on the other hand, was specifically
developed in the field of social sciences to enable researchers to
study socially derived phenomena and once again adopted by
organisational and management researchers. Huberman and
Miles (2002) in the introduction to their text “The Qualitative
Researchers Companion” explained how they witnessed the
explosive growth of qualitative research methods between the
1980’s and the 1990’s. This increase manifested itself in increased
publications of qualitative based research material in
professional journals, taking on various forms ranging from case
study research, ethnography and discourse analysis to narratives
and symbolic interaction studies using techniques such as
observations, interviews and questionnaires to collect data. Each
method has its own traditions governed by its own genres with its
own preferred forms of presentation, interpretation,
trustworthiness and textual evaluation (Becker, 1986).
Qualitative research methods are designed to help researchers
understand people, the psychological effects and the social and
cultural contexts within which they live. Glaser (1998) as did
Miles and Huberman (1994) argue the advantages of
understanding a phenomenon from the participants perspective,
pointing out that particular social and institutional context is
largely lost when textual data are quantified.

Further distinctions adopted by researchers are to classify
research methods as objective (e.g. positivist, empiricist) or
subjective (e.g. anti-positivist, idealist) (Burrell and Morgan,
1979). The major alternative to positivism in management science
is that of the interpretive (and the closely related constructive)
paradigm, an umbrella term for a range of approaches that reject
some of the basic premises of positivism (Denscombe, 2002).

Positivists generally assume that reality is objectively given
and can be described by measurable properties which are
independent of the observer (researcher) and his/her instruments.
In a positivist framework, researchers seek to discover the laws
imposed on actors; they believe reality already exists in itself. It
has an objective essence, which researchers seek to discover, they
aim to explain reality (the object). Positivist studies generally
attempt to test theory, in an attempt to increase the predictive
understanding of phenomena. A subject’s observation of an object
does not alter the nature or essence of that object. The positivist
vision of reality leans towards explanatory research, to answer
the question ‘for what reason’.

Interpretive researchers interpret reality; they start out with
the assumption that access to reality (given or socially
constructed) is only through social constructions such as
language, consciousness and shared meanings. Consequently,
qualitative researchers engage a wide range of interconnected
interpretive methods to explain reality (Denzin and Lincoln,
2005). Interpretive studies generally attempt to understand
phenomena through the meanings that people assign to them.
They seek to understand how actors construct the meaning they
give to social reality. Rather than explaining reality, they try to
understand it through actor’s interpretations, drawing clear
distinction between understanding and explaining. Such studies
do not predefine dependent and independent variables, but focus
on the full complexity of human sense making as the situation
emerges (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005). Denzin and Lincoln (2005)
place grounded theory firmly in the interpretive paradigm albeit
this methodology inductively draws concepts from empirical data.

It should be clear from the above why interpretivism has
become synonymous with qualitative research and positivism
with quantitative methods. The dominance of the positivist
paradigm in management science research stems from the early
perspectives of social science research where there was a belief
that facts can only be discovered through measurement and the
mathematical relationships between them, an approach modelled
on traditional sciences (Coolican, 1999; Denscombe, 2002). The
main objection pointed towards the positivists is that they use
highly controlled procedures and exact quantification of
operationalised variables which can be restrictive and may
stymie the development of knowledge within a human behaviour
context, limiting the potential for new perspectives to emerge
(Henwood and Pidgeon, 1992; Coolican, 1999; Robson, 2001)
whereas interpretivists (qualitative researchers) study people in
the field in their natural environment.

Probably, the most pertinent philosophical assumptions are
those which relate to the underlying epistemology, which guides
the research. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that
concerns itself with understanding how we know the world; it
refers to the assumptions about knowledge and how it can be
obtained or created (Hatch, 1997).

