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Is That a Real Theory or Did You Just Make It Up? Teaching Classic Grounded Theory

Author(s): Odis E. Simmons, Ph.D.

Journal: Grounded Theory Review : an International Journal
ISSN 1556-1542

Volume: 9;
Issue: 2;
Date: 2010;
Original page

Keywords: grounded theory | classic grounded theory | qualitative methodology

The title of this paper was derived from an incident I observed some years ago while accompanying a highly talented musician-songwriter friend to a performance. During a break, an audience member approached him to compliment the last song he had performed. He had written both the music and the lyrics to the song, one of many he had written. The audience member queried, “Is that a real song, or did you just make it up?” A touch amused, and not knowing whether he should be flattered or insulted, he politely replied, “It is a real song and I made it up.”This episode puts in mind a similar attitude in the social sciences that Glaser and Strauss (1967) noted, in which a small number of ’theoretical capitalists’ originate what are considered to be “real” theories and others are relegated to the role of “proletariat” testers. The means by which these theorists derived their theories remained largely mysterious. Unleashing proletariat testers was one of the chief rationales behind Glaser and Strauss’ development of grounded theory. It brought a democratic option into the social sciences that enabled anyone who learned the methodology to generate theory. The democratic ethos of the methodology may also have inadvertently unleashed an abundance of aspiring remodelers of the methodology, who unfortunately have eroded its primary purpose—to generate theories that are fully grounded in data rather than speculation or ideology.
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