Grounded theory is “an approach to research that aims to produce a theory, grounded in the data, through the application of essential methods” (Birks & Mills, 179). In reading Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide, Melanie Birks and Jane Mills explained the importance of these “essential methods” to this theory and how the “methodology of this theory influences our analysis of data and focuses our attention on different dynamics of the research process” (4).
To understand the grounded theory method, we must position ourselves philosophically. According to Birks, we have “a unique conceptualization of existence and reality, the way we understand the world is influenced by our history and the context we find ourselves and our personal philosophy helps us define what we consider to be real and how we acquire knowledge about the world” (1-2). Birks and Mills give us the opportunity to identify our thoughts and assumptions about the world. They ask us four questions: how do we define our self, what is the nature of reality, what can be the relationship between researcher and participant and how do we know the world or gain knowledge from it?
My life experiences shape the way I define myself. I define myself as a highly-motivated individual who works hard to obtain success in any endeavor that I pursue. Beyond achieving success, I define myself by serving as a role model for others and empowering others to be successful in whatever occupation they pursue. My beliefs and my outlook on life stem from the way that I was raised as a child. I do not, however, discredit the beliefs of others. All in all, we have different approaches and perspectives as to how we define ourselves and the manner in which we define ourselves.
When thinking about the nature of reality, I think of it in different aspects. Overall, I think of “reality” as facts and experiences that I learned to be true and meaningful based on the shared relationships and interactions I made with those who share identical beliefs with me. In reference to grounded theory, how you define “reality” determines how you “articulate your beliefs and feelings about the world” and how we as researchers make decisions that affect our research (9). As researchers, it is critical for us to establish a strong researcher-participant relationship. The relationship between the researcher and the participant must be a professional one. When establishing a professional relationship, however, it is also important that the researcher gains a sense of trust, confidence and the willingness to understand the beliefs of the participants. In reference to the reading, theoretical sensitivity “is an important concept and one that is often difficult to grasp by experienced researchers” (49). It is important that we establish a solid foundation on how we define ourselves in preparation for understanding the sensitivity of thoughts and beliefs of others when conducting research from a grounded theory approach.
Through our interactions and experiences with others, we learn about the world around us and all of its intertwining parts. When thinking about the world and how we gain knowledge, I think about the concept “the circle of life” and how life consists of multiple parts and disciplines that interrelate to form the basis of the knowledge that we acquire. As children, we learn from our parents an associations that we establish with others (professors, friends, associates) who are critical to our growth and maturation. As we get older, we began to establish deeper connections with the knowledge we have learned in conjunction with the experiences (culture biases, expectations) that we constantly observe on a daily basis. With stronger connections to knowledge come different methods of acquiring information such as reading and learning about other cultures and seeing the world as a huge global community.
Thus, it is important that we consider these questions when carrying out the methods of the grounded theory. As researchers, we must factor our underlying assumptions about the world when determining how we categorize data, how we conduct data analysis, how we document the (writing memos) experiences of others, how we decide who best fits our research and how we code and integrate these methods into forming our view of the world as a whole.