There are an abundance of texts that provide an account of
epistemology in a global sense, that is, from a social sciences
perspective, of which management science is only one. There are
considerably less that provide perspectives purely from an
organisational and management research stand point. The work
and subsequent text produced by Hatch (1997) provides some
clarity on the varying perspectives relating to organisational
theory. Hatch (1997) suggests four underlying epistemologies in
organisational theory: classical, modern, symbolic interpretive,
and post-modern. Whilst these four research epistemologies are
philosophically distinct in the practice of organisational research,
they are not always clearly defined and established in their short
history. This could be due, in part, to the temporal differences
between organisational theory and that of other disciplines. Quite
often, perspectives influencing other disciplines take time to
migrate across to the organisational and management research
domain, causing a natural delay before they are applied to the
study of organisational and management science.

Hatch (1997) provides a refreshing framework that identifies
specific historic periods when the aforementioned perspectives
became recognisable within the field. Classical emerged from the
1900’s onwards, modern was the 1950’s onwards, symbolic
interpretive 1980’s onwards, and post-modern was the 1990’s
onwards. These periods are more indicative of when perspectives
became influential on organisational theory and not when they
started to emerge in social science in general. Hatch (1997)
considered the four periods in terms of the central issues or
subject of concern, the preferred method for conducting research,
and the sort of results produced.

The classical period considered the effects of industrialism on
society (the social approach) or how to make organisations more
efficient and effective (the managerial approach). The methods
adopted by the researchers of this period relied upon observation
and historical analysis, resulting in typologies and theoretical
frameworks accompanied by prescriptions for management
practice.

The modernist perspective (labelled by others as the
positivist paradigm) changed its focus from society and
management to the organisation itself; taking an objective
epistemological position (looking at the organisation as an object
with dimensions that can be measured); it sought explanation for
the various forms that organisations take, along with their
achievements (e.g. performance, profitability and control).
Modernist research methods relied more on descriptive measures
and correlation amongst standardised measures, leading to
comparative studies and statistical description from analysis (it’s
easy to understand why some label this the quantitative
approach).

The symbolic interpretive perspective is similar in some
respects to the modernist perspective in so far as it looks at the
organisation itself. The significant difference here is that it
adopts a subjective epistemological stance. It treats the
organisation as a subject whose meanings are to be appreciated
and understood. Symbolic interpretive research methods adopt
ethnographic techniques leading to narrative descriptions and
case study analysis. The key feature of the ethnographic
approach is that it is based on what are termed naturalist modes
of inquiry (interviewing and observation), within a predominantly
inductivist framework (Gill and Johnson, 2002). Interpretive and
inductive methods are widely referred to as qualitative methods

The post modern perspective changes the focus once more.
This time it moves from the organisation to organisational theory
and theorising. Its research methods are more akin to
deconstruction leading to self reflexive theorising. Whilst this
paper has so far been concerned with the historical development
of qualitative based research methods and more specifically that
of grounded theory, it provides the essential understanding and
background to that which is about to be disclosed.

Locating Grounded Theory within Contemporary
Qualitative Research

The background material presented in the opening sections
provides for a suitable platform from which to build perspectives
on grounded theory methodology. This section serves to
understand how and why organisational and management
researchers contextualise and locate the methodology within
contemporary qualitative research. Starting with its origins, it
looks at the originators backgrounds and how their history and
previous training contributed to the discovery of grounded theory,
ultimately providing some perspectives on grounded theory,
locating it within contemporary qualitative research.

Glaser (1967,1998) repeatedly tells his audience that
grounded theory is a general method that works well with
qualitative data collection approaches that involve inducting
insights from field based, case data. He refrains from saying it is
a qualitative research methodology per se. Indeed he goes to great
lengths to drive home the message; grounded theory was not
discovered or developed specifically to foster a qualitative
ideology. There are many examples in the field of management
research (Locke, 2001; Goulding, 2002) where grounded theory is
categorised purely as a qualitative methodology and condoned as
anything else, least of all a general methodology. This is due in
part to Strauss and Corbin’s views on grounded theory and where
it should be located within the research paradigm (Strauss and
Corbin, 1990).

