Grounded Theory -Theoretical sensitivity & Treatment of Literature


If in the last articles I discussed a bit about constructivism and grounded theory, now I will like to go a bit in depth with the common characteristics of grounded theory as following: theoretical sensitivity and treatment of the literature.

Theoretical sensitivity is a concept that treats the researcher level of perceptiveness in the research zone, it also has in mind the understanding of the complexity word of the partakers and the scholar ability to construct meaning from the data collected and his skills to “separate the pertinent from that which isn’t” (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 44)

Grounded theory implies that the researcher goes to do research with an opened clear mind, as Locke was calling it a “tabula rasa”. This vision can help the research to go in any direction, not giving him the opportunity to get stuck into theoretical or social stereotypes. Of course this is not 100% possible because of the law, in Butler’s view.  She suggests that our representations are made by mixing up ideas and experience together, ours or others, and that we cannot intend a theory without basing or constructing it on something else. Even if Strauss denies a “pre-existing” reality, it is useful to have the law in the mind when we do research.

Strauss and Corbin have suggested different techniques of becoming more sensitive as following: questioning, the flip-flop technique or far-out comparison. They also suggested that is better for the research to use these techniques in the act of theory elaboration, “Theorizing is the act of constructing . . . from data an explanatory scheme that systematically integrates various concepts through statements of relationship” (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 25) and that theories themselves are “interpretations made from given perspectives as adopted or researched by researchers” (Strauss & Corbin, 1994, p. 279)

Treatment of literature

The area of literature and its uses are diametrically contested between traditional and evolved grounded theorists. Traditional grounded theory provides the dictum that “there is a need not to review any of the literature in the substantive area under study” (Glaser, 1992, p. 31) for fear of contaminating, constrain-ing, inhibiting, stifling, or impeding the researcher’s analysis of codes emergent from the data (Glaser, 1992). This, again, situates the data as an entity separate from both participant and researcher.

Engaging proactively with the literature from the beginning of the research process, Strauss and Corbin identified many uses for this information (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), interweaving the literature throughout the process of evolved grounded theory as another voice contributing to the researcher’s theoretical reconstruction. In the same way that Strauss and Corbin have viewed the use of techniques to increase theoretical sensitivity, the literature is able to provide examples of similar phenomena that can “stimulate our thinking about properties or dimensions that we can then use to examine the data in front of us” (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 45).

The “nontechnical” literature, such as reports and internal correspondence, is seen as a potential source of data, providing information, in particular, about the context within which the participant operates, for example, their employing organization (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). This then contributes to an analysis of additional data that is concerned with uncovering the meso and macro conditions that might influence the area of interest identified by the participants (Corbin, 1998).


Corbin, J. (1998). Alternative interpretations: Valid or not? Theory & Psychology, 8(1), 121-128.

Glaser, B. (1992). Basics of grounded theory analysis: Emergence vs. forcing. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1994). Grounded theory methodology: An overview. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 273-285). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Eduard Claudiu Vasile


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