Listening to young people in leisure research: the critical application of grounded theory
This article was downloaded by: [University of Lincoln]On: 20 January 2011Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 917680587]Publisher RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Leisure Studies Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713705926 Listening to young people in leisure research: the critical application of grounded theory David Piggotta a Department of Sport, Coaching and Exercise Science, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK Online publication date: 19 November 2010To cite this Article Piggott, David(2010) Listening to young people in leisure research: the critical application of groundedtheory, Leisure Studies, 29: 4, 415 — 433To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/02614367.2010.525659URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02614367.2010.525659 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
416 D. Piggott modified techniques for collecting data with young people at different stages of a GT study. The final problem is that which of the many possible versions of GT (or which GT techniques and processes) a researcher should adopt when embarking on a study. This is largely an epistemological problem which is rooted in the enduring and fundamental problem of GT: the problem of induction. In the final part of the paper, two recent responses to this problem – Weed (2009) and Thomas and James (2006) – will be crit- ically reviewed before a third, ‘critical rationalist’ approach is introduced and expli- cated. By way of conclusion the paper will explain how adopting a critical rationalist approach to GT necessitates some very practical changes to the standard GT canon. In particular, the core GT principles of ‘theoretical sensitivity’, ‘induction’, ‘theoretical sampling’ and ‘theoretical saturation’ are criticised and modified.Downloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 Part 1: the moral argument for listening to young people Legal and political developments Since ratifying the UN convention on the rights of the child in 1989, the UK govern- ment has been working to bring about legal and institutional reforms designed to recognise young people1 as legal subjects in their own right (Morrow & Richards, 1996). More specifically, the UN convention stipulated that young people should have the rights to participation; that they be consulted on matters affecting them, have access to information, freedom of speech and opinion; and that they have the right to challenge decisions made on their behalf (Article 12). However, in 1995, following the introduction of various statutes sympathetic to the UN convention (e.g. The Children Act 1989; The Child Support Act 1991), a UN examining committee concluded that article 12 of the convention ‘was not being addressed adequately, in legislation or in practice’ (Lloyd-Smith & Tarr, 2000, p. 60). This indictment stimu- lated a series of consultations and, eventually, green papers aimed at ‘involving young people and listening to their views’ (DfES, 2003, p. 14). The most far-reaching and enduring of these green papers, Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003), has provided the impetus for a programme of public service reform based around ongoing consultation with young people. The outcome of these consul- tations was eventually enshrined in the new Children Act (House of Lords, 2004) where it is made clear that service providers now have a legal obligation to listen to young people’s voices. For example, early in the statute, it is suggested that ‘persons exercising functions or engaged in activities affecting children [should] take account of their views and interests’ (Part 1, Section 2a). Along with subsequent policy papers such as Youth Matters (DfES, 2005) and the creation of the UK Youth Parliament (with 600 elected youth members), the Children Act (2004) represents an explicit legal and political aspiration to recognise the rights of all young people and a commitment to listen to their views and ideas. However, despite this largely unequivocal political rhetoric, the extent to which the ‘ideal translates into reality’ (Fajerman, Tresedor, & Connor, 2004, p. 3) has recently been questioned. In the UK context, Green (2007, p. 63) has argued that New Labour’s sport and leisure policies – part of their advanced liberal ‘social investment state’ – conceptua- lise children as ‘citizen workers of the future’ rather than ‘citizen children of the present’. In this sense, contrary to the rhetoric of Every Child Matters, sport
Leisure Studies 417 policy-makers have yet to attend to the current interests and well-being of children, focussing instead on producing healthy, high-performing (medal winning?) future citizens. Similarly, in the US context, Giardina and Donnelly’s (2008) edited collec- tion of critical and often apocalyptic essays on contemporary youth sports culture attests to the ‘disempowerment of youth under neo-liberal capitalism’ (p. 3). The commercial and political exploitation of youth sports events such as the Little League World Series, according to White, Silk, and Andrews (2008, p. 30), contributes to the ‘insidious governance of kids’ under the ‘new right’ Bush administration, producing regulated, obedient and responsible ‘docile bodies’. In light of such claims, it is all the more important that researchers ‘seek critical methodologies that protest, resist and help represent and imagine radically free utopian spaces that will allow our “kids” to flourish as free moral agents’ (Giardina & Donnelly, 2008, p. 9). Such methodologies are, indeed, beginning to emerge in line with new ways of theorising about children and young people.Downloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 Theoretical and methodological developments The ‘new social studies of childhood’ (Barker & Weller, 2003, p. 207) are character- ised by two basic changes to traditional approaches to studying young people and socialisation: first, theoretical (or ontological); second, methodological. Traditional approaches to socialisation focussed on the movement of the child into adulthood, the acquisition of social norms (Denzin, 1977) and the process of ‘slowly coming into contact with human beings’ (Ritchie & Kollar, 1964, p. 117). Classical studies of socialisation therefore viewed young people as incomplete, lacking in social skills and ‘over determined’ by adult ‘agents of socialisation’ (Stanley & Wise, 1993, p. 101). Indeed, James, Jenks, and Prout (1998, p. 23) characterise this approach as ‘transitional theorising’ where the concern is with how society shapes the individual, not with how children interpret and understand the world around them. Such an approach, according to James et al., ‘cannot attend to the everyday world of children, or their skills in interaction and world-view, except in terms of generalising a diagno- sis for remedial action’ (p. 25). Echoing feminist critiques of male-oriented social theory, new approaches to studying children and childhood reject the ‘adult chauvinism and fantasy’ inherent in the structure-oriented approach (Stanley & Wise, 1993, p. 104), focussing instead on young people’s agency, experiences, life-worlds and culture. Theorists such as Jenks (1996, p. 2) have argued that there is no such thing as ‘the real child’ or ‘an authentic experience of childhood’, proposing instead a variety of ways of conceptualising young people. Drawing on a selection of post-modern ideas such as ‘multiple reali- ties’, ‘regimes of truth’ and ‘cultural relativism’, James et al. (1998, pp. 27–32) have argued that there is no universal child with which to engage, that youth subcultures must be studied on their own terms, and that researchers need to challenge the uneven power relations between young people and adults. In this sense, those theorising chil- dren have mobilised feminist arguments concerning the importance of social location and identity for epistemology (cf. Stanley & Wise, 1993, p. 228). Subsequently, this recognition of young people as ‘disadvantaged equals’ has important implications for methodologies researchers employ (Morrow & Richards, 1996, p. 91). The immediate methodological problem that follows from this ontological and epistemological shift is that of how to get closer to the everyday life-worlds of children. In struggling with this problem, researchers have frequently drawn on
418 D. Piggott ethnographic approaches in an attempt to become ‘adult insiders’ (cf. Beal, 1996; Giardina & Donnelly, 2008). For example, in his classic ethnography of little league baseball, Fine (1987) spent three years securing the confidence of preadolescents, often acting as scorekeeper, in order to record naturalistic observations. More radical approaches have been pioneered recently by MacPhail, Kirk, and Eley (2003) who employed older adolescents as researchers, defining questions and collecting data on terms defined by young sports participants. Following the important and difficult business of securing rapport, it is important to recognise that ‘children may possess different competencies and may be more skilled in other forms of communication’ than adults (Morrow, 1999, p. 204). This necessitates innovation in the way researchers attempt to listen to young voices. Morgan, Gibbs, Maxwell, and Britten (2002), for example, used puppets to conduct interviews with 7- to 11-year-old asthma sufferers in order to downplay their adult status. Groves and Laws (2000) employed diaries and group interviews to analyse young people’s experiences of physical education ‘in terms defined by them’. In theDownloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 field of sport and leisure, Gard and Mayenn’s (2000) study of contact sports in Australia and Gill and Persson’s (2008) conceptualisation of children’s leisure time in Sweden all deploy a range of innovative methods in an attempt to understand youth cultures ‘from the inside’. Such examples clearly mark the growing consensus among researchers that young people’s views can and should be sought on issues that affect them. However, despite these useful precedents, very few of the studies noted above – with the notable exception of MacPhail et al. (2003) – consider the broader method- ological problem at play here: how can we genuinely listen to young people – to find out what issues really matter to them – if adults (researchers, funding bodies or policy-makers) are framing the research questions? Part 2: how to listen to young people Taking this question as a starting point, the