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For this assignment please write a discussion section that thoroughly describes what was “learned” in one of the mock studies proposed in Sections 1 or 2. Support your paper with a minimum of 5 resources. In addition to these specified resources, other appropriate scholarly resources, including older articles, may be included.Length: 5-7 pages not including title and reference pagesReferences: Minimum of 5 scholarly resources.Your paper should demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the ideas and concepts that are presented in the course and provide new thoughts and insights relating directly to this topic. Your paper should reflect scholarly writing and current APA standards.
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Article
Conceptualization: On Theory and Theorizing Using Grounded Theory
Barney G. Glaser
The Grounded Theory Institute
Mill Valley, California, USA
© 2002 Glaser. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Abstract
This article explores the use of grounded theory to generate conceptualizations of emergent social
patterns in research data. The naming of patterns and their abstraction across time, place and
people, are discussed. The constant comparative method employed in grounded data analysis is
offered as a developmental tool for enhancing researchers’ abilities to conceptualize and form
emergent theories. Conceptual levels, descriptions, power and flawed approaches to analysis are
explored at length.
Keywords: data analysis; data coding; theory development
Conceptualization is the core category of Grounded Theory (GT). We all know or have an idea what
conceptualization is in general. In this article, I will detail those properties of conceptualization which are
essential for generating GT.
I have discussed at length, in Doing Grounded Theory (Glaser, 1998), the conceptual license that GT
offers. The researcher can use his or her own concepts generated from the data instead of using, and
probably forcing, the received concepts of others, especially those concepts of unduly respected
theoretical capitalists. Actually generating a concept is very exciting and it is where many an effort at GT
stops. This stopping is far short of doing GT through all steps to the end product. The GT perspective in
this article will hopefully move more researchers further toward doing a complete GT.
In Doing GT, I endeavoured to emphasize the complexity of the world and therefore the freedom,
autonomy, and license required to write generated theory that explains what is going on in this world,
starting with substantive areas.
All that GT is, is the generation of emergent conceptualizations into integrated patterns, which are
denoted by categories and their properties. This is accomplished by the many rigorous steps of GT woven
together by the constant comparison process, which is designed to generate concepts from all data. Most
frequently, qualitative data incidents are used.
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International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2002, 1(2)
Through conceptualization, GT is a general method that cuts across research methods (experiment,
survey, content analysis, and all qualitative methods) and uses all data resulting therefrom. Because of
conceptualization, GT transcends all descriptive methods and their associated problems, especially what
is an accurate fact, what is an interpretation, and how is the data constructed. It transcends by its
conceptual level and its 3rd and 4th level perceptions.
By transcending, I do not say implicitly that description is “bad”, “wrong”, or “unfavourable”. Description
is just different with different properties than conceptualization, yet these different properties are
confused in the qualitative research literature. Actually, descriptions run the world, however vague or
precise (and mostly the former). Precious little conceptualization affects the way the world is run. We
have many immensely funded description-producing agencies such as newspapers, police, FBI and so
forth, as well as an immense qualitative data analysis (QDA) research movement.
It is sociologists, psychologists, social psychologists, and other social researchers who are mandated to
conceptualize in the social sciences. GT provides a systematic way to conceptualize carefully and its
audience, though small, is growing. Yet at this point in time, 33 years after Discovery of GT (Glaser &
Strauss, 1967b) was written, many social-psychological researchers still have little or no awareness of
conceptualization, conceptual levels and, therefore, the integration of conceptual hypotheses.
The two most important properties of conceptualization for generating GT are that concepts are abstract
of time, place, and people, and that concepts have enduring grab. The appeal of these two properties can
literally go on forever as an applied way of seeing events. In this article, I start by explicating what a
concept is for GT, then explain its abstraction from time, place, and people, followed by detailed
discussions of conceptual ability required, conceptual levels, conceptual grab, conceptual description,
conceptual conjecture, conceptual foppery and vagary, and conceptual power. Of course, much of this
discussion overlaps.