The Origins of Grounded Theory

Grounded theory has its roots firmly in the social sciences. It
was developed by sociologists for sociologists (Goulding, 2002).
Developed by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss in the 60’s,
grounded theory was first embraced by the nursing profession for
its ability to decipher and explain what is actually happening in
real-life situations, rather than simply describing what is going
on. Despite its origins, Glaser suggests (1978) that grounded
theory could be used by any discipline interested in generating
theory, citing nursing, education and business as the main
disciplines that have used the method successfully.

The origins of grounded theory have been well documented.
Most qualitative research methods material (Lincoln and Guba,
1985; Miles and Huberman, 1994; Robson, 2001; Huberman and
Miles, 2002; Denzin and Lincoln, 2005) now reference Glaser and
Strauss (1967) which records the authors reasons and thoughts
that led to its discovery and details the processes for applying its
methods.

Glaser (1998) concedes that the path leading to the discovery
of grounded theory was not linear and not one that was initially,
specifically embarked upon. He cites the strong links to
quantitative methodology, qualitative mathematics and the
teachings of Paul Lazarsfeld at Columbia University as the main
influences. He also places his confidence in the constant
comparison of incidents particularly in the aspect of ‘explication
de texte’. Explication de texte is the intensive and exhaustive
scrutiny and interpretation of written work, often word for word
(Guralnik, 1982) and is the French predecessor of the English
version of ‘close reading’. Other influences came from Robert
Merton’s teachings of theory construction (Glaser, 1998).

Strauss’s training, on the other hand, lay in the field of
symbolic interaction, qualitative research and pragmatist
writings that emerged from his time at the University of Chicago.
His influences came from Herbert Blumer, Robert Park, John
Dewey and Everet Hughes (Strauss and Corbin, 1990; Glaser,
1998). Strauss (1990) believes his background contributed to the
notion that individuals play a role in shaping the world they live
in; therefore, to understand ‘what is going on’ one needs to get out
into the field placing emphasis on the importance of theory
grounded in reality.

Wrestling Grounded Theory

Glaser sees grounded theory as a simple inductive approach
where all is data. As a general methodology, grounded theory can
be very multivariate using all kinds of data from various sources,
tables, performance data, and statistically derived results as part
of the grounded theory analysis process. Therefore, he sees
attempts to marry it to another methodology as futile, merely
diluting and complicating the methodology (Glaser, 1998).

Despite Glaser’s attempts to keep grounded theory in a
category of its own by labelling it as a general methodology and
implying it is neither qualitative nor quantitative in its true form,
it is not difficult to see why management researchers continually
attempt to classify grounded theory as qualitative. One only has
to look closely at the language used by Glaser (1967; 1978; 1998)
and that of Strauss and Corbin in their texts (1990; 1998) to see
how and why this has happened. Glaser himself (1998) identifies
grounded theory as an inductive methodology, using deduction to
implement theoretical sampling, implying that the methodology
calls on cannons from other qualitative methods. Indeed Strauss
and Corbin in their texts (1990; 1998) cut straight to the chase
and directly identify grounded theory as a qualitative approach.

This is not the only area where Glaser and Strauss fail to
agree. Since their original work, Glaser and Strauss (1967) have
disagreed on how to carry out grounded theory. Whilst Glaser has
remained faithful to their discovery, Strauss has moved away
from the basic premise that makes grounded theory so unique
and powerful to develop, instead, a method that is more rigid and
structured in its implementation. The now well documented
differences have caused two schools of thought. This means that
academics and practitioners involved with or using grounded
theory fall into one of two categories. Classic Grounded Theory,
sometimes referred to in the literature as ‘Glaserian’ Grounded
Theory, for those who follow the original techniques discovered by
the originators Glaser and Strauss (1967), and Structured
Grounded Theory, sometimes referred to in the literature as
‘Straussian’ Grounded Theory , for those who follow the more
structured techniques proposed by Strauss and Corbin (1990).

Grounded Theory: A qualitative inductive approach

Grounded theory is an inductive approach which also uses an
element of deduction to allow theoretical sampling to take place.
Located at the end of the modernist phase (Denzin and Lincoln,
2005) grounded theory follows a symbolic interpretive
epistemological perspective.

