Grounded theory research: Procedu...
Qualitative Sociology, Vol. 13, No. t, 1990 Grounded Theory Research: Procedures, Canons, and Evaluative Criteria Juliet Corbin 1 and Anselm Strauss Using grounded theory as an example, this paper examines three methodologi- cal questions that are generally applicable to all qualitative methods. How should the usual scientific canons be reinterpreted for qualitative research? How should researchers report the procedures and canons used in their re- search? What evaluative criteria should be used in judging the research products? We propose that the criteria should be adapted to fit the procedures of the method. We demonstrate how this can be done for grounded theory and suggest criteria for evaluating studies following this approach. We argue that other qualitative researchers might be similarly specific about their procedures and evaluative criteria. INTRODUCTION In this paper 2 We address three related methodological issues. How should the usual scientific canons be redefined for qualitative research in social science? How should qualitative researchers report the procedures and canons used in their research? What evaluative criteria should be used in judging the products of particular studies? These products are not all identical in type be- cause researchers variously aim at producing rich descriptions, ethnographic fact-finding accounts, narratives that yield verstehen, theoretical analyses of par- 1Address correspondence m: Juliet M. Corbin, R.N., D.N.Sc., Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143. 2We wish to thank Kathy Charmaz, Adele Clarke, Uta Gerhardt, Barney Glaser, David Maines, Virginia Olesen, Leonard Schatzman, Joseph Schneider, Hans-Georg Soeffner, and Leigh Star, whose often detailed comments on earlier drafts appreciably aided u s in clearing up ambiguities and inconsistencies, preventing possible misunderstandings. In addition, Adele Clarke did painstaking and effective editorial work on an earlier version. �� 1990 Human Sciences Press, lnc,
4 Corbin and Strauss ticular phenomena, systematic theory, or politically intended consciousness-rais- ing documents. Presumably, researchers who aim at such different goals will use at least somewhat different procedures. If so, we should not judge the results of their research by the same criteria. We will try to illuminate these methodological issues by demonstrating how we have redef'med the evaluation criteria in light of the procedures of grounded theory methodology. To do this we have first to explicate some of the procedural steps of grounded theory. We will conclude by offering a specific set of criteria for evaluating studies that follow the grounded theory approach. Our intent is to show how this can be done and to challenge other qualitative researchers to spell out their own procedures (Cf, Miles and Huberman, 1984 Manning, 1987) and evaluative criteria. Grounded Theory: Overview and Brief Description of Its Canons and Procedures Qualitative methods, like their quantitative cousins, can be systematically evaluated only if their canons and procedures are made explicit. In this section, we describe the unions and procedures of grounded theory. (For a more detailed explanation see: Glaser & Strauss, 1967 Glaser, 1978 Strauss, 1987 Strauss & Corbin, forthcoming 1990). First, however, we shall briefly note an issue well recognized by qualitative researchers. Qualitative studies (and research proposals) are often judged by quantitatively-oriented readers by many, though not all, the judgment is made in terms of quantitative canons. Some qualitative researchers maintain that those canons are inappropriate to their work (Cf., Agar, 1986 Guba, 1981 Kirk and Miller, 1986), and probably most believe that modifications are needed to fit qualitative research. Grounded theorists share a conviction with many other qualitative researchers that the usual canons of "good science" should be retained, but require redefinition in order to fit the realities of qualitative research and the complexities of social phenomena. These scientific canons include significance, theory-observation compatibility, generalizability, consistency, reproducibility, precision, and verification (Cf., the succinct discussion in Gortner and Schultz, 1988, p. 204). They are so much taken for granted by physical and biological scientists that even philosophers of science do not explicitly discuss most of them except for verification, though canons such as precision, consistency, and relevance are certainly implicit (Pop- per, 1959). When using these terms, qualitative researchers must guard against the dangers that lie in their positivistic connotations. There is no reason to define or use them in accordance with the standards of quantitative social researchers, any more than one would strictly follow the usages of physical scientists. Every
Grounded Theory Research 5 mode of discovery develops its own standards--and canons and procedures for achieving them. What is important is that all of these are made explicit. Below we shall explicate how this has been done for grounded theory research. Overview While grounded theory has not changed in form since it was first intro- duced in 1967, the specificity of its procedures has been elaborated in some detail as the method has evolved in practice. The procedures of grounded theory are designed to develop a well integrated set of concepts that provide a thorough theoretical explanation of social phenomena under study. A grounded theory should explain as well as describe. It may also implicitly give some degree of predictability, but only with regard to specific conditions. Grounded theory derives its theoretical underpinnings from Pragmatism (Dewey, 1925 Mead, 1934) and Symbolic Interactionism (Park and Burgess, t921 Thomas and Znaniecki, 1918 Hughes, 1971 Blumer, t 969). Though one need not subscribe to these philosophical and sociological orientations to use the method, two important principles drawn from them are built into it. The first principle pertains to change. Since phenomena are not conceived of as static but as continually changing in response to evolving conditions, an im- portant component of the method is to build change, through process, into the method. The second principle pertains to a clear stand on the issue of "deter- minism." Strict determinism is rejected, as is nondeterminism. Actors are seen as having, though not always utilizing, the means of controlling their destinies by their responses to conditions. They are able to make choices according to their perceptions, which are often accurate, about the options they encounter. Both Pragmatism and Symbolic Interactionism share this stance. Thus, grounded theor 3, seeks not only to uncover relevant conditions, but also to determine how the actors respond to changing conditions and to the consequences of their ac- tions. It is the researcher's responsibility to catch this interplay. This interactive approach is necessary whether the focus of a study is microscopic, say of workers' interactions in a laboratory, or macroscopic, as in a study of the health industry or the AIDS policy arena. As in other qualitative approaches, the data for a grounded theory can come from various sources. The data collection procedures involve interviews and observations as well as such other sources as government documents, video tapes, newspapers, letters, and books--anything that may shed light on ques- tions under study. Each of these sources can be coded in the same way as interviews or observations (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, pp. 161-184). The inves- tigator will use the usual methods suggested in the interview and field work literature to assure credibility of respondents and to avoid biasing their respon-