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Posted on Jul 30, 2012 in Research summaries

Urquhart et al 2010: Putting the “theory” back into grounded theory: guidelines for grounded theory studies in information systems

Urquhart, C., Lehmann, H. & Myers, M.D., 2010. Putting the “theory” back into grounded theory: guidelines for grounded theory studies in information systems. Information Systems Journal, 20(4), pp.357–381.

 

  • Rationale and objectives: Grounded theory is on the rise in information systems research. However, much such research uses techniques from grounded theory without a strong focus on actual theory development. This article attempts to refocus on the theory development aspect of grounded theory. Although it is focused on IS scholars, it is sufficiently general to be applicable to any user of grounded theory.
  • Theoretical background: The article describes the grounded theory approach with a brief historical background. Although I have read several descriptions of the history of grounded theory, this article gives the clearest description I have ever read of the reasons for the split between Glaser and Strauss and the fundamental differences between their approaches. The authors describe "a framework for theorizing in grounded theory studies" (p. 365) where they explain how different degrees of conceptualization of ideas and the overall scope of phenomena covered by the theory greatly determine the degree to which theory is developed from the grounded theory approach.
  • Key questions: "How can the grounded theory method be leveraged to build theory in information systems?" (p. 368).
  • Methodology: The article presents five guidelines to developing grounded theory: 1) constant comparison of data and newly collected data with the emerging theoretical categories; 2) iterative conceptualization by theoretical coding and recoding of the data and categories; 3) theoretical sampling by collecting new data to verify, challenge, test and extend the emerging theory; 4) scaling up by generalizing the theoretical concepts beyond the raw data at hand; and 5) theoretical integration by comparing and contrasting the new grounded theory with other related scholarly theories.
  • Data sources: To review and demonstrate their guidelines, the authors analyzed three exemplar grounded theory studies in IS to examine how their guidelines were exemplified.
  • Key findings: The exemplar studies generally demonstrated all five principles, though to varying degrees.
  • Key contribution to knowledge: This article provides a succinct introduction to grounded theory. More importantly, it helps researchers squarely focus on the theory-development aspects of the approach, beyond just its unique procedures.
  • Key implications: This study will hopefully help researchers develop new and valuable theory from grounded theory that is relevant to a wide variety of phenomena.

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