Doing Quantitative Grounded Theory: A review

Tina L. Johnson, PhD

Whenever I review materials I do so with three eyes. One is
as an educator of Ph.D. students who are just beginning their
knowledge research methodologies. Another eye is towards the
needs of the Ph.D. student in the midst of crafting and defending
their dissertation proposal and finished product. Finally I view
the book from my own educational needs or does this book
provide me as an experienced grounded theorist with needed or
new knowledge of my craft? From two of these three perspectives
I view Dr. Barney Glaser’s new book Doing Quantitative
Grounded Theory
as potentially useful and from the third (my
own learning) give the book a must own rating.

It is well documented that grounded theory attracts Ph.D.
students as a methodology to be applied to their dissertation.
These students, however, rarely have either solid experience
using grounded theory and have little to no training in the
method. Most will receive what training they do have from brief
exposure during general qualitative research courses. This
quantitative grounded theory book might be well applied to
growing number of situations where students are introduced to
grounded theory methodology as a complete course. In
universities, where the focus is on quantitative methods, I can see
this book being an asset as an initial introduction to the method.
The only caution is that instructors of the course may need to
assist students in delving through the occasionally dense
vocabulary and writing.

An additional need that Ph.D. students encounter occurs as
they write and defend their dissertation proposal and finished
product to committees who very often have little knowledge of the
method themselves. This book’s rich inclusion of historical
documentation can, in part, provide resources for the student
being pushed for background knowledge and methodological
defense. Dr. Glaser provides a rich discussion of his early
graduate work with Lazarsfeld as well as his first stab at
grounded theory (quantitative theory) while completing his
dissertation. Although I have read some of the included
historical information in other resources (Glaser, 1998; Glaser &
Strauss, 1999; Thulesius, 2003); This background information is
more expansive as it is the focus of the first chapter and woven
throughout the discussion about and examples from his initial
study provided in the latter chapters (Glaser, 1964).

The main purpose of this book and the perspective that is of
most interest to the experienced grounded theory user is
providing assistance in conducting quantitative grounded theory
analysis. This instruction is not always an easy read especially
for the researcher who is not well versed in quantitative methods.
The book is vocabulary rich but also rich in content that if
carefully examined coupled with (at least in this author’s case)
some remediation of general multivariate statistics can provide
clear guidelines to follow in developing a grounded theory using
quantitative data.

Three broad topics stood out as vitally important both in the
clarification of grounded theories in general and specific ideals
associated with branching out into the use of quantitative,
especially secondary quantitative data. These include the idea of
data fishing to establish theoretical hypothesis. That it is
important to select data that has been collected using
instruments created by some sort of grounding process. Finally
that it is important to select data that can be tracked over time
and/or across specific grouping subcategories (Glaser, 2008).

Both qualitative and quantitative grounded theory employs
the use of ‘data fishing’ (Johnston 2006). This process, held in
taboo by quantitative researchers, is very desirable to the
grounded theorist as fishing is exactly how data is compared and
broad categories discovered (Glaser, 1998; Livingston, 1994;
Trochim, 2005). This process is done by hand when using
qualitative data sources. When quantitative data are available
this process is completed using data tables and statistical
analysis.

Glaser is careful to point out that great care must be taken
in select quantitative data that is appropriate for the purpose.
The Quantitative grounded theorist must keep in mind the
purpose or overall goal of grounded theory: Developing a theory
that explains how an identified population continually works to
resolve a main concern. The data selected for this purpose must
have some origins from subjects’ perspectives (as opposed to data
drawn solely from one researcher’s theoretical musings). In
addition the data must also be rich enough to provide the
researcher with enough information for comparison.

Finally the data selected must be set up so that theoretical
sampling can take place-that is, was the data collected over time,
across ethnic groups etc. A grounded theory is devoid of person
place or time but these ideas must be attended to at some point in
the theoretical sampling process to insure the broad applicability
of the developed theory. The ability to separate and compare
quantitative data across various categories is one aspect of
theoretical sampling and makes the use of acquired quantitative
data possible.

Overall Doing Quantitative Grounded Theory provides
assistance for the new user of grounded theory but excitingly
provides a new avenue for grounded theorists everywhere. We all
know and have internalized the idea that ‘all is data’ however few
of us have seriously entertained the idea that a grounded theory
can be developed solely from quantitative, especially secondary
quantitative data. This book lays the foundation with explicit
example. It is up to us, now, to use these ideas and examples to
develop our own theories.

References

Glaser, B. (1964) Organizational scientists: their professional
careers. Sociology Press, Mill Valley, CA

Glaser, B. (1998) Doing grounded theory. Sociology Press, Mill
Valley, CA

Glaser, B. (2008) Doing quantitative grounded theory. Sociology
Press, Mill Valley, CA.

Johnston, T. 2006. Pushing into advanced mathematics classes:
A grounded theory study of ability grouping in middle
level mathematics classes. Dissertation, Department of
Science and Mathematics Education, Oregon State
University.

Livingston, G. (1994) Fishing the data pool. Marketing News,
28(12), H29.

Thulesius, H. (2003) Balancing cancer from a primary care
perspective: diagnosis, posttraumatic stress, and end-oflife
care. Dissertation, Faculty of medicine, Lund
University.

Trochim, W. (2005). Research methods knowledge base.
Retrieved March 31, 2006 at
http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/concthre.htm.

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