Grounded theory

Grounded theory may be defined as: ‘the discovery of theory from data systematically obtained from social research’

Glaser and Strauss 1967: 2

In 1967 'The Discovery of Grounded Theory' was published and was quickly added to reading lists and embraced by social researchers. However, what grounded theory is and what it should be is contested within social research, with a rift between the founding authors complicating matters.

Grounded theory has not been immune to the debates surrounding the status of truth and knowledge and the position of the researched and researcher and it has been interpreted and reinterpreted in light of them.


Glaser and Strauss suggested in their original text that grounded theory was not a static prescriptive strategy but was open to interpretation and development. This development has taken place and has resulted in competing perspectives on the strategy; these competing perspectives will be introduced in the presentation on 3 March 2011. 

Much of the success of grounded theory was due to it being able to answer a number of questions about qualitative research that previous texts had failed to answer, namely, how to start the research (identifying area of interest, avoiding theoretical preconceptions and using theoretical sensitivity), how to do it (through analytical procedures and sampling strategies) and how to stop (when theoretical saturation is reached). The What is...? talk will also address some of these practical concerns.

Experts and users of grounded theory @ Manchester

Further reading

  • Charmaz K (1990) ‘Discovering’ chronic illness: Using grounded theory Social Science and Medicine 30(11):1161-1172 
  • Charmaz K (2006) Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis London Sage Publications
  • Dey I (1999) Grounding Grounded Theory Guidelines for Qualitative Inquiry, San Diego: Academic Press
  • Glaser BG Strauss AL (1967) The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research New York: Aldine de Gruyter 
  • Glaser BG (1978) Theoretical sensitivity, California, The Sociology Press
  • Glaser BG (1992) Basics of grounded theory analysis Emergence vs. forcing California: Sociology Press
  • Melia, K M (1996) Rediscovering Glaser, Qualitative Health Research 6(3) 368-373
  • Strauss A Corbin J (1990) Basics of qualitative research Grounded theory procedures and techniques Newbury Park: Sage Publications
  • Strauss A Corbin J (1998) Basics of qualitative research techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory Second edition Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

A few useful web pages

PDF slides

Download PDF slides of the presentation 'What is grounded theory?'