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Celebrating 50 Years of Grounded Theory: Onward and Forward Editorial

Astrid Gynnild, University of Bergen Welcome to this very special issue of the Grounded Theory Review.  In this issue we celebrate 50 amazing years of grounded theory during which it has become one of the fastest growing methods in the global research world. Five decades after The Discovery of Grounded Theory was first published, the seminal work of founders Barney G. Glaser and Anselm Strauss is cited more than 94,000 times on Google Scholar alone. We celebrate that after 50 years of researching, teaching, defending, explicating and clarifying grounded theory as a principally inductive approach to theorizing, co-founder Barney G. Glaser still produces books on grounded theory at an incredible pace. In the last three years alone, from 2014 to 2017, Dr. Glaser has produced six new books that discuss vital aspects of doing grounded theory. We also celebrate that the Grounded Theory Review, after two years of scholarly assessment, is now accepted into the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI) within the Web of Science. This index is a new database within Clarivate Analytics.  The basis for acceptance is impact, influence, peer reviews and recommendations by scholarly users of the Web of Science. It is a valued endorsement of the quality of the Grounded Theory Review and will improve its visibility within the academic world. We further celebrate that grounded theorists from all continents have the opportunity to participate in a growing number of troubleshooting seminars. The seminar is a productive arena for bringing emerging theories another step towards publication. While writing this editorial, I find myself once again immersed in the exciting learning space of a troubleshooting seminar led by Dr Glaser, this time in Mill Valley, California.  At the chronological age of 87 Glaser still runs the seminar with methodological authority and reversal humor. And he keeps arguing that the discovery of theory from data is a major task confronting researchers today. Interestingly, when Glaser and Strauss wrote The Discovery of Grounded Theory back in 1967, they opened the first chapter in this way: Most writing on sociological method has been concerned with how accurate facts can be obtained and how theory can thereby be more rigorously tested. In this book we address ourselves to the equally important enterprise of “how the discovery of theory from data—systematically obtained and analyzed in social research—can be furthered. We believe that the discovery of theory from the data—which we call grounded theory—is a major task confronting sociology today, for, as we shall try to show, such a theory fits empirical situations, and is understandable to sociologists and layman alike. Most important it works—provides us with relevant predictions, explanations, interpretations and applications. The multitude of theories produced over the last 50 years confirm that Glaser and Strauss were right—GTs provides us with relevant predictions, explanations, interpretations and applications. We celebrate these events by publishing an extended issue of the Grounded Theory Review. In this issue scholars from many disciplines contribute with their ongoing research and reflections on doing grounded theory. These articles demonstrate the breadth of approaches within the global grounded theory community by providing a glimpse into some of the multifaceted theorizing using the procedures of classic grounded theory. Since grounded theory is a method aimed at conceptualizing patterns of human behavior, examples help us to understand the various steps in doing a grounded theory study. Thus, in this celebratory edition of the journal we follow Glaser’s predications  on the necessity of exampling, and provide more than 20 papers, short and long,...

