Grounded Theory and Ethnography in Doctoral

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Qualitative research designs assume many forms, and the usefulness of each depends on the research questions and the theoretical vantage point of the researcher. Five of the main approaches to qualitative research design include narrative research, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case studies (Creswell & Poth, 2018). This paper will focus exclusively on two of those qualitative research designs, grounded theory and ethnography, to showcase the strengths and weaknesses of each. Grounded theory and ethnography are similar designs and approaches to research questions. Even some of their methodological considerations are alike, particularly in that both grounded theory and ethnography use observation as the primary tool of data collection (Najafi, Roudsari, Ebrahimipour, et al, 2016). Therefore, clarifying the differences between grounded theory and ethnography can help researchers understand which, if either, of these theories is most suitable for investigating the research question.

Grounded Theory

Based on the tenets of symbolic interactionism, grounded theory is used “to explore the process of the occurrence of a social process in a particular context and is used in order to study the social processes in human interactions, the structure, and the process that led to it,” (Najafi, Roudsari, Ebrahimipour, et al, 2016, p. 1). Moreover, grounded theory can lead to the generation of mid-range theories in the applied sociological field (Charmaz & Belgrave, 2015).

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The methods used during the data analysis process include coding, creating theoretical categories based on the coded material, and then constructing narratives based on those categories and the themes they elucidate. Symbolic interactionism allows the researchers to apply grounded theory to a number of different scenarios, and to be liberated from the constraints of prior theoretical views or assumptions (Pettigrew, 2000). In other words, instead of developing a research hypothesis and question based on what a particular theory would demand, the researchers collect and analyze data first and then use grounded theory to guide future research. Grounded theory is therefore highly constructive and useful in a number of different research cases.

One problem or challenge with grounded theory is the lack of theoretical framework guiding research; the method is systematic and yet devoid of “theoretical ideas or notions,” to allow the results to flow from the raw data (Creswell & Poth, 2018, p. 68). Another challenge to using grounded theory is how to effectively construct coding categories or themes in an unbiased way (Creswell….....

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Cardona, J.J. (2013). Determined to succeed.

Charmaz, K. (n.d.). Grounded theory in ethnography.

Charmaz, K. & Belgrave, L.L. (2015). Grounded theory. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. DOI: 10.1002/9781405165518.wbeosg070.pub2

Creswell, J. W. & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches. (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Najafi, T.F., Roudsari, R.L., Ebrahimipour, H., et al (2016). Observation in grounded theory and ethnography. Iran Red Crescent Medical Journal 18(11): e40786.

Pettigrew, S.F. (2000). Ethnography and grounded theory. Association for Consumer Research.

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