Goulding’s work (2002) provides an excellent account of the
historical influence of ethnography and symbolic interactionism
on the development of grounded theory. Specifically with these
approaches the researcher tries to immerse himself or herself in a
setting and to become part of the group under study in order to
understand the meaning and significances that people place upon
the behaviour of themselves and others (Easterby-Smith et al.,
2003). This could be construed as an over generalised view that is
more particular to qualitative methods in general terms rather
than to grounded theory specifically. Glaser’s view is that the
value of grounded theory is that concepts emerge quickly without
the researcher needing to spend too much time in the field and
running the danger of the researcher influencing the research
subjects (Glaser, 2007).

Grounded Theory and Organisational Research

Since its inception in sociology in 1967 and its subsequent
migration to the field of management and organisational research
in the 70’s grounded theory has slowly developed to become a
respected methodology in the analysts armoury. Grounded theory
methodology is based on the belief that, as individuals within
group environments comprehend events personally, common
patterns of behaviour are revealed (Glaser, 1998); as a group
interacts together people do in fact make sense of their
environment despite apparent chaos. Grounded theory is well
suited to understanding the social processes and the
consequential psychological effects inherent in organisational
change dynamics in what is seemingly a chaotic environment. Its
strength is that the process of theorising ensures that it explains
what is actually happening in practice rather than describing
what is going on. It helps to develop perspectives and to learn
how participants manage their lives in the context of existing and
future organisational challenges; it is therefore well suited to
organisational behaviour inquiry. It is particularly useful for
research in areas that have not previously been studied, where
there is an obvious gap, and where a new perspective could
identify areas for management involvement and improvement.

This method is particularly suited to looking at rarely
explored phenomenon where extant theory would not be
appropriate. In such situations, a grounded theory building
approach is more likely to generate novel and accurate insights
into the phenomenon under study than reliance on either past
research or office bound thought experiment, (Glaser and
Strauss, 1967).

Irrespective of whether the analyst adopts the classical
grounded theory methods developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967)
or the more regimented approach advocated by Strauss and
Corbin (1990; 1998), the method is increasingly being adopted by
managerial and organisational researchers. Most commentators
(Lincoln and Guba, 1985; Robson, 2001; Huberman and Miles,
2002; Denzin and Lincoln, 2005) writing on the subject of
qualitative research methods discuss the merits of grounded
theory and increasingly papers are published in the management
science arena based on research developed using this
methodology (Carrero et al., 2000; Holton, 2007; Kenealy and
Cartwright, 2007; Raffanti, 2005; Schwarz and Nandhakumar,
2002 ); yet frequently manuscripts claiming to be grounded
theory analysis very often tend to be written in a fashion that
would be more consistent with that used for other methodological
frameworks (Goulding, 2002).

It is difficult to find examples of research in the
organisational and management field that follow the exact tenets
of classical grounded theory such as that by Raffanti (2005),
Holton (2007) or Kenealy and Cartwright (2007). Most appear to
be an adaptation of the method. This view is underpinned by
Locke’s (2001) perspective that there is an inclination to adapt
and adopt grounded theory methods within the management
research field; a direction to which Glaser (1998) is strongly
opposed. This adaptation includes the integration of other
qualitative research methods into the grounded theory
methodology. Locke (2001) cites Sutton and Callahan (1987) and
Eisenhardt (1989) as examples of this adaptation.

Closer inspection of the language used in grounded theory
based management research publications (Sutton and Callahan,
1987; Eisenhardt, 1989) demonstrates the prevelance of
Straussian methods within this domain. Qualitative research
should be conducted systematically and rigorously and not
tackled with a casual or ad hoc approach. Procedural rigour,
however, should not be confused with rigidity or structure which
is generally inappropriate with qualitative research (Mason,
2006).