Awareness Vitalities: Editorial

Astrid Gynnild, University of Bergen, Norway Grounded theory go beyond time, place, and people. Thus, even in times of rapid change, we should expect that good grounded theories are relevant and applicable in their field for many decades. Perhaps the real test of grounded theory is that of its temporal endurance? This year, at the end of 2015, fifty years have passed since Glaser and Strauss’ first study where grounded theory principles were applied.  Their seminal book Awareness of Dying (1965) is thus a messenger of the long-term usability and influence of a rock solid grounded theory. In the age of big data I just couldn’t help checking out the statistics: Fifty years after its publishing, the first seminal work still ranks high on Google Scholar’s list of most cited grounded theory books. It appears that Awareness of Dying is the fourth most cited book by Barney G. Glaser, next to The Discovery of Grounded Theory (1967), Theoretical Sensitivity (1978), and Emergence versus Forcing (1992). In celebration of Awareness of Dying, this issue of the Grounded Theory Review is devoted to a bundle of awareness themes. In the special section, we are happy to present three articles that deal directly with applications of the awareness concept. In the first article, the experienced grounded theorists Tom Andrews and Alvita Nathaniel look back at the origin of the grounded theory approach and re-examine awareness of dying in light of more recent research. They find that the theory is as “fresh and relevant” as it was when it was first published. The authors predict that the awareness of dying theory will continue to serve as a guide to nurses and physicians by identifying predictable processes that can help to alter actions to improve the care of dying patients. In her article on awareness contexts and disasters, another experienced grounded theorist, Vivian B. Martin, extends awareness contexts beyond the medical field by examining the role of awareness in several high-profile disasters, including the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. Martin discusses in what ways discounting awareness helps explain the poor communication flow before and during disasters. Her essay also illuminates pre-crisis patterns that could have reduced the impact of the disasters if awareness processes had been attended.  Martin’s ongoing theorizing on discounting awareness contexts was originally prompted by Awareness of Dying, and further explored in her own studies of news-attending.   The third article in the Special Section is a reprint of chapter 14 in Awareness of Dying from 1965. The chapter was selected by Dr. Barney G. Glaser when asked whether he wanted to contribute a paper on awareness. The chapter is entitled “Practical Use of Grounded Theory” and provides an interesting explanation on the usefulness of writing up a grounded theory as a running text. Glaser and Strauss point out that in the book they have “indicated many strategic places, points and problems in dying that we feel would profit from the application of our theory.” They argue for leaving such short discourses in context, instead of gathering them into one chapter. It is interesting to note that the focus on practical uses of grounded theories was there initially, and the key was providing awareness through conceptualization. Moreover, in connection with the reprint of chapter 14, we also provide a reprint of the preface of Awareness of Dying.   In the general section, author Brett B. Chulu argues that Clayton Christensen’s famous theory of disruptive innovation is anchored in grounded theory ideas...

Awareness of Dying Remains Relevant after Fifty Years

Tom Andrews, University of Cork, Ireland, Alvita Nathaniel, West Virginia University, USA Abstract This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Awareness of Dying, one of four monographs that culminated from a six-year funded research program titled Hospital Personnel, Nursing Care and Dying Patients (Glaser, 1968). Written by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss, Awareness of Dying (1965) was the first published study utilizing a new, groundbreaking research method. Glaser and Strauss termed this new method grounded theory because it was based upon data that was grounded in the real-live experiences of people. In this paper, we will look back at the origin of the grounded theory method and re-examine Awareness of Dying in light of more recent research in the area. Keywords: awareness of dying, dying process, end-of-life care, grounded theory Introduction Following publication Awareness of Dying, Glaser and Strauss published a detailed description of the new method that they used to discover the theory. The grounded theory method was derived from a melding of the authors’ backgrounds: Glaser’s study of quantitative and qualitative math at Columbia University under Lazarfeld, his study of explication de texte at the University of Paris, his study of theory construction under Merton, and Strauss’s study of symbolic interactionism under Blumer at the University of Chicago (Glaser, 1998; Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Their meticulous description of the method in a subsequent publication, The Discovery of Grounded Theory (1967), provided the structure for others who would subsequently use the method. It also garnered respect because it took advantage of reputable mathematic quantitative and qualitative ideas. Some would say that theory that is grounded in the experiences of people is the most important and distinctive scientific activity for human beings because theories depict a meaningful pattern. Because of this real-world orientation, grounded theories offer clear understandings of predictable processes and patterns of behavior. Grounded theories help us to understand that when certain patterns emerge, particular people respond in predictable ways and their actions produce predictable results (Nathaniel, 2007). When we understand patterns that affect people, we can work towards altering them. Thus, theories have the potential to give us more insight and control in predictable situations. Awareness of Dying 1965 Awareness of Dying is historically important because it was the first grounded theory ever published. For six years, Glaser and Strauss conducted intensive fieldwork involving a combination of observations and interviews at six hospitals. The purpose of their research was to contribute toward creating end-of-life care that was more rational and compassionate. The investigators were allowed to observe different aspects of dying within these six hospitals; death at these locations was “sometimes speedy, sometimes slow; sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected; sometimes anticipated by the patients, sometimes unanticipated” (Glaser, 1968). The researchers observed nurses and physicians at work. They sat at the nurses’ stations, attended staff meetings, and talked with patients. They also asked questions and interviewed staff. The theory that emerged from this intense investigation presented an eye-opening view of how patient care was affected by the awareness level of the dying process by nurses, physicians, and patients. Today, most people choose to die in hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes. The situation was much the same in the 1960s. When people die in institutions, nurses and physicians, who are virtual strangers, are responsible for care during the last days of life. During the course of their observations, Glaser and Strauss found that Americans hesitated to talk openly about dying and were prone to avoid telling...

