Grounded Theory in Global Perspective: Reviews by International Researchers

Grounded Theory Reaches Across The Globe


Researchers in diverse disciplines and professions throughout the world have adopted this method to conduct a qualitative inquiry. Yet, in their original statement, The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Barney G. Glaser and Anselm L. Strauss (1967) assume a North American logic and approach to inquiry with their emphases on empirical fit with data, efficient strategies, successful theoretical outcomes, usefulness for policy and practice, and skepticism toward earlier theories as well as on personal career advancement.1 This article speaks to the growing recognition of how methods are embedded in the locations and conditions of their development. 

Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) showed how research methods reproduced colonialist forms of knowledge and relationships with indigenous people. Pertti Alasuutari (2004) pointed out that the United States and the United Kingdom dominated the logic and form of qualitative research methods. Anna Amelina and Thomas Faist (2012) challenge conceptions of the national origins of research methodologies as the natural way of conducting research. Place and time matter in the development of research methods. 

The grounded theory method emerged at a particular historical moment. Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1965, 1967) developed grounded theory shortly before the unrest of the late 1960s in the United States. By 1968, the Viet Nam war divided the country and punctured notions of political consensus. Moreover, as diplomatic hisTorian Mary Sheila McMahon (1994) observes, the state failed to embody the justifications on which it had based its legitimacy. 

But before then, the legitimacy of the state and of the nation’s economic institutions largely remained unquestioned. The grounded theory method first emerged during a time of unquestioned capitalism in which many U.S. citizens subscribed to taken-for-granted hierarchies of race, class, and gender in the United States and of political and economic dominance beyond its borders. In the early 1960s, many Americans viewed capitalism and democracy as two sides of the same coin. 

I have long argued that methods develop within specific contexts rather than being context-free. As Edward Tolhurst (2012) also implies, the grounded theory developed in a particular methodological culture and reflects this culture. International researchers may have national and cultural pasts that differ considerably from those in which grounded theory originated. How do these researchers find using grounded theory?

Materials and Resources 

To consider these questions, I draw upon the few written methodological and autobiographical statements that I could find about using grounded theory in international contexts beyond the United States and the United Kingdom but highlight written comments from international colleagues who have used grounded theory.

The Emergence of Grounded Theory 

The grounded theory arose at a particular time, under particular social, historical, situational, and disciplinary conditions, from specific people: Barney Glaser, Anselm Strauss, and Jeanne Quint (Benoliel), who played an integral role in the research team for Strauss and Glaser’s studies of the social organization of dying in hospitals. Benoliel (1967) published two classic works herself (Quint, 1965).

Framing Grounded Theory Inquiry 

The social conditions in a society can form a silent frame of inquiry within it. Like other qualitative methods, the development of grounded theory has largely occurred in the United States and the United Kingdom. Strauss’s approach to grounded theory has also had a notable influence in Germany (see, for example, Hildenbrand, 2007; Reichertz, 2007; Schütze, 2008; Strübing, 2007). But what happens in developing countries?

Considering Data Collection 

Complex research relationships affect grounded theorists’ strategies of data collection particularly as immigration increasingly takes global forms and societies become multi-cultural. Subsequently, multiple and conflicting cultural rules, beliefs, and values can enter the foreground.

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