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 of inductive theory-building, categorization, formal theory, and modifiability. Based on grounded analyses of disruptive innovation theory, Chulu has generated the theory of perpetual betterising, which recurrently resolves co-dependent main concerns in a firm held by  “a firm’s dominant coalition and the recipients of organization-created value.” The awareness of this new theoretical perspective enables Chulu to investigate in depth the long-standing and current debates on disruptive innovation.


Vera Barton-Caro presents a grounded theory on embodied revelation. Her study focuses on explaining the decision-making process that heart failure patients go through to avoid potentially sudden cardiac death. Even though lives are saved by implanting a cardioverter defibrillator, many patients decline such therapy. Barton-Caro’s theory of embodied revelation identifies a process of four stages, and explains why many patients hesitate to use the life saving device. It turns out that one of the stages in Barton-Caro’s theory is heightening awareness. Her grounded theory holds implications on several levels—for research, for nursing and medical practice, and for bioethical considerations.


Another grounded theory that illuminates the effects of increased awareness is provided by authors Ulrika Sanden, Lars Harrysson, and Hans Thulesius. Based on longitudinal data from everyday life in a Northern Norway village, Sanden has developed a substantive theory of momentary contentment that explains how the locals resolve their main concern of enjoying life. Momentary contentment has three dimensions: doing safety during which common and individual acts create stability, destiny readiness that illuminates a discourse of acceptance, and middle consciousness, which demonstrates mental storage capacity in handling difficulties without losing balance. The authors suggest that the momentary contentment approach springs out of old survival strategies in a challenging environment.

The only short paper this time is J. Christopher Hall’s piece on utilizing grounded theory to enhance the education of graduate clinical social work field students. Hall’s study focuses on learning and interpersonal awareness through extended use of students’ field journals. His paper provides inspiring insight into the opportunities for extended learning through the writing, reading, coding, and shared analysis of students’ field journals.


Have a good read!