The system was blinking red: Awareness Contexts and Disasters

Vivian B. Martin, Central Connecticut State University, USA Abstract The awareness context has been a source of inspiration for grounded theories for more than 50 years; yet little has been done to extend the theory beyond nursing and the medical field, and a few works on identity. This paper extends the awareness context by examining its role in several high-profile disasters, natural and man-made, where gaining a clear sense of what was going on was often blocked by poor information flow and general communication failures, interpersonal and technological. Selective coding and the introduction of new concepts after analyzing hundreds of pages of documents issued by special commissions in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, and the Sago Mine Disaster not only explain various processes around awareness in the midst of crisis, but also illuminate pre-crisis patterns that, if attended, could have mitigated the impact of the disasters. Keywords: Awareness context, crisis communication, sociology of disaster, situational awareness, 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, Deepwater Horizon explosion, Sago Mine Disaster. Introduction Whether it is in personal interactions, professional life, or community activities, we are always communicating and processing information. Some of this information is innocuous and of no immediate consequence, while other information may have direct bearing on our wellbeing, that of our families, or colleagues. In such high stakes situations, it is important to have immediate access to information that is complete and credible. Seen from this perspective, Glaser and Strauss’s awareness context (1964, 1965) addresses a fundamental communication process of everyday life. We move in and out of awareness contexts throughout daily life. The identification of a typology of awareness in which interactions among health professionals and patients are shaped by whether a patient is aware of a terminal diagnosis was a critical intervention in nursing and medical studies, and continues to be a starting point for much research (Andrews & Nathaniel, 2010). The subject—dying—and discipline in which this theory has been embedded and extended across numerous illnesses and concerns may mask the essential work of the awareness context as a theory about the managing and sharing of information, a concern throughout organizations and institutions. Of course, the awareness context has not been limited to health issues. The role of identity and the interactions that occur when people are uncertain of the identify of another is highlighted in the American Sociological Review article Glaser and Strauss (1964) published prior to the release of Awareness of Dying; Ekins’s (1997) work on cross-dressing is a successful extension of the awareness context into this realm. But awareness as a concept offers many more possibilities for explaining phenomena that impede the distribution of critical communication across many spheres. This paper extends the awareness context by examining its role in several high-profile disasters, natural and man-made, where gaining a clear sense of what was going on was often blocked by poor information flow and general communication failures, interpersonal and technological. Selective coding and the introduction of new concepts from analyzing hundreds of pages of documents issued by special commissions in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, and the Sago Mine Disaster not only explain various processes around awareness in the midst of crisis, but also illuminate pre-crisis patterns which, if attended, could have mitigated the crises. The awareness context becomes an important contribution to crisis communication and organizational communication. Concepts such as abridging awareness, discounting...