Pattern Naming
For GT, a concept is the naming of an emergent social pattern grounded in research data. For GT, a
concept (category) denotes a pattern that is carefully discovered by constant comparing of theoretically
sampled data until conceptual saturation of interchangeable indices. It is discovered by comparing many
incidents, and incidents to generated concept, which shows the pattern named by the category and the
subpatterns which are the properties of the category. A GT concept is not achieved by impressioning out
over one incident, nor by preconceived forcing of a received concept on a pattern of incidents. GT is a
form of latent structure analysis, which reveals the fundamental patterns in a substantive area or a formal
area.
The pattern is named by constantly trying to fit words to it to best capture its imageric meaning. This
constant fitting leads to a best fit name of a pattern, to wit a category or a property of a category. Validity
is achieved, after much fitting of words, when the chosen one best represents the pattern. It is as valid as it
is grounded. Some reification cannot be avoided.
In Theoretical Sensitivity (Glaser, 1978), I said that many concepts are “in vivo” concepts; that is, they
come from the words of the participants in the substantive area. Let me be clear: standard QDA
emphasizes getting the “voice” of the participants. In vivo concepts are not such “voice,” in the sense that
what phenomenon they attribute meaning to with a concept is only taken as a GT concept, not taken as a
description. The participants usually just give impressionary concepts based on one incident or even a
groundless idea. They do not carefully generate their concepts from data with the GT methodology and
try to fit many names to an established pattern. They are not establishing a parsimonious theory. They
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International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2002, 1(2)
may have many concepts that do not fit or work. GT discovers which “in vivo” concepts do fit, work, and
are relevant.
Inviting participants to review the theory for whether or not it is their voice is wrong as a “check” or “test”
on validity. They may or may not understand the theory, or even like the theory if they do understand it.
Many do not understand the summary benefit of concepts that go beyond description to a transcending
bigger picture. GT is generated from much data, of which many participants may be empirically unaware.
GT is applicable to the participants as an explanation of the preponderance of their ongoing behaviour
which is how they are resolving their main concern, which they may not be aware of conceptually, if at
all. It is just what they do! GT is not their voice: it is a generated abstraction from their doings and their
meanings that are taken as data for the conceptual generation.
When naming concepts, GT does not try to give a “concern to understand the world of the research
participants as they construct it” (Glaser, 1998). GT is not “an enquiry that makes sense of and is true to
the understanding of ordinary actors in the everyday world” (Glaser, 1998). GT uncovers many patterns
the participant does not understand or is not aware of, especially the social fictions that may be involved.
Time, Place, People
The most important property of conceptualization for GT is that it is abstract of time, place, and people.
This transcendence also, by consequence, makes GT abstract of any one substantive field, routine
perceptions or perceptions of others, since there is always a perception of a perception, and an abstraction
from any type of data whether qualitative or quantitative. Hence, GT is a general method.
Thus GT conceptualization transcends. Conceptualization solves and resolves many QDA difficulties
which are not abstract of time and place. QDA focuses on description of time, place and people, so is
confronted with the problem of accuracy, context, interpretation, construction and so forth in trying to
produce what “is”. GT generates conceptual hypotheses that get applied to any relevant time, place, and
people with emergent fit and then is modified by constant comparison with new data as it explains what
behavior obtains in a substantive area.
Most writers on methodology DO NOT have a theoretical clue of what it means to be abstract of time,
place, and people. The result is that GT is down-abstracted to just another QDA with some concepts.
Strauss and Corbin (1998) do this in the following:
Grounded Theory procedures force us to ask, for example: What power is in this situation and
under specified conditions? How is it manifested, by whom, when, where, how, with what
consequences (and for whom or what)? Not to remain open to such a range of questions is to
obstruct the discovery of important features of power in situ and to preclude developing further
conceptualization. Knowledge is after all linked loosely with time and place. We carefully and
specifically build conditions into our theories.
Thus, Strauss and Corbin force descriptions, irrespective of emergence, on the theory to locate its
conditions, to contextualize it and to make it “appear” accurately pinned down, thereby losing its true
abstraction and, hence, generalizability.
