October 31st, 2011 at 2:44 pm edit
Coming from a science background, I had some difficulty with this section of Glaser and Strauss’ book. Again, perhaps because I know little about sociology or sociological theory, I was confused by some of their (seemingly foundational) assertions. They write that in comparative analysis, “[n]othing is disproved or debunked, despite that those who are overly concerned with evidence constantly believe” (22) and that the evidence theories are based on “…may not necessarily be accurate beyond a doubt…but the concept is undoubtedly a relevant theoretical abstraction about what is going on in the area studied” (23). If accurate evidence is not important, what is important in generating theory? And why can we assume the concept is indeed a relevant abstraction of the area being examined? The first example of “social loss” they give certainly does make sense, but what about alternative explanations for the evidence they cite? For example, what if the “VIPs” get better care that “lower-class Negroes” (24) not because of the perceived “loss to family and occupation” they represent to nurses, but because they’re more likely to have jobs that provide better health insurance? Or because they’re seen as more of a legal liability if they complain of bad treatment? Or because of ingrained classism and racism? Perhaps alternate explanations have already been investigated and discarded, but to me, it sounds like the authors are saying that no sociological theory can ever be wrong, even if it’s based on faulty evidence or faulty interpretation of the evidence. I certainly see the value of considering the heterogeneities in data, and that multiple forces are likely behind phenomena like disparities in medical care (perhaps leading to an “ever-developing theory”) but my science-trained brain still has trouble with the idea that we are apparently not supposed to ever discard a sociological theory as misguided or unsupported, and that they need not be based on particularly good evidence to begin with. The authors’ continued emphasis that “accurate description and verification are not so crucial” (28) continues to leave me wondering to why this is. If in order to generate hypotheses and theory, “…we need many facts for the necessary comparative analysis; ethnographic studies, as well as direct gathering of data, are immensely useful for this purpose” (35), I’m still stuck on why “[i]f some of our evidence is not entirely accurate this will not be too troublesome.” (23).
I think some of my confusion comes from the authors’ use of “hypothesis” and “theory” to mean things somewhat different than in my own sphere, where a hypothesis is something like an educated guess yet to be tested, and a theory is an explanation for an observed phenomena supported by a large body of evidence. In contrast, as I read them Glaser and Strauss see hypotheses as “suggestions” (40) emerging from the data, which are then integrated into a theory. Maybe I can pick the brains of some of my more sociology-minded classmates to really wrap my head around how grounded analysis works in practice, and how the theories it generates are verified, modified, and applied.
October 31st, 2011 at 3:08 pm edit
– I’m interested in thinking about how to navigate the tension between grounding in data and the strategic looseness with respect to “accurate description and verification” (28). The ambiguity here is interesting in a methodology handbook. It seems like the result is a guide toward a certain “sense” of relating to research. I’m undecided as to whether this strikes me as too willy-nilly or as productively boundedly-fluid. I also have thick description echoing in the back of my mind as either resonating or diverging and would be interested to hear if others had ideas about this.
– This is written so starkly as an internal sociologists’ dialogue. I’m curious about how all the non-sociologists in the room see this methodology. To what extent are these concerns your concerns? How else do you see the ramifications of either comparison or the data-theory relation?
– What would happen to grounded theorizing if we rooted it in ’sharing’ instead of, or as an inflection of, ‘comparison’? I was compelled by a few of the speakers at the Tinkering event to think more about the separations or discontinuities enacted in methodologies of comparison. I was especially interested in Karen Barad’s reference to Donna Haraway’s “shared suffering” as an inflection of her own “entanglements all the way down” and objectivity through proximity rather than distance. Glaser and Strauss are clearly a cold long way from intra-action, but I think there is a lot of room here for imagining an even more grounded, just to go with one possible valence of their term, theory generation process. I am also interested in considering cases wherein distance might be important, or where ’sharing’ might be undesirably dangerous. Saidiya Hartman’s analysis of white abolitionists’ pleasurable relishing in their imaginings of the violences of enslavement points in this direction.
some key words that came up in this thread during the Tinkering event: interaction, cross-contamination, commensurability, engagment, anti-subjective
Kathleen Uzilov Says:
October 31st, 2011 at 5:09 pm edit
The second chapter of the Glaser and Strauss book continued to expound on the importance of generating theory as opposed to just verifying existing theories, with some additional emphasis on comparative analysis. It seems like the intended audience for this book is clearly fellow sociologists, and I am trying to think about how these concepts might be applied to the kinds of research I generally practice. As someone who studies regional climates, I think a form of comparative analysis is something I use often. In my field, we compare different regions, different climate models, different data sets, different parameterizations, continually, in order to garner information on how our hypotheses are performing. However, ideas about emergent theories and focusing on generation of theories are approaches I can less easily relate to. The authors write, “In verification, one feels too quickly that he has the theory and now must ‘check it out.’ When generation of theory is the aim, however, one is constantly alert to emergent perspectives that will change and help develop his theory” (40). The first sentence does ring true for me, and I feel that verification is normally the focus in my work. Perhaps this is because it is a time-consuming and difficult process, as well as possibly the better traditionally rewarded one (resulting in publishable work). I can see how focusing on new theories more might help the field in general make advances in new or different directions, rather than mostly taking incremental steps that push it along slowly in the same general direction. But at the same time, verification is part of the scientific method, and seems ingrained as a fundamental step in scientific research. From what I understood of the chapter, though, the intention is not to leave verification behind but to shift the focus a bit, so that it is not the only or even dominant work being done.
