Barney Glaser – In Memoriam

Barney G. Glaser, PhD, Hon PhD

The editorial board, peer reviewers, and staff of the Grounded Theory Review along with Fellows of the Grounded Theory Institute, mourn the loss of our mentor, teacher, and friend, Barney G. Glaser. Glaser, who co-discovered grounded theory, died from complications of Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 91 in his Mill Valley, California mountain home among the redwoods. At the time of his death, he was surrounded by family and in contact with friends from around the world.

Glaser and Anselm Strauss discovered grounded theory in the early 1960s when they were studying dying within the hospital setting. The study culminated in several publications including Awareness of Dying (1965a), Time for Dying (1968), The Social Loss of Dying Patients (1964), and Temporal Aspects of Dying as an Unscheduled Status Passage (1965b). These original theories uncovered processes within the hospital setting that had never before been identified. With the encouragement of academics who were captivated by their theories on dying, Glaser went on to write most of the seminal book on the grounded theory method, The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research along with his co-author, Anselm Strauss (1967).

Although he had many interests and successful business ventures, Glaser focused much of his life on teaching grounded theory and mentoring novice and experienced grounded theorists. A sociologist at heart, Glaser touched many lives. He founded the Grounded Theory Institute, Sociology Press, and the Grounded Theory Review. He wrote or co-wrote more than 30 books and papers focused on grounded theory. Until the last weeks of his life, he continued to talk about writing his next book, perhaps a conceptual theory about aging, he mused.

In order to preserve the original method and contribute to future researchers, Glaser hosted innovative grounded theory seminars in the U.S. and Europe. Glaser taught and mentored hundreds of PhD candidates and novice researchers through the years. He was world renowned, yet his seminars were conducted in small, intimate settings. He included his family, wore casual clothing, and insisted that everyone address him as Barney. In the course of the seminars, Barney engendered intellectual curiosity and cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas. He was a master at creating a safe learning atmosphere in which ideas sparked and diverse researchers freely exchanged thoughts. Everyone who attended one of his seminars will remember him asking, “What is the concept?” or saying, “Just do it!” Barney became a lifelong mentor and friend to many and a beacon to those who ascribe to the classic grounded theory method.

Much has been written about Barney Glaser. He was born and raised in San Francisco and attended Stanford University for college and later Columbia University for his PhD. He studied under famous scholars and explored the academic world. Each experience, good or bad, helped to shape his thoughts and contribute to the grounded theory method. Glaser is no longer here to encourage and teach the method, but he cultivated many classic grounded theorists who will carry on his mission. Those of us at the Grounded Theory Review and others who knew Barney mourn his death. We will sorely miss him.