Nevertheless, there is a propensity for organisational and
management researchers to favour the more structured methods
of Strauss and Corbin (1990). This can, in part, be attributed to
the strong influences of the positivist paradigm within this field
and the regimented processes that positivist methods invariably
attract. Without labouring the point too much, grounded theory’s
processes of ‘constant comparison’ and ‘theoretical sampling’
violate longstanding positivist assumptions about how the
research process should work; that is, constant comparison
contradicts the requirements of a clean separation between data
collection and analysis whilst theoretical sampling violates the
ideal of hypothesis testing in that the direction of new data
collection is determined, not by prior hypotheses, but by ongoing
interpretation of data and emerging conceptual categories
(Suddaby, 2006)

This may also help to understand the popularity of Strauss
and Corbin’s (1990) structured guidance as demonstrated in the
research methods material, where there is a tendency to cite
more examples from Strauss and Corbin (1990; 1998) than
Glaser’s textual accounts. Notably, the identification of, and the
levels of, theoretical sampling strategies; Easterby-Smith et al.
(2003), Locke (2001), and Goulding (2002) all appear to use
descriptions of Strauss and Corbin’s 3 tier coding (‘Open’, ‘Axial’
and ‘Selective’) in their text as their coding strategies.

Product Proof and Scientific Rigour

Because grounded theory falls outside normal organisational
and management research traditions, researchers still find it
necessary to continually defend the choice of methodology used,
what Glaser refers to as ‘product proof’, which results in
unwarranted rhetoric about its suitability over that of other
methods. Whilst understandable, this is not necessary, as well
done grounded theory justifies itself (Glaser, 1998). This could be,
in part, because some researchers cite Glaser and Strauss or
indeed Strauss and Corbin against research that purports to be
grounded theory when in reality they are using it as a guise to
hide what appears to be a mess (Suddaby, 2006).

This stems from modernist perspectives regarding scientific
rigour. Modernist qualitative research, according to Denzin and
Lincoln (2005) sought respectability. The stumbling block and
therefore the area of the greatest debate has been the perceived
inability of qualitative based research, particularly grounded
theory to demonstrate scientific rigour (Lincoln and Guba, 1987;
Corbin and Strauss, 1990). Easterby-Smith et al’s. view (2003) is
that grounded theory has been criticised as being suspect because
of its lack of clarity and standardisation of methods, citing the
positivist perspectives in respect of the importance of ‘finding the
truth’ as the culprit. The adaptation of positivist cannons such as
reliability, validity, generalisability, and objectivity, to judge the
processes of qualitative research, has been ill founded. Goulding
(2002) goes a long way to construct parallels between grounded
theory and other qualitative approaches suggesting that all too
often the validity of qualitative research is wrongly assessed
according to quasi-positivistic criteria. Given the paradigm
dominance within the field of managerial and organisational
research this is hardly surprising. Goulding (2002) cites Lincoln
and Guba’s (1985) criteria for assessing the trustworthiness of
qualitative insight as the more realistic model when working in
the area of grounded theory. They considered attending to four
criteria: credibility, transferability, dependability and
confirmability as key to assessing trustworthiness. Here the goal
is to demonstrate that the enquiry was carried out in a way which
ensures that the subject of the enquiry was accurately identified
and explained.

Glaser (1998) is quite specific on the criteria for judging and
carrying out grounded theory and offers a four point check: fit,
workability, relevance and modifiability. Fit according to Glaser
(1998) is another word for validity. Does the concept adequately
express the pattern in the data which it purports to
conceptualise? Workability also refers to the concept. Are the
concepts and the way they are related to the hypotheses
sufficiently accounted for? How are the main concerns of
participants in a substantive area continually resolved?

Relevance makes the research important because it deals
with the main concerns of the participants involved. To study
something that interests no one except a few is probably to focus
on non-relevance or even trivia. Relevance, like good concepts,
evoke instant grab.

