In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Grounded Theory

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Data Sources and Open-Access Journals
  • Origins and History
  • Glaserian GT (or “Classic GT”)
  • Straussian GT
  • Constructivist GT
  • Situational Analysis
  • Other Versions of GT
  • Data Collection
  • Memos
  • Use of Literature
  • Abduction
  • Reflexivity
  • Quality and Generalizability
  • Formal GT
  • Mixed Methods Research
  • Social Justice Research
  • Criticisms
  • Examples of GT Studies
  • Examples of GT Studies in Education

Education Grounded Theory
Robert Thornberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0003


Grounded theory (GT) is a research approach to study processes, interactions, and actions for the purpose of developing middle-range theories of substantive problems that people experience. It was originally developed by the sociologists Barney Glaser (b. 1930) and Anselm Strauss (b. 1916–d. 1996) when, during the 1960s, they explicated the qualitative research strategies that they had used in their studies of how staff organized the care of dying patents in hospitals. In contrast to the dominating hypothetico-deductive use of “grand theories” in social research during that time, GT offered a set of qualitative methods for generating inductive theories from data. Since the 1960s, GT has moved across disciplines and has been further developed in different versions, such as Glaserian GT, Straussian GT, and constructivist GT.

General Overviews

Charmaz 1995, Dey 2004, Holton 2007, Thornberg and Charmaz 2014, and Waring 2012 provide accessible introductions to doing GT and are helpful to beginners. A first step in learning about GT is to read one or more introductory chapters that provide the reader with a good overview on how to do GT, rather than immersing one’s self in the debate between different versions of GT. That is the next step of learning about GT.

  • Charmaz, K. 1995. Grounded theory. In Rethinking methods in psychology. Edited by J. A. Smith, R. Harré, and L. van Langenhove, 27–49. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446221792.n3

    Grounded theory is defined and a brief history of it is presented. The chapter is then structured on data collection, coding, and memo writing, with a lot of concrete and helpful examples. The chapter represents constructivist GT.

  • Dey, I. 2004. Grounded theory. In Qualitative research practice. Edited by C. Seale, G. Gobo, J. F. Gubrium, and D. Silverman, 80–93. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This chapter briefly presents differences between Glaserian GT and Straussian GT and then describes theoretical sampling, coding, categorization, constant comparison, and the inferences of deduction, induction, and abduction.

  • Holton, J. A. 2007. The coding process and its challenges. In The SAGE handbook of grounded theory. Edited by A. Bryant and K. Charmaz, 265–289. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781848607941.n13

    This chapter places a particular focus on the coding process, but it also describes other main ideas and methods of grounded theory. The chapter represents Glaserian GT.

  • Thornberg, R., and K. Charmaz. 2014. Grounded theory and theoretical coding. In The SAGE handbook of qualitative data analysis. Edited by U. Flick, 155–169. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    The chapter addresses data collection, theoretical sampling, coding, constant comparison, abduction, memo writing and sorting, and quality in GT, using concrete and helpful examples. The chapter represents constructivist GT.

  • Waring, M. 2012. Grounded theory. In Research methods and methodologies in education. Edited by J. Arthur, M. Waring, R. Coe, and L. V. Hedges, 297–308. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This chapter explains what grounded theory is, examines how to write a grounded theory, and looks at criticisms of the approach. The main focus is on coding. The chapter represents Straussian GT.

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