Personal distance for accuracy is supposed to be an “attitude” of the QDA researcher. The GT researcher,
in contrast, does not need this attitude to get a description accurate, which is not his goal. The GT method
automatically puts him or her on a conceptual level, which transcends the descriptive data.
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International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2002, 1(2)
In fact, it is hard to give up time, place, and people for many researchers as it is most natural, taught in
QDA method classes, and requires an ability they may not have fully, if at all, developed.
GT in abstracting allows the researcher to develop a theory on a core variable, such as cutting back,
supernormalizing, credentializing, cultivating, pluralistic dialoging, atmosphering, toning, abusing and so
forth which can be applied to any relevant time or place. This delimiting by conceptualization stands in
stark contrast to QDA’s lengthy descriptions which try to cognitively map an area in a nontranscending
way. There are no QDA rules for delimiting but arbitrary cut off points in the face of data volume and
lengthy descriptive complexity. The QDA researcher’s need to be different, and hence appear original, is
subverted by an inability to assimilate and extend a method devoted to description. GT, of course, simply
generates original concepts and hypotheses as a result of the method.
Relational
Conceptualization is the medium of grounded theory for a simple reason: without the abstraction from
time, place, and people, there can be no multivariate, integrated theory based on conceptual, hypothetical
relationships. Concepts can be related to concepts as hypotheses. Descriptions cannot be related to each
other as hypotheses since there is no conceptual handle. Concepts can relate to a description, but that
single hypothesis is as far as it can go. While concepts are “everything” in GT, many researchers find it
hard to stay on that level to relate them to each other. They relate the concept to a description and go on
and on with description as QDA would have it.
Because GT operates on a conceptual level, relating concept to concept, it can tap the latent structure
which is always there and drives and organizes behavior and its social psychological aspects, all of which
are abstract of objective fact. For example, we have theories now of cautionary control, supernormalizing,
default remodeling, desisting residual selves, atmosphering, toning clients, competitive knowing and
many more (for examples, see my readers Glaser, 1993; 1995a; 1996), none of which could have been
generated without conceptual abstraction.
Place
While a GT may have been generated from a unit, or many units, if adequate theoretical sampling was
used, it does not describe the unit, as I have said many times. The GT gets applied to the unit to explain
behavior or any other unit in which the process has emergent fit. Thus, GT does not generalize from a
researched unit to a larger unit or a similar unit, as a description might. GT generalizes to a transcending
process or other form of core variable, and in the bargain may relate seemingly disparate units to each
other by an underlying process. For example a 4 year medical school may be seen as the same as a 6 week
contractor’s course, from the point of view of credentializing, one property of which is to insure quality
work. I have written at length on this in Theoretical Sensitivity (Glaser, 1978, pp. 109-113).
The delimiting aspect of abstraction is clear. A GT need not describe the whole unit, just a core process
within it. Yet many a researcher doing GT finds it hard to give up unit wholeness or full, accurate
description no matter how good they are at generating abstraction. Thus, they throw in many unit
variables, e.g. face sheet data (sex, age, marital status, etc.) and context, that have not proven themselves
as emergently needed in the generated theory, but are treated as if necessary to understand the GT. But
they are not necessary unless earned into it by making a conceptual difference. Some authors even
generate a good theory, such as host tolerance, but keep going on since, although it resolves the main
concern, it does not fully describe the unit. Conceptual abstraction limits these “overdos.”
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International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2002, 1(2)
Researchers not clear on the distinction between conceptual and description become easily confused on
whether the theory describes a unit or conceptualizes a process within it. Listen to this confusion in the
writing of a well-known QDA researcher, Jan Morse (1997b):
Conversely, qualitative researchers develop theory that as accurately as possible represents the
empirical world. Data analysis consists of organizing reality with inferences that are subsequently
systematically confirmed in the process of inquiry. Qualitative data theory, as a product, is
abstract but consists on minimal conjecture. These theories are rich in description, and the
theoretical boundaries have been derived from the context and not from the researcher’s arbitrary
goals for delimiting the scope.
