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QUAL-SOFTWARE  March 1999

QUAL-SOFTWARE March 1999

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Subject:

Re: references for 'clinical' coding

From:

Joerg Struebing <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Tue, 23 Mar 1999 21:20:45 +0100

Content-Type:

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Dear Adrian,

Having read Glaser's "Emergence vs. Forcing" book as well as all the other
grounded theory stuff, I must say that I am by far not as impressed by his
arguments as you seem to be.
Besides the fact that the style in which he wrote especially his
introduction is all but academia's pride, there seem to be a number of
serious misunderstandings in his arguments:

First of all, Glaser takes GT for a methodology in the sense that it would
show a 'forcing' and complete way to make theory out of nothing but
empirical data. He explicitly (and angrily) neglects Strauss' notion of the
value of previous knowledge (including theory) for analyzing empirical
data. Strauss, on the contrary would argues that (in my words) GT, instead
of being a theory, is a set of heuristics meant to allow for building
theories that are profoundly grounded in empirical data.
Between these two different notions that seem to be so closely together,
lies a whole continent of difference in meaning and - consequently - practice.

In a way, GT is both more and less than a methodology: It is _less_ so, in
that it is not as strict a guideline or a set of rules as methodologies
usually are. For instance, Strauss emphasizes the point that researchers
need to develop their own research style by adopting the suggestions given
in GT-books to their local practice. That is, he admits that researchers
are individuals with different perspectives, competencies, value patterns,
experiences and so on. Prescribing to them a universal methodology would
mean to ignore the existing differences in local research settings. (BTW:
This very nicely corresponds to findings in science&technology studies
stating that even scientists like biologists of physicists do not simply
apply generalized methodologies but they translate them to their local
needs (specifics of their data, of their experience, their work style and
so forth).

While Glaser (very European with respect to his dealing with universals)
poses an ideal methodology, Strauss is all pragmatist in his attempt to
systematize the existing practices of social researchers in order make
these practices aware- -to the individual researchers as well as to the
methodological discourse in social sciences. GT in Strauss' version is a
perfect example for pragmatism's skepticism against ontologies and
(especially) dichotomies. Strauss would ask: When is theory theory and
nothing but theory? When is data precisely data and nothing but data? Who
draws the boundaries and how to justify them?

If theory is meant to be more than a description of 'the empirical'
(whatever that may be): Where does that extra ingredient come from? The
secret seems to be that   we don't just look at data in order to find out
what's in there. Interpretation is an activity in which we do a (hopefully)
creative rearrangement of our previous knowledge to a new formation of
knowledge (including tacit knowledge of course)

And as I said, at the same time GT is _more_ than a methodology in that it
approaches methodological practice- -which is by far more than handling
principles. It is thorough evaluation of the work process of data analysis
that doesn't judge these practices on the grounds of methodological rules.
Instead the evaluation is based on typical consequences of doing this or
that. The question here is not: Is this 'clean' GT-methodology but: Is this
useful in order to achieve a rich, explaining theory for the phenomena
under scrutiny. That is a pragmatist stance again.

Now, as to Barny Glaser: Together with Anselm Strauss he insists in the
insight that deducing explanations for an current phenomena from previous
theoretical frameworks is both very problematic in terms of practice and
not justifiable in terms of epistemology. His conclusion now is that he
stays with the radical inductivist notion of building all substantive
theory out of empirical data and nothing but empirical data- -just as both
of them posed it in their provocative early "discovery of grounded
theory"-book. The problem is that there is no such thing as pure
inductivism. You want a prove? Glaser himself is the best prove: How does
he 'really' come to his family concept if not out of previous knowledge
(including theory)? There is a profound theory bias behind his statement
that a ready made set of families is _the_ useful tool in order to make
sense out of data. Thereby, he himself admits that explaining phenomena out
of empirical data _alone_ does not work. That way, you would not achieve
more that a nice description of your phenomena.

The crucial point for GT in Strauss' version is that it is concerned with
reasonable and feasible ways of producing theory rather than with testing
theory. GT's point of departure here is, that testing theory (in the sense
of pure deduction) would mean to confront a complete 'data-free' theory
with single instances of data: As long as the data conforms with the
theory, there is not to much of a problem, however, how realistic is the
chance that we are able to find AND TO RECOGNIZE pieces of data that would
criticize a given theory? Though, as Strauss said, "everything is data",
data alone doesn't speak, it also doesn't contradict a given theory. Thus,
one of the basic notions of GT is to construct a theory (basically) out of
data and to make it explanatory for the phenomena under scrutiny. And then,
step by step you would confront your stable little theory with a) data from
divergent phenomena and b) other theories.

However, this is not to say that we should (or even that we would be able
to) empty our head prior to moving into the field. Some still take this old
notion from the 'discovery' book word by word, underestimating the fact
that this book was meant as a provocative polemic against American
1967-mainstream sociological methods. In his more recent books on GT
Strauss (very different from Glaser) underlines the importance of the
different types of knowledge we (as researchers) have prior to starting our
investigation. His point here is that, for instance, theory can be very
inspiring for our analytical work. It may give us some hints on where to
look in our data, what data to collect and so on. And that is true for all
other types of previous knowledge (literature, arts, everyday knowledge and
the lot). It is important, however, that we take this previous knowledge
not as given, testable framework of how to explain the phenomena. Instead,
it should serve as one source of inspiration among others. This is what
Blumer meant with his notion of "sensitizing concepts".

Quite a mountain of words so far. Hope you'll find something in there for
your purposes.

Best Joerg


---------

At 12:29 23.03.99 +0000, you wrote:
SNIP>
>I see that many people directed you to Strauss and Corbin, Miles and 
>Huberman, and Glaser and Strauss.
>I know its a bit late, but you might be interested in Barney Glaser's 
>books, 'basics of qualitastive research' [i think thats right] and
'theoretical 
>sensitivity' [1978]. In the former book, glaser sets out an impassioned 
>argument that his former colleague, Strauss, misunderstood the notion 
>of grounded theory construction, and in his work with Corbin had 
>effectively put forward a different method, full, forced, conceptual 
>analysis. Two things struck me about the argument, once I had got used 
>to the ....ahem... 'force' with which it was written, firstly, 
>Glaser's methods seem more straightforward to apply than others,
> secondly, I found I couldn't dispute his line of argument. 
>Whatever, it is a tricky one, because in effect this puts me on one side 
>of a 'spat' that I'd rather not get drawn into!
>
> 
>
>
>
>
>
>***********************************
>Adrian Bromage
>Westhill College
>Weoley Park Road
>Selly Oak
>Birmingham UK
>B29 6LL
>
>Tel    0121 472 7245
>Fax    0121 415 5399
>E-Mail [log in to unmask]
>***********************************
> 
************************************************************
Dr. Joerg Struebing * Free University of Berlin * Institute for Sociology *
Babelsberger Str. 14-16, D-10715 Berlin * Phone office ++49-30-85002-140 * 
Fax office ++49-30-85002-138 * E-Mail: [log in to unmask] *
www: http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~ifs/struebin/welcome.html *
Home: Lassallestr. 19, D-34119 Kassel, Phone: ++49-561-774946
************************************************************


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