Glaser (1998) places great importance on modifiability. He
suggests that the theory is not being verified as in verification
studies and thus never right or wrong. It simply gets modified
when new data is available to which it can be compared.
Strauss and Corbin’s (1990) criteria for assessing and
judging grounded theory studies are based on a seven point
criterion check list: Criterion 1 – How was the original sample
selected? What grounds? Criterion 2 – What major categories
emerged? Criterion 3 – What were some of the events, incidents,
and actions (indicators) that pointed to some of the major
categories? Criterion 4 – On the basis of what categories did
theoretical sampling proceed, that is how did theoretical
formulation guide some of the data collection? After the
theoretical sampling was done, how representative did these
categories prove to be? Criterion 5 – What were some of the
hypotheses pertaining to conceptual relations (that is, among
categories), and on what grounds where they formulated and
tested? Criterion 6 – Were there instances when hypotheses did
not hold up against what was actually seen? How were the
discrepancies accounted for? How did they affect the hypotheses?
Criterion 7 – How and why was the core category selected? Was
this collection sudden or gradual, difficult or easy? On what
grounds were the final analytic decisions made?

It has already been argued that the dominance of positivism
in management research has caused many researchers to seek
rigid structure negating the true value offered by classic
grounded theory. What is interesting is that unlike Glaser’s
(1998) criteria, Strauss and Corbin (1990) suggest that their
criteria should not be read as hard and fast evaluative rules
merely as guidance, accepting that new areas of investigation
may require modification to fit the circumstances, also suggesting
that researchers should indicate what their procedural operations
were.

Grounded Theory and the Novice Researcher

Review the literature and it is easy to see that the odds are
stacked against the qualitative researcher getting qualitative
studies published. Most journals within the field of organisational
management and psychology research are positivist and
quantitative in nature. Symon and Cassell’s (2006) work shows
the neglecting perspectives relating to published qualitative
studies in this area. After a review of the published work in the
Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (JOOP)
and what it has to offer to its readership, they suggest that there
is a tendency to overlook insights that could be gained from
alternative perspectives. ‘Alternative’ here means methods other
than quantitative studies. This is by no means the first time that
this debate has arisen. Symon and Cassell (2006) point to other
debates (Symon and Cassell, 1998; Johnson and Cassell, 2001)
regarding this disparity. They even point to past editors of JOOP
(Sparrow, 1999; Arnold, 2004) who have argued that the journal
would benefit from publishing a wider range of relevant research.
The point here is that it is a difficult, painstaking process for the
novice researcher to get work recognised by way of publication,
let alone overcoming the additional hurdle of persuading
publishers of the value and contribution of qualitative studies.
Add to this the inclusion of grounded theory methods in your
work and the chances of getting published are reduced further.
Most research literature advocates adopting research methods
that fit the aims and objectives of the research, which means
differentiating between exploratory or investigatory research and
hypothesis or validity testing. Obstacles such as these will only
discourage the novice researcher from attempting qualitative
studies and grounded theory methodology in particular.

When it comes to grounded theory, Glaser’s advice (1998) is
simple; “just do it”. This is sound advice, too much time can be
spent studying the methodology but experience only comes from
doing it. For the novice researcher, however, there is a need to
gain an understanding of the methods principles before they can
start. This is particularly so for the researcher working against
specific time restrictions such as those relating to a PhD research
programme where there are always concerns about wasting
precious time. Grounded theory research demands particular
qualities of the researcher that have to be learned before one
gains confidence. For one, it requires the strength of character to
rely on the data; that theory will emerge without forcing the data.
It also requires creativity; creative in the sense that the
researcher must focus on generating ideas that fit and work, the
data takes considerable thought (Glaser, 1978). Most important of
all, it requires experience; it requires the experience of
understanding what research is meant to achieve and the
experience of applying grounded theory tools.

Considering all the reasons mentioned above and the fact
that most doctoral researchers, particularly in the United
Kingdom (UK) are ‘minus mentors’ (Stern, 1994); it begs the
question; are enough novice researchers embracing the
methodology to establish and secure its future within the field of
organisational and management research? Research methods
used and indeed honed as a trainee will invariably form the
backbone of future research projects. Consideration should
therefore be given to the accessibility of grounded theory research
methods material, particularly to the novice researcher.

