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How to... implement grounded theory

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Limitations of GT

It can be seen from the examples cited earlier that GT has a great deal to offer, particularly with regard to the study of human behaviour and people in their natural environment. There are problems, however; the research can take considerable time and effort, and it can be difficult to predict the end, thus causing budgetary problems.

The most obvious limitation of GT is that – particularly in a discipline which has "borrowed" the approach from sociology, and therefore has not been close to, or part of, its continuing evolution – management researchers are unaware of the different schools, and therefore use the approach incorrectly and tend to cherry-pick.

This claim is made by quite a few writers, but is articulated most extensively by Jones and Noble (2007), who analyse 32 empirical GT studies in the management literature since 2002.

They show that many of the studies ignore fundamental tenets of GT: six make no reference to theoretical sampling, only four use axial and selective coding, and there is patchy use of constant comparison, memoing and theoretical saturation.

Thus GT is, Jones and Noble believe, in danger of losing its integrity. They offer three suggestions to reverse this trend:

  1. The researcher should state the school of GT to which he or she belongs.
  2. The objective should always be to generate a core category.
  3. A set of core procedures should be followed, which were endorsed by both Glaser and Strauss:
    – simultaneous collection, coding and analysis of data;
    – theoretical sampling;
    – constant comparison;
    – category and property development;
    – systematic coding, memoing, saturation and sorting.

Seldén (2005) goes beyond Jones and Noble to criticize GT itself, and in particular Glaser’s insistence on the absence of pre-understanding, which he contests (p. 123) could lead to the possibility of duplicating existing work. He also doubts whether it is possible for research to generate purely from the data. His views may be singular, although his article provides a very useful reflection on his use of GT.