Derek Padilla Says:
October 31st, 2011 at 5:53 pm edit
I found Glaser and Strauss’s writing in this chapter almost off-putting with the way they devalue verification of theory by measurement or observation. I suppose they were not intending to offend but rather posit a new take on the methods of theory creation. Perhaps removing this roadblock that would otherwise inhibit generation of new theory opens the doors for fresh ideas in social sciences. But the importance of the interplay between theory and experiment is such a huge tenet within physics, as well as other sciences to be sure, that its disregard seems reckless. (I think) I understand the value in refraining from shotgun critiques of ideas as a way to regard others with respect instead of tearing down their insights outright, but I find a healthy challenge tends to sharpen my thoughts to build upon their robustness. I see I’ve taken Glaser and Strauss’s point beyond where they intended but it does seem that ignoring the presence of data which is in conflict with a theory leads to a slippery slope. I may have undone all my STS learning with this paragraph so I will move on to more concrete uncertainties.
I’m still a bit unsure of what constitutes “grounded” theory as opposed to other types of theory. In addition, the “Parsonian” and “Mertonian” categories (p34) hold little importance without context (beyond what a quick google search provides). Is it worth exploring these terms more or are they simply references to standard frameworks that the authors are trying to turn the readers away from?
October 31st, 2011 at 8:22 pm edit
As I was making my way through this week’s reading, I thought a lot about my position as a physicist looking to incorporate a social component into a highly technical project. When the authors are emphasizing the importance of theory generation over verification, one sentence in particular gave me pause.
“Furthermore, sociologists will find it worthwhile to risk a period in their careers in order to test grounded theories, since these theories are certain to be highly applicable to areas under study.” (pg 29)
As I read this I thought, “does this apply to me? Does this article also apply to non-socialologist sociologists? Do I consider myself a sociologist? Should I, as a physicist really be in the business of generating theory when I have very little exposure to existing theories?” The reality is that I am in a sense a social science tourist. I am a trained physicist who is interested in social approaches, but I do not anticipate a career built around social methods. And for better or for worse, this certainly will affect how I approach my science and justice project. I have questions as to weather or not our project is capable of generating social theory that is helpful and original to the social sphere given that we do not have the tools and knowledge of trained social scientists. Most of us certainly wish this wasn’t case, and our group is actively trying to break down these insular worlds of specialists. But the reality is that those worlds exist, and I am curious to see what Derek and I can produce and to see if we are capable of becoming effective cyborgs.
November 1st, 2011 at 1:50 am edit
I appreciate Glaser & Strauss’ theory of theory — small letter t — as an open-ended process, as an emergent and integrating framework that is always contingent, always in the making. However, I did find myself wondering the same thoughts that Kate has very eloquently described above, specifically: if accuracy and verification are not important, and nothing can be debunked, then how does anyone or any group make any kind of reasonably weighty claim for justice? Glaser & Strauss’ theory makes a lot of sense in response to modernist and Western master narratives. But what kind of sense does their theory make if taken as a serious methodology by marginalized, barely visible groups who MUST make some claim in order to become political actors? Ongoing generation of theory begins to sound like a postmodernist nightmare, where everything counts. What position does Glaser & Strauss’ researcher occupy?
I found this statement to be particularly difficult: “generation of theory should aim at achieving much diversity in emergent categories, synthesized at as many levels of conceptual and hypothetical generalization as possible.”(37) Is this a dialectic: diversification – synthesis? data – abstraction/representation? I’m not sure that I really understand what they mean.
And this made me laugh: “When generation of theory is the aim, one is constantly alert to emergent perspectives… These can easily occur even on the final day of study or when the manuscript is reviewed in page proof: so the published word is not the final one, but only a pause in the never-ending process of generating theory.”(40) First, I don’t want to throw out the value of materialization this quickly! And second, the “published word” is always performative!
November 1st, 2011 at 3:22 pm edit
Barney G. Glaser and Anselm L. Strauss are comforting in their description of theory. Though grounded theory is a method of generating theory from data, they point out that theory can me momentary in their explanation of a phenomena and theory change. If in using the grounded theory process to develop ephemeral theory, a form of substantive theory, what is the purpose of such theory. Is ephemeral theory a way to conceptualize history? If I develop theory, I have a strong inclination that my research is of this nature, and would I then be a historian?
If I am a historian, should my data be accurate? Glaser and Strauss are not concerned with accuracy of data, and that perturbs me. I spend take extra care that I am precise with my measurements and data collection, I force myself into robot mode to assure that I am consistent in the way I collect soil samples or use a measuring device but I have observed that other scientists do not. Perhaps its my field of research, we are people collecting data in a messy world and to attempt uniformity may be outside the realm of possibility or sanity. But, if one is not accurate, what valuables can we extract ? Is accuracy not a concern because grounded theory is an iterative process and one cannot assume we are correct in our assumptions of our research, thus to commit so much effort into accuracy, is meaningless?
Also, I enjoyed the discussion on awareness contexts. I think much of my murals research is in this area. Are farmers, scientists, artists aware of their participation in engineering landscapes and do these landscapes realizations of their conceptions of the ideal? I think they give out cues to their conceptualizations by whats at stake. If that so, can a ideal landscapes be realized if much is at stake in a global power everyday struggle sense? Are landscapes then ad hoc negotiated spaces and left over amalgamated evidence of moments of struggle?