The Practical Use of Awareness Theory

(A reprint of Chapter 14 in Awareness of Dying, first published 1965) Barney G. Glaser, PhD, and Anselm L. Strauss In this chapter we shall discuss how our substantive sociological theory has been developed in order to facilitate applying it in daily situations of terminal care by sociologists, by doctors and nurses, and by family members and dying patients. The application of substantive sociological theory to practice requires developing a theory with (at least) four highly interrelated properties. (As we have demonstrated in this book and will discuss explicitly in the next chapter, a theory with these properties is also very likely to contribute to formal—i.e., general—sociological theory.) The first requisite property is that the theory must closely fit the substantive area in which it will be used. Second, it must be readily understandable by laymen concerned with this area. Third, it must be sufficiently general to be applicable to a multitude of diverse, daily situations within the substantive area, not just to a specific type of situation. Fourth, it must allow the user partial control over the structure and process of the substantive area as it changes through time. We shall discuss each of these closely related properties and briefly illustrate them from our book to show how our theory incorporates them, and therefore why and how our theory can be applied in terminal care situations.[1] Fitness That the theory must fit the substantive area to which it will be applied is the underlying basis of the theory’s four requisite properties. It may seem obvious to require that sub-stantive theory must correspond closely to the data, but actually in the current ways of developing sociological theory there are many pitfalls that may preclude good fitness.[2] Sociologists often develop a substantive theory—theory for substantive areas such as patient care, delinquency, graduate education—that embodies, without his realization, the sociologist’s ideals, the values of his occupation and social class, as well as popular views and myths, along with his deliberate efforts at making logical deductions from some formal theory to which he became committed as a graduate student (for example, a theory of organizations, stratification, communication, authority, learning, or deviant behavior). These witting and unwitting strategies typically result in theories too divorced from the everyday realities of the substantive area, so that one does not quite know how to apply them, or in what part of the social structure to begin applying them, or where they fit the data of the substantive area, or what the propositions mean in relation to the diverse problems of the area. The use of logical deduction rests on the assumption that the formal theory supplies all the necessary concepts and hypotheses; the consequences are a typical forcing and distorting of data to fit the categories of the deduced substantive theory, and the neglecting of relevant data which seem not to fit or cannot be forced into the pre-existing sociological categories.[3] In light of the paucity of sociological theories that explicitly deal with change,[4] logical deduction usually is carried out upon static theories which tends to ensure neglect, distortion, and forcing when the deduced theory is applied to an ever-changing, everyday reality. Clearly, a substantive theory that is faithful to the everyday realities of the substantive area is one that is carefully induced from diverse data gathered over a considerable period of time. This research, usually based primarily on qualitative data gathered through observations, interviews and documents and perhaps later supplemented by surveys, is directed in...

Awareness of Dying Preface

This text is a reprint of the Preface of Awareness of Dying (1965) by Barney G. Glaser and Anselm L. Strauss PREFACE Once upon a time a patient died and went to heaven, but was not certain where he was. Puzzled, he asked a nurse who was standing nearby: “Nurse, am I dead?” The answer she gave him was: “Have you asked your doctor?” —Anonymous, circa 1964 Recently The New York Times reported: “VERY ILL CHILDREN TOLD OF DISEASE; Leukemia Patients at N.I.H. Not Shielded From Truth. . . . A child should always be told the truth, even when he has an incurable disease such as leukemia, according to two researchers who interviewed 51 children hospitalized at the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, for treat¬ment of leukemia.” This kind of news item reflects the growing concern among researchers and public about matters which touch on morality as much as on the technical aspects of medi¬cine. The rapidly increasing proportion of elderly people in the American population presents a range of personal and social questions; not the least is how they view their newly won longevity (often including anticipated years of chronic disease) as well as their attitudes toward death. In consequence, many geriatric specialists are beginning to study American attitudes toward death, while others, spurred on by what seems a sense-less prolonging of life within hospital walls by medical tech¬nology run wild, are raising questions about death and dying in American life. Our book is no exception to this trend; indeed, we would further it. We wish to contribute toward making the management of dying—by patients, families and health professionals—more rational and compassionate (and the two are far from incompatible). The chief differences between our approach and others’ can be quickly summarized. Recognizing that most Americans are now dying inside hospitals, we have focused upon what happens when people die there. We have focused on the interaction between hospital staffs and patients, rather than on the patients themselves. We have reported on contexts of action rather than merely on “attitudes toward death.” And we have been less concerned with death itself than the process of dying—a process often of considerable duration. This approach reflects our sociological perspective, for we have attempted to channel our reforming impulses into an inquiry not at all medical in character. If increasingly Americans are dying within medical establishments, surrounded more by nurses and physicians than by kinsmen, then how do these representatives of the wider society manage themselves and their patients while the latter are dying? How is the hospital’s organi¬zation capitalized upon in this process? What forms of social action, transitory or more permanent, arise while handling the dying of people? What are the social consequences for the hos¬pital and its staff, as well as for the patients and their families? To answer these kinds of questions, we did intensive fieldwork (involving a combination of observation and interviewing) at six hospitals located in the Bay area of San Francisco. We chose a number of medical services at each hospital, selected, as we shall explain later, to give us maximum exposure to dif¬ferent aspects of dying—locales where death was sometimes speedy, sometimes slow; sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected; sometimes unanticipated by the patient, sometimes anticipated; and so on. The reader who is unacquainted with this style of field research need only imagine the sociologist moving rather freely within each medical service, having announced his intention of “studying terminal patients and what happens around them”...