Challenges Associated with Grounded Theory
Grounded theory is deemed as an effective means of gathering in-depth information from the sample, which can be used in the development of theoretical constructs to explain a particular behavior, event, perspective etc. However the limitations associated with the sampling, validity, reliability and bias seem to raise concerns among scholars about the reliance on it as a tool of qualitative investigation.
Sampling in case of grounded theory has taken on a different approach from other research instruments associated with the quantitative domain. Suddaby (2006) stated that the earlier proponents of grounded theory have identified the sampling process consisting of identification of relevancy of data on the basis of the evolving understanding about the theoretical underpinnings. Such an approach is likely to expose a researcher to the limitations embedded in the simultaneous use of sampling and theoretical development.
Draucker, Martsolf, Ross and Rusk (2007) pointed out another limitation embedded in the use of sampling in grounded theory by asserting that the absence of a structured guide for the implementation of theoretical sampling tends to create difficulty for the researchers. The scholars even if well versed in the use of sampling for grounded theory may face issues in the implementation of the process at any stage of data collection. Therefore, indicating an important area of consideration for the scholars.
Another challenge in the implementation of sampling in grounded theory is that it follows an entirely different approach in comparison to the positivist philosophical foundations of research. It has also been observed that the grounded theory’s approach of using the collected data as a source of judgment for sampling negates the notion of development of hypotheses and their relative testing (Suddaby, 2006). The emerging sampling framework depicts a loosely coordinated idea of sampling, deviating from the essence of sampling techniques reflected in positivist methodology.
The use of theoretical sampling also poses the challenge of determining the sample size beforehand, as in case of quantitative modes of inquiry, or other qualitative means of data collection. Starks and Trinidad (2007) indicated that the sampling process for grounded theory continues with the inclusion of individuals as research participants, until the investigator is able to attain ‘theoretical saturation’. The ambiguity of the criterion for theoretical saturation encourages the use of great deal of subjectivity in determining the achievement of this objective. Such issues in sampling methodology may limit the scope of applicability of grounded theory.
The degree of validity associated with the data obtained through the use of grounded theory has also been challenged by the scholars (Lomborg & Kirkevold, 2003). One group of thought has emerged, arguing that the core elements used for defining the validity of a quantitative approach can’t have parallel application within the domain of qualitative research. As noted by Corbin and Strauss (1990) in order to comprehend the degree of validity of grounded theory as a qualitative tool of investigation, alterations need to be made in the framework illustrating the construct of validity.
Various researchers have offered an alternative perspective to the concept of validity, considering the application of internal and external validity incompatible with the philosophical basis of qualitative research (Sandelowski, 1993; Stenbacka, 2001; Davies & Dodd, 2002).
These scholars suggest that the application of validity in quantitative research doesn’t bear the same valence in qualitative approach. The concept of qualitative validity as proposed by Sandelowski, (2003) is based on the perception of the reader about the degree of trustworthiness and credibility that can be associated with the research, thus adding a great deal of subjectivity in the decision. Such an approach carries the issue of the use of subjective opinion in evaluation of the quality of a scholarly work, leaving the possibility of erroneous perception.
A more refined approach has been presented by Rolfe (2006) who has considered the use of the criterion of credibility and transferability as an alternative approach to internal and external validity respectively. However, the use of these components also poses challenge to the qualitative research as the proponents of quantitative approach argue for the effectiveness of the factors of credibility and transferability. Credibility may provide sound arguments pertaining to the validity of the findings of grounded theory from the perspective of the people who were involved in the sample of the study, however similar perspective may not be found among others (Sandelowski, 1993).
The issue of reliability is also a key challenge the researcher has to face while deploying grounded theory as a means of inquiry, because the subjective nature of analysis makes it an intricate process. Golafshani (2003) indicated that within the sphere of qualitative investigation, researchers are more likely to focus on the criterion of dependability, illustrating the ability of the future researchers to replicate the findings.
However, Parry (1998) argued that the inability of the future researchers to replicate the grounded theory in an exact manner also poses a challenge to the reliability of the findings generated during the research process. For the quantitative approaches, the degree of reliability is easier to determine as compared to the qualitative methods.
Sandelowski (1993) indicated that critics have viewed the use of means such as dependability as a potential source of threat for the level of validity of a grounded theory research. At one hand the incorporation of feedback from other researchers in the form of member or peer checking has been deemed to add to the degree of dependability or reliability of the findings, as the peers or other scholars can provide an unbiased perspective towards the accuracy of sample and its related findings. On the other hand, Sandelowski (1993) argued that such an approach should be incorporated in the methodology with caution as it can have a negative impact on the reliability of the findings and inferences.
Bias in Grounded Theory
The bias involved in the research process can also decrease the degree of trustworthiness and dependability of the inferences drawn from grounded theory. Although within the context of the application of grounded theory as a means of investigation, the researcher is required to identify the sources which can induce biased perspective in the perception of the researcher during the theory development process (Jones & Alony, 2011).
However, such process of acknowledgement doesn’t guarantee that all possible biases involved in the exploration and construct development have been identified. There remains a possibility of overlooking sources of bias as trivial, which may in fact have a significant influence on the research process.
Another source of bias which can decrease the degree of reliability and validity of findings is the bias originating from the respondents, which has been identified as double hermeneutic and the Hawthorne effect (Jones & Alony, 2011). The researcher may find it difficult to identify how participants alter their responses on the basis of the knowledge they have attained during the investigation. Secondly, Hawthorne effect can also manifest itself in the form of behaviors that emerge as a means of forming a positive impression on the researcher, thus polluting the accurate version of reality.
A researcher using grounded theory needs to identify the sources of bias originating from his own ideas about an event, situation, behavior etc, which may be a daunting task, as the biased perception may prevent the researcher from acknowledging the presence of such issues. The inclination to follow preconceived ideas about the area of investigation can also result in filtering out of limited scope of information, and overlooking some important area of concern as it doesn’t seem to fit in the frame of reference adopted in the study (Parker & Roffey, 1997).
Furthermore, the researcher also needs to mitigate the ill effects of participant’s bias on the research findings, through a similar process of identification and control (Corbin & Strauss, 1990). However, the effectiveness of the process can be challenged with the ability of the researcher to handle the identification of bias and sorting out relevant and accurate information from the participants. Considering the dual bias eminent in grounded theory, the researcher would need to be extra cautious in data collection, analysis and interpretation, as bias can seep into the investigation process during any of these stages, challenging the process of effectiveness of bias identification and handling .
Corbin, Juliet M., and Anselm Strauss. “Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteria.” Qualitative sociology 13.1 (1990): 3-21.
Draucker, Claire B., et al. “Theoretical sampling and category development in grounded theory.” Qualitative health research 17.8 (2007): 1137-1148.
Golafshani, Nahid. “Understanding reliability and validity in qualitative research.” The qualitative report 8.4 (2003): 597-607.
Jones, Michael, and Irit Alony. “Guiding the use of grounded theory in doctoral studies–An example from the Australian film industry.” (2011): 95.
Parker, Lee D., and Bet H. Roffey. “Methodological themes: back to the drawing board: revisiting grounded theory and the everyday accountant’s and manager’s reality.” Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal 10.2 (1997): 212-247.
Suddaby, Roy. “From the editors: What grounded theory is not.” Academy of management journal 49.4 (2006): 633-642.
Sandelowski, Margarete. “Rigor or rigor mortis: The problem of rigor in qualitative research revisited.” Advances in nursing science 16.2 (1993): 1-8.