Editorial: From Grounded Description to Grounded Theory

Astrid Gynnild, University of Bergen, Norway

What is the difference between grounded description and grounded theory?  Many researchers and supervisors of grounded theory ponder that question. It is not always easy to identify the difference, especially since GTs are written up as running conceptual discussions and, as such, might give individuals new to the method a feel of description.

As Dr. Glaser points out in his first article in this issue, “Grounded Description,” it is easy to overdo the open coding stage and incidentally move from potential theory generation into “trying to describe the population studied, like a QDA study requires, by describing all the interchangeable indicators that grounded the concept.” But GT is not about descriptive accuracy and full coverage— a fact which, at times, might be hard to grasp.

Up till now there hasn’t actually been much qualified discussion on grounded description in the literature, but that doesn’t mean that the boundaries between GT and grounded description are clear-cut and simple to understand. More often than not, GT papers submitted to our journal contain bits and pieces of grounded description. That is very understandable; GT authors want to do a good job and are quite naturally afraid of missing out on something in the data. Thus, Dr. Glaser’s upcoming book on grounded description is most welcome and much needed.

In this issue of the Grounded Theory Review I am happy to present no less than the three first chapters of Barney G. Glaser’s upcoming book, one full article, and two short format papers that focus on the increasing use of grounded description, reasons for ignoring it, and challenges of open coding descriptions.

Our reviewers do a great job in supervising the authors on how to develop further their emerging theories. And the experience is that with targeted feedback, the authors find it worthwhile to revise their papers several times. Tendencies of conceptual descriptions are often hard to fight, as leaving out data tends to be a bigger problem than including it. But I am impressed by the energy that GTers display in reworking their papers to make their theories as fit and relevant to the substantive fields as possible.

In the general section, you will find four new grounded theories provided by researchers from Asia, Europe, and the United States. Alan Oh, Puteri Hayati Megat Ahmad, Ferlis bin Bullare @ Bahari, and Peter Voo from Malaysia have generated an amplifying theory on “Pain resolving in addiction and recovery.” Based on analyses of secondary data Alan and his colleagues identified pain resolving as a two-stage basic social psychological process of becoming. The addicts’ identity is formed based on how they resolve their pain; the stages are instantaneous pain relieving and honesting.

The next theory by Norwegian researchers Cathrine Moe and Berit Støre Brinchmann explains how service users and caregivers might cooperate to achieve reablement through optimizing capacity. Reablement of the elderly is a relatively new research field, but the authors of this study indicate that by optimizing capacity with the help of caregivers, elderly individuals are able to regain independence and stay longer in their own homes.

Tracy Flenady, Trudy Dwyer and Judith Applegarth from Australia have studied the patterns of behavior of nurses in emergency departments. Their new theory on rationalising transgression explains how nurses compensate, minimalize or trivialize emotional discomfort associated with erroneous behavior. At first sight, the locus of attention of the theory might seem like a tiny topic but the theory speaks to a wider audience. In this study, rationalizing transgression refers to the ways that nurses perform respiratory rate observations and that they actually don’t count them. Based on the generated theory, the authors question the effects of current methods of knowledge transfer.

James W. Jones from the United States presents a substantive theory of wayfinding. By interviewing two dozen practitioners in the construction industry, he identified how they resolve the main concern of seeking accurate information efficiently and effectively. Constructors typically seek information from architects, consultants, and other agents.  The resolution, wayfinding, consists of five strategies in order to get the information constructors need.

In our section for short papers I am happy to publish two excellent papers by novice grounded theorists. Sajeel Ahmed and Markus Haag from the United Kingdom reflect on and explain ten specific decisions that were used to support and justify key choices during the PhD process while meeting the requirements of classic grounded theory and the the research institute. The authors address significant rhetorical wrestles to be resolved on the way.

Damian Stoupe from the United Kingdom introduces the concept of cultivating abstract wonderment. He argues that abstract wonderment is not only a preposterous concept, abstract wonderment is praxis. Damian has written these wonderful lines on the experiential journey of abstract wonderment: “For the researcher who is passionate about his or her topic and is willing to risk the praxis of abstract wonderment, it demands the inhabiting of the borders between enjoyment and fear, so we can enter a creative space in which new concepts, and meanings, can emerge.”