Morse continues:
Recall that theory is theory, not fact, but as a theory is confirmed, it is moved into the realm of
fact and is no longer theory. Because of the abstract nature of qualitative data theory, and because
of the conceptual nature of knowledge, QDA, by and large, remains at the level of theory, not
fact. Theory is not reality, but our perception or organization of reality, perhaps closely
resembling reality, but not reality per se. It remains a representation of reality, malleable and
modifiable.
In Morse’s work, as the reader can see in this telling example, there is no end to the confusion and mix
between abstraction and concrete phenomenon or between conceptualization and description.
People
It is hard for many a GT researcher to only relate concepts and not relate concepts to people. People
become labelled or actioned by a concept like it is their whole being. In GT, behaviour is a pattern that a
person engages in, it is not the person. For example, he is a cultivator of people for profit; this is not GT.
In GT, a person engages in cultivating behavior and cultivating is a basic social process. “Labelling”, a
well known sociological theory, has no descriptive place in GT. People are not categorized, behaviour is.
Or labelling as a basic social process does occur: people are labelled by laymen and processed
accordingly. But the GT theorist only describes the labelling of people pattern as a social control process.
Time
Perhaps the most important aspect of conceptualization is that concepts last forever, while descriptions
are soon stale dated. Concepts are timeless in their applicability. For example, awareness context theory
can still be applied 33 years later (see Awareness of Dying, Glaser & Strauss, 1967a). One author (King,
Keohane, & Verba, 1994) makes the point that concepts even last longer than any of the hypotheses in
which they were originally generated:
Max Weber has suggested that the essence of social theory is in the ‘creation of clear concepts’.
Indeed, concepts such as ‘charisma’ or ‘division of labour’ or ‘reference groups’ have been
longer lasting than any valid claims about the causal effects of these concepts. Many such
concepts guide our thinking and theorizing today!
Since GT concepts are rigorously generated and since they can make a continuing mark on us compared
to soon outdated QDA descriptions, the GT researcher has been set up to become enduringly famous or
achieve reknown for his or her best concept. The longevity and history of the concept is continually
associated with his or her name (see, for example, the concept of emotional work by Hochschild, 1983).
27
International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2002, 1(2)
GT does offer fame or reknown to its researcher as opposed to QDA. It offers, also, freedom from
received concepts and theoretical capitalism, because, however enduring received concepts may be, often
these concepts are pure conjecture of little relevance.
Just think, the GT researcher can generate a theory, such as pluralistic dialoguing, that can be applied over
and over for a 100 years or more. What significance for his or her GT research!
Conceptual Ability
GT is an advanced graduate level methodology used for MA and PhD theses. This statement assumes that
there has been an educational institutional sifting that brings people who have conceptual talent to this
level. This institutional sifting of ability puts by the wayside those who have too much difficulty in
conceptualizing.
But at this level ability still varies between the few who got through and have no ability to conceptualize,
those who conceptualize sufficiently well, and those who are very capable. The former drift into QDA,
whatever the methodology, and use a few received, preconceived concepts for a forcing framework that
yields lots of description. The QDA approach is just waiting to be used by those unable, or with little
ability, to conceptualize.
At this level, many who can may still have some skill difficulty in conceptualizing clearly with its
meaning. GT provides the method (constant comparisons) which develops skill to generate the
researcher’s own concepts and at the same time gives him or her the legitimacy to not jump to using the
received concepts that would force the data. So, though some researchers cannot conceptualize, many
more researchers can, than have, heretofore, generated their own categories for a study. In the beginning
they no doubt will exhibit their unskilled, untrained but strong ability to conceptualize using GT
techniques. But ability grows as these techniques are developmental.
Some people have a natural ability to conceptualize based on data. One external examiner (Anonymous,
personal communication, 1999) of a PhD dissertation wrote me of her candidate:
Her grasp and skill in the use of grounded theory methodology is high for her career level.
Whatever problems she may have can and should b …
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