Most organisational and management research training,
particularly in UK universities, until recent times focused heavily
on quantitative techniques, to the detriment of qualitative based
methods (Easterby-Smith et al., 2003) and especially grounded
theory. Whilst there is an increase in qualitative research and
qualitative research training there is still a lack of experienced
grounded theorists and grounded theory training. It is this
perspective that is the likely cause of grounded theory being
rarely adopted by the novice researcher, particularly those who
are ‘minus mentor’. Combine this with the inconsistency of the
methods literature, partly caused by the two schools of thought
(Glasserian and Straussian) and the result is a low up take of the
method.

Glaser’s approach to grounded theory (1992; 1998) starts by
looking at the particular area of study. This being either a
process or a specific activity where the relevant issues are
allowed to emerge during the course of the research process based
entirely upon the participant perceptions. In essence, he
advocates starting without preconceived ideas.

The appeal of Strauss and Corbin’s approach (1990) is that it
is more specific, they suggest identifying a phenomenon or
looking for specific issues on which to focus the study. It is more
in line with other research methods (both qualitative and
quantitative) in so far as it allows preconceived ideas of what the
subject of inquiry should be, akin to the researcher’s area of
interest before data collection starts.

The confusion is further exacerbated by the tendency of
organisational and management researchers to adapt and adopt
(Locke, 2001); not forgetting the unorthodox fashion by which
most organisational and management grounded theory
manuscripts are presented (Goulding, 2002). Considering all
these points, it’s hardly surprising why the novice researcher
finds other methods more appealing, rather than embarking on
the seemingly uncertain path of grounded theory.

Another concern expressed by a number of commentators
(Locke, 2001; Easterby-Smith et al., 2003) writing on the subject
of grounded theory is the question of access. They see access to
managed organisations as difficult and problematic, suggesting
that some assumptions of grounded theory have to be amended to
deal with difficult situations. Most business managers, if indeed
they are willing to allow access, need to plan the research activity
into the normal operational activity in such a way as to limit the
impact to the business itself. With this in mind, the researcher
seeking access would have to demonstrate how they intend to
conduct their research in the form of an access proposal. The
structure of the proposal would, amongst other things, present
the reader with envisaged interview dates, interview durations
and participant groups; i.e., gender, age, department, job role, job
grade and/or location. This sort of detail may be difficult for the
grounded theorist to present before data collection starts,
dependent on which school (Glasserian or Straussian) is being
adopted by the researcher. The very essence of the method, more
specifically ‘theoretical sampling’, means that parallel processes
of data collection and analysis itself determine how and where to
find more data as the research process progresses. From an
organisational perspective, it would not be practical for
researchers to access participants on an ad-hoc basis nor would
business managers be able to accept this practice in their
organisations.

There is no doubt; access may pose many difficulties to the
researcher. For many, the deciding factor is the duration of
access. The uphill battle to gain access could be swayed by the
amount of access requested by the researcher. Obviously, the
shorter the access, the more chance one has of persuading
business managers to allow the project to go ahead. Grounded
theory does not start with a preconceived idea of sample size or a
fixed duration for interviews. The interviews continue until
‘saturation’ is reached and each interview continues until the
participant has exhausted their story. It would be difficult to
persuade a business leader to give access without first furnishing
details of sample size and how long the interviews will be. If the
researcher has reached the stage where he/she is generating an
access proposal, one would assume that they have already been
through the initial approach or even the initial meetings and
discussions. The aim next is to make sure the door that has now
been opened is firmly wedged open. Gaining access is a critical
juncture in any empirical research project and without the
guidance of colleagues or in the case of a PhD student, a
supervisor, the novice could fall at a very important hurdle. For
the experienced grounded theorist, an assessment can be made
based on previous experience. Experience can help to provide an
approximation of the number of interviews required, along with
an approximation of duration of each interview. Identifying
exactly which group of participants the researcher would like to
interview is a little more difficult. One solution, as with any other
research project, would be to identify the group that the
researcher feels (at the planning stage) would make a valuable
contribution. Once access has been established it is always easier
to renegotiate a short extension later. With grounded theory, it is
always much easier to finalise access requirements after
theoretical sampling is well advanced. For those who do manage
to gain access, limiting disruption and access time is important.
For most grounded theory projects within the field of
organisational management research, there is an inclination to
follow the hermeneutics practices of tape recording then
transcribing interviews in their entirety. According to Glaser
(1998), this is a very time consuming and fruitless exercise,
contemporaneous field notes would help to reduce access time.
Most novice researchers, particularly those following a doctoral
research programme tend to be overly cautious about the
potential of losing data, let alone the concerns about collecting
data and finding that the net result is very little or no
contribution to the area of study. Consequently, they see taping
and transcribing as the safest option. Trying to persuade the
novice researcher otherwise may be futile. Strauss and Corbin’s
stance (1990) on tape recording and transcribing is quite different
to that of Glaser. They suggest taping all interviews but only
transcribing what is needed. This may mean full transcription
initially and then partial transcription as the focus becomes more
acute.

