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How to... implement grounded theory

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Application of GT to management research

Jones and Noble (2007) attribute the growing popularity of GT in management studies to three factors:

  1. its ability to throw new light on old theory
  2. its relevance to practitioners
  3. its usefulness in uncovering micro-management issues.

Others have commented (for example, Elharidy et al., 2008) on its ability to support the study of actors in their everyday world.

We shall now look briefly at its use in various management disciplines, as evidenced by articles from the Emerald database.


The growth of qualitative research in accounting has seen the launch of Emerald's new journal, Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management. Gurd (2008) maintains that it is the dominant approach for qualitative field studies in accounting, and that the usual home for such studies is Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal.

A consistent problem, however, has been that accountancy researchers do not understand the way in which GT has developed, partly because they are borrowing the methodology from another discipline. Greenhalgh’s 2000 study is quoted by Gurd (2008) as an example of a good write-up of the theory.

Elharidy et al. (2008) consider GT to be particular suitable for interpretive management accounting research (IMAR), which looks at the practices rather than the principles of management accounting:

"GT is consistent with IMAR in its emphasis on developing theory from data, the importance given to ‘local voices’, and its emphasis on explaining interactions between participants in the field".
(Elharidy et al., 2008: p. 143).

Elharidy et al. also provide a table comparing the features of IMAR and GT (2008: p. 149). They point out that most accounting researchers prefer the more structured, Strauss and Corbin approach. Goddard (2004), whose methodology is described above, used GT (Strauss and Corbin) for his study of UK local government.

Sales and marketing

Geiger and Turley (2003) maintain that the social psychological approach of looking at the behaviour of "living actors" and their interactions makes it a suitable tool for analysing relationship selling and marketing.

Goulding (2005) compares the use in marketing research of three different qualitative methods – grounded theory, ethnography and phenomenology – and concludes that use of GT is particularly appropriate where behavioural issues are being studied, as in green, ethical or social marketing. Sternquist and Zhengyi (2006) apply GT to the creation of a product decision process model in China.

Organizational behaviour

The peculiar capacity of GT to capture both the individual’s view and his or her interactions with others has made this approach popular with studies that look at the way in which people behave in organizations.

Lakshman (2007) uses grounded theory to illustrate the role of leaders in information and knowledge management, applauding its longitudinal and processual approach. Douglas (2006) uses it to study management decision making. Macri et al. (2002) use it to explore resistance to change. Bakir and Bakir (2006) use it as a tool to look at managers’ understanding of strategy.

Leisure and tourism

Leisure and tourism have a strong behavioural element which makes GT an obvious research technique. It has been used to create a model of visitor experience of heritage sites in Thailand (Daengbuppha et al., 2006).

Library and information science (LIS)

Mansourian (2006) and Seldén (2005) have both studied the use of GT in library and information science (LIS). Mansourian quotes Powell (1999) as maintaining that LIS lacks "well founded theories", so GT is an obvious choice because of its ability to construct theory.

Both authors trace the use of GT back to researchers at Sheffield university, and in particular Ellis’ 1987 doctoral thesis for that university. GT has been popular with other doctoral students and has also been employed for user studies and various aspects of online learning (Mansourian, 2006).