Discovery of grounded theory



The book The Discovery of Grounded Theory published in 1967 by Glaser and Strauss introduced GT as a formal methodology. The underlying objective of the book was in revolt of the general misconception that all 'great' theories had been discovered and that research only involved testing these theories by employing quantities procedures (Charmaz 1983). The view up until then limited the role of research and hence "de-emphasis on the prior step of discovering what concepts and hypotheses are relevant for the area one wished to social research generating theory goes hand in hand with verifying it; but many sociologists have diverted from this truism in their zeal to test either existing theories or a theory that they have barely started to generate"

(Glaser & Strauss, 1967 p1-2)

Hence, unlike most conventional research designs that focus heavily on literature review, the formulation of a hypothesis, followed by examination of the hypothesis using rigorous tests and techniques, GT analyzes the data that emerges from real world occurrences without a predefined hypothesis (Glaser &Strauss, 1967).

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The main aim of GT is to generate theory that is grounded in data, theory that is closest to the 'ground'. Hence, theory generation should enable a clearer understanding of "basic human patterns common in social life". (Chenitz & Swanson 1986 p3)


Since the first version of GT in 1967 by Glaser and Strauss, the 1990 Straus and Corbin version and the 1978/1992 Glaser version witnessed a subtly yet distinctive description of the methodology.


Owing to the nature of the unconventional tools and techniques that are inherent to this methodology, certain key characteristics are highlighted below:

  1. Role of existing literature
  2. Literature review in GT methodology takes place only after the substantive theory has emerged. Only after this stage does existing data contribute to the research being carried on. (Eisenhardt, 1989). Hence, the objective of literature review in other methodologies to identify gaps is contrary to its role in GT

    The emphasis of GT are that i) in areas of the substantive theory and in the areas where research is done, literature review is not conducted b) during the final stages of the generating the theory grounded in the data, existing literature is explored in the area of investigation to be incorporated into the theory to facilitate steady comparison (Glaser, 1998 p. 360:67)

  3. Unit of analysis in GT
  4. Since in the case of GT, the datum is generally a string of words that encapsulate the vital information of an incident; this incident, the unit of analysis, becomes a concept that has been coded during the process of coding (Van De Ven and Pole, 1989)

    Incidents become indicators of concepts that emerge from the various sources of datum. The concept indicator model below illustrates the constant comparison between indicators before a conceptual code is generated. This is followed by comparison of the all the indicators to the broader concept. This rigorous and continuous method of indicator- indicator comparison and indicator - concept comparison highlights the resemblance and variations of the meaning of the concept, resulting in the emergence of a category and its dimensions (Glaser 1978)

    The concept indicator model (Glaser 1978, p.62).

  5. Theoretical Sampling
  6. Sampling in GT is defined by the concepts that emerge in the course of investigation and is hence an ongoing process that is limited not by the research design, but to the point of theoretical saturation. According to Glaser and Strauss (1967, p.45)

    "Theoretical Sampling is the process of data collection for generating theory whereby the analyst jointly collects, codes, and analyses his data and decides what data to collect next and where to find them, in order to develop his theory as it emerges. This process of data collection is controlled by the emerging theory, whether substantive or formal."

  7. Selection of the 'core' category
  8. Identifying the core category and to accordingly establish boundaries of investigation is one of the most crucial steps in GT in order to ensure that the theory generated 'is an indication of the behavioural patterns that is pertinent to those involved'(Glaser, 1978, p. 93).

  9. Relationship between data and theory
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    GT has come to be understood as an inductive method-where theory is an outcome of research (Glaser, 1978; Glaser and Strauss, 1967;Strauss and Corbin, 1998). Theoretical sampling, a key feature of GT is driven by categories that have emerged in the course of investigation, hence by virtue, is deductive.

The inductive-deductive cycle of grounded theory method


"The nature of trust in brands: A psychosocial model." by Elliot, Richard & Yannopoulou, Natalia. (2007). European Journal of Marketing, 41:9/10.988-998

The paper examines the role of trust in the buying behaviour of functional brands and symbolic brands. The authors employ an 'exploratory, grounded theory' approach and conduct 14 in-depth interviews.

The paper uses the sociological theory of trust to indicate the different modes of expectations - familiarity, confidence and trust- and also how these levels are applicable to consumer brands with varying perceived risks.

One of the most important aspects of GT is to create an in-depth data that highlights key concepts, categories, dimensions and properties of the occurrence under observation (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Therefore, it is imperative that an appropriate sample size be considered to generate sufficient data (Auerbach &Silverstein, 2003). The appropriateness of the sample size is addressed by 'theoretical saturation' (Glaser &Strauss, 1967).

The paper does not mention if 'theoretical saturation' was considered in the process of theoretical sampling. Hence, one could argue that since the data is the source of meaningful and reliable results, it is crucial that researchers make certain that saturation has occurred (Corbin & Strauss, 1998; Glaser & Strauss, 1967)

Although the terms 'Reliability' and 'Validity' have been defined by experts in sligh from different perspectives, the concepts continue to be important areas to the research in any paradigm. LeCompte and Goetz (1982) and Guba and Lincoln (1994) identified measures of validity and reliability- albeit a slight variation.

Triangulation is a technique that enhances the reliability and validity of the findings of the research and the research itself. As indicated by Mathison (1988 p 13)

Triangulation has come to being an essential methodological issue in both naturalistic and qualitative objective of evaluation, with a view of controlling any bias therein and to establish valid suggestions since the conventional techniques are not compatible with these alternate forms of epistemology.

The paper however does not address issues regarding reliability or validity. Further, this could raise issues of the researchers theoretical inclinations, own assumptions and personal values leading to influencing the conduct of the research and its findings, without actually intending to.


Glaser & Strauss (1967) emphasise that the researcher should be free of any 'preconceived ideas' during the stages of data collection and analysis.


GT in all its glory has in its repertoire an array of research methods ranging from constant data collection and comparison, theoretical sampling, coding and categorising. These are not simply 'add-ons', instead are essential components of the process of GT.