Conclusion

By way of conclusion this section draws on all the points
developed in the paper to present a synopsis view of grounded
theory methodology within the organisational and management
research field, culminating in a concluding view of the novice
researcher and grounded theory.

There is a great deal of confusion caused by the rhetorical
discourse between the contradicting views of Glaser (1992) and
that of Strauss and Corbin (1990). This paper has discussed some
of the differences particularly in relation to the start of a study
where Glaser (1992; 1998) advocates starting without
preconceived ideas whilst Strauss and Corbin (1990) suggest
identifying a phenomenon or looking for specific issues on which
to focus the study.

It is difficult for the novice researcher to accept that the
research method that purports to be grounded theory has two
accepted yet contradictory principals on how to apply its methods.
That said, apart from the terminologies, basic tenets of grounded
theory from both perspectives remain the same; both stick to the
basic premise that grounded theory serves to generate theory
that is grounded in the data; both agree on the importance of
getting out into the field and in the constant comparison of
incidents related to participant stories; both agree with coding,
memoing, conceptualising and theorising. That said, some would
argue that Strauss and Corbin’s research methods have moved
away from the basic tenants of grounded theory and can therefore
no longer be considered grounded theory in its pure form.

The novice researcher would be well advised to consider
following the guidance of one method over the other (Glaserian or
Straussian grounded theory), taking care not to adapt the method
too much. This will allow him/her to develop a greater level of
understanding of the skills required to conduct a grounded theory
study without the incumbency of deciphering the rhetoric wrestle.

There are many challenges facing the novice researcher
considering the grounded theory approach. One such challenge
discussed in this paper is the issue of gaining access to
participants within organisations. The problem of gaining access
is not peculiar to grounded theorists but the methodology
accentuates the problem. This paper describes, in some detail,
the difficulties of providing essential information to support an
application for access. Such information includes the
identification of access boundaries that can clearly demonstrate
the access period start and finish. The very nature of grounded
theory makes it difficult to identify appropriate interviewees, the
number of interviews required and the interview durations at the
study planning stage.

The burden of understanding grounded theory methods and
gaining access to subject organisations is not the only problem
discussed in this paper. The difficulty of achieving publication of
manuscripts that use qualitative data, and grounded theory in
particular, was discussed. In summary, as long as the novice
understands these hurdles he/she can plan and devise strategies
for overcoming such difficulties ultimately leading to a successful
period of study and publications. Certainly the work carried out
by Symon and Cassell (2006) amongst others (Symon and Cassell,
1998; Sparrow, 1999; Johnson and Cassell, 2001; Arnold, 2004)
paves the way towards levelling the playing field such that
different kinds of philosophical commitments may live side by
side with equal weighting in the teaching, research and
publication of material (Beatty and Lee, 1992).

Author

Graham J.J. Kenealy, Ph.D.
Manchester Business School,
University of Manchester, UK
Email: G.KENEALY@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk

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