Notes on
The Discovery of Grounded Theory



Glaser, Barney G. and Anselm L. Strauss. 1967. The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Aldine de Gruyter.



Both trained in Sociology. Glaser at Columbia, Strauss at Chicago. (Columbia was known for theory and for quantitative studies; Chicago was known for qualitative, empirical work that was criticized for lack of integration with theory.) Both ended up at UCSF, a hotbed of social science and medicine (as in, medical anthropology, medical sociology, nursing, etc.). They started working with nurses in ethnographic settings. Wrote The Discovery as a way to justify and provide rigor for qualitative and inductive methods.

The two then had a terrible falling out which included strong criticism, name-calling and legal action. Strauss died in 1996 (Sept. 5).

Glaser seems to have had the deeper understanding of grounded theory. In particular, he emphasized that grounded theory was about theory generation, not verification, and that verication is outside the scope of grounded theory.


Chap. 1

Most methods work (up to the sixties) is concerned with how to collect valid data, and how theory can be tested. This book is about how to develop theory from data.

Grounded Theory

Contrast is with logical deduction from a priori assumptions.

Since it is generated from some data, it is virtually guaranteed to fit at least those data.

They suggest that the adequacy of a theory can't be divorced from how it is generated. The process is a canon for judging the quality of a theory. Glaser now strongly repudiates this view.

Purposes of Book

Trying to legitimate theory generation.

Hope that the systematic procedures they suggest (to provide rigor) will not curb creativity.

Verification and Grand Theory

The great men of the field generated so many theories that it became sociology's job to verify them all.

This method is intended to allow less-than-great people to generate good theory.

Instructive debate between Znaniecki and Thomas vs Blumer. Blumer criticizes based on lack of evidence. Znaniecki rejoins that it is not the lack of evidence but the lack of a good theoretical framework. Both were still thinking in terms of theory generation based on pre-existing conceptions.

Note the difficulty with researchers who are sexist, racist, or otherwise have an axe to grind. They come in with a previous conceptualization that, say, men are task-oriented and women are relational. For example, Adam Jones, in "The Globe and Males: An Analysis of Gender Issues in Canada's National Newspaper", notes that there is much ado about violence against women, yet men are by far more often the victims, both in real life and in movies. Yet informal polls of women suggest that almost all believe that women are the most common victims of violent crime. 

Qualitative vs Quantative Data

Because quant data lends itself to theory verification, and that was the big concern of sociology at this time, quant data was more valued.

G & S believe that both kinds of data are good for both verification and generation.


Chap. 2

At heart of the method is comparative analysis.

Purposes of comparative analysis

Used in many ways, for example verifying facts via replication. But facts are not as important to theory generation as are the conceptual categories that they suggest. The conceptual categories, like "social loss" affect how nurses treat different patients.

Another use is to establish generality of a fact: do all societies have incest taboo?

Another use in grounded theory is the specification of a unit of analysis for a one-case study. To contrast what is being studied from what is not. "i am studying taxi-dance halls, not other dance halls, and here is how they are different".

Try not to use comparative cases to disprove incipient theories. do that later.

What theory is generated

Emphasize that theory is always in-process. is iterative, dynamic process

They distinguish between substantive and formal theory, but is not a good distinction. Substantive is about an empirical area, while formal is about an established theoretical area (chapters of a sociology book, abstract processes like control). Both can be done by grounded theory. In contrast, grand theory is generated from logical assumptions.

Hope to generate multiple substantive theories from which to piece together formal theory.

The elements of a theory are (a) conceptual categories and their conceptual properties; and (b) hypotheses or generalized relations among the categories and properties. Like a cultural domain.

Categories and properties. A category stands by itself, like "perception of social loss". A property is a quality or aspect of that category, like "loss rationales" which are used to justify to themselves why a patient of such worth is dying. Categories adn properties have a life apart from the data that generated them (if the generating fact is invalidated, the category is not).

Want to maximize diversity of categories and properties.

Effective strategy is to ignore the literature on the area of study. Read it after you have created grounded theory. Also good to work in non-traditional areas, because no theory exists already.

Concepts should be analytic: abstract, removed from the data, and sensitizing: yield meaningful picture, good to think with.

Hypotheses. These are not so much meant to test the theory but to explore it. To generate implications from it. It is an active part of the process.

At first, one's hypotheses may seem unrelated. but taken together, we tend to find they are interrelated and form a core of an emerging theory. Integration should be postponed and allowed to emerge naturally. Integration really means that everything is connected to everything, and there is some simplication.


Chap. 3

Theoretical sampling is choosing what data to collect in order to facilitate theory generation.

Is important to be theoretically sensitive. This means not having preconceptions so strong that one cannot formulate new theory from the evidence before you.