Grounded Theory in Research
As the most widely employed research methodologies among social scientists (Boeiji, 2010; Creswell, 2009; Patton, 2002; Reichard, 2006), grounded theory’s definition and characteristic elements should be studied and understood before a social science research methodology is chosen.
Grounded theory is ideally suited for theory development (Reichard, 2006). It is, as practiced and utilized, a research method unlike any other; grounded theory focuses on research previous to the particular research at hand as well as urges the emergences of new findings through constant comparison and testing between the two (Patton, 2002). “Grounded theory depends on methods that take the researcher into and close to the real world so that the results and findings are grounded in the empirical world” (p. 125). As a research tool enabling the exposure of archetypes within a research effort, grounded theory draws the researcher into the full context of the study with strongly supported (grounded) context, inductive reasoning, and constant comparison between what is known and what is being discovered.
To do this, there are generally accepted universal steps in grounded theory to be used (Martin & Gynnild, 2012; Patton, 2002; Reichard, 2006). First, an area of interest or proposal for study is selected. Next, data is collected about the subject; grounded theory is very flexible, it can use qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-method research as sources. Observations, interviews, written reports, film archives, news reports, scholarly writing, or government data are just a few options for data collection to get a core of information with which to begin (ground) the research. The third characteristic step of grounded theory methodology is open coding (Reichard, 2006). Open coding is merely applying a manageable code to all the data and variables in discussion. Eventually, as a central theme develops, this coding will assist compare and contrast the degree of difference and similarity between previous and current research. From the notes collected through coding and discovery, the next step is selective coding and theoretical sampling. Selective coding occurs as a common theme emerges and now only the central themes (categories) are coded, creating an in-depth pool of data about a specific aspect grounded in investigation and previous research. This leads to further sampling and developing of theory (Martin & Gynnild, 2012) by asking the question how do I gather more information about this topic until one’s categories are as complete as possible. Finally, one organizes the codes from findings into a salient theory grounded firmly on previous and newly discovered phenomena (new causation affects, theory, events, social characteristics, or psychological explanations).
Three Types of Grounded Theory Approaches in Five Articles
Proving theory. Grounded theory can be used to prove an older theory is still valid by testing that theory against new variables of causality (Meltzoff, 2008). Using grounded theory to support previous findings offers an advantage of increased validity and reliability to the current theory that it would not have enjoyed before (Boeiji, 2010; Patton, 2012). While efforts to maximize reliability and validity seeks to create findings that are broadly generalizable and repeatable, exact replication is not possible (Meltzoff, 2008). Through the intense background research and constant comparison and contrast from old to new data (as required by grounded theory), researchers are able to prove the theory of question with deeper validity and modern applicability.
In Why Individuals Take Part in Social Media Activities, Sandler (2012) uses broad research on both online behavior for users and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Motivation to better explain individual motivations toward joining online groups. He asks three questions: why do individuals join online social groups?; does this support Maslow’s ideas about the stages of social pyramid; and does this benefit and fulfill the needs (as defined by Maslow) of social capital? Here, the role of the original theory is to ground the Sandler’s research against a foundation of understanding concerning the social needs proposed by Maslow (Sandler, 2012). Using Maslow’s philosophical assumption that individuals are driven to collect social capital, Sandler then discovers how social networking media is able to fulfill these same needs. He finds that new social media influences are creating innovative situations for interpretation by young people (not previously covered by Maslow); “[t]his creates a new perspective on social capital” and a need for a new “understand[ing of] the theoretical background regarding the reason to join a group or network” (Sandler, 2012, p. 592).
Blanchard, Welborne, Gilmore, and Bullock (2009) use a mixed-grounded theory approach to further sustain and prove Kelly’s (1992) theory of followership conceptualization (in regard to leadership studies). Through an in-depth literature review of current leadership theory, Blanchard, et al. (2009) argue that Kelly’s (1992) theory of followership is still relevant and needs wider study and appreciation to improve leadership theory development. They asked 331 university students about job satisfaction and organizational commitment to ascertain the importance of followership in successful leadership implementation. The followership research concludes that a leadership bias for leaders and against followers exists and a better product of organizational success would be realized if followers were included in planning processes.
Updating a Theory. Another approach for grounded theory is to update a current theory. This update (or augmentation) of current theory is perhaps the most popular use of grounded theory (Creswell, 2009). Grounded theory offers a distinct advantage to this approach (goal) because, by virtue of it core methodology, old and new research findings will be integrated into the analytical phase drawing new conclusions. Kim, Kim, and Nam (2010) have an interest in social networking media’s influence over motivation. They seek to update the current uses and gratification theory with a new index of needs to include social networking media. “Uses and gratifications theorists argued that media users are goal-directed, and thus understanding their motivation is critical... This viewpoint suggests that people are positive actors who use media for gratifying their needs and motivations. In connection with previous studies, this study posits that self-construal may be associated with level and kind of motivation” (p. 1082-1083). To reach this goal, Kim, Kim, and Nam (2010) propose several new hypothesis for exploration:
H1: High independent self-construal is positively associated with nonsocial motivation.
H2: High interdependent self-construal is positively associated with social motivation.
H3: Motivations are significantly influenced by the difference of sex.
H4: Social networking sites uses are significantly influenced by the difference of sex.
H5: Motivations are significantly influenced by the difference of ethnic background.
H6a: Social networking sites uses are significantly influenced by the difference of ethnic background.
H6b: Satisfaction from social networking sites uses is significantly influenced by the difference of ethnic background.
H7: Social motivation is in a proportional relationship with social networking sites uses including number of buddies.
H8:Nonsocial motivation including entertainment, enjoyment, and pastime has a negative relationship with social networking sites uses.
H9: Satisfaction from social networking sites use may be significantly influenced by social networking sites use.
H10: Satisfaction from social networking sites use may be significantly influenced by motivation.
Using these hypothesis as the core of inquiry, Kim, Kim, and Nam (2010) survey 170 college students and merge what is offered by previous research with what emerges from their investigation. Study findings report the relevance of the uses and gratification theory continues with respect to adding an index with social media to its variables (thereby updating it). Just as would be expected otherwise, Kim, Kim, and Nam (2010) report that “[p]eople with strong interdependent self-construal have greater motivations to use [social networking sites], and high motivation level is linked to higher satisfaction level. However, independent self-construal was found not relevant to motivations of using [social networking sites], and low motivations may lead to low usage of [social networking sites]” (p. 1095). As intended, this updating increases the validity of the original theory.
Herold, Fedor, and Caldwell (2007) take a critical look at past research then seek to update the current theory of change management by adding the perspective of self-efficacy and how affects (or not) the successful implementation of change within an organization. Questions were formulated to identify a broad understanding of recent change within 25 organizations and asked of their 553 employees. The fairness, turbulence, interpretation, motivation, and result of the change were explored through the perspective o the employees. “At a general level, the most important findings of this study are (a) that individual differences in change-related efficacy can affect one’s commitment to change and (b) that individual differences in change efficacy interact with the turbulence of the change setting to influence change outcomes, such as commitment” (p. 948). Hedor, Fedor, and Caldwell’s (2007) methodology was grounded in previous research and then used a mixed-methodology (quantitative surveys, qualitative interviews) to update current theory on change management to include recommendations for success by including employee attitudes about change into the initial planning.
Grounded theory can replace a theory. Through the in-depth research and constant cross-analysis required by grounded theory’s strict methodology (Boeiji, 2010; Patton, 2002), a theory can be completely replaced as new information and perspective emerges (Creswell, 2009; Reichard, 2006) and thus proves the pervious theory irrelevant. For Reichard (2006), the gap in leadership theory was the exclusion of women (as leaders) from their prominent role in modern theory. By researching past literature and theories, making new observations, and then making new interpretations employing old and new data, grounded theory allows a new theory to emerge (Creswell, 2009). This is what Reichard did; her research was borne of the idea that the majority of research being focused on male leaders, top-down, and too theory driven. Reichard “attempted to address these gaps in prior research by producing a grounded theory of female leader development within a military context. The iterative processes of open coding, axial coding, and selective coding were implemented to discover the theory from the bottom-up” (p. 3). Reichard began with concrete, contextual information and then surveyed just two female senior Army officers pointing out that in qualitative research, the strength comes not from the size of the sample group, but from the depth of the research. Coding was then done in six categories (family, relationship, watching, feedback, understanding, outcomes, and training). Given the proven success of female leadership her research uncovered coupled with the unique perspective on leadership Reichard herself was able to code, a new theory of affective leadership (given the positive role of females to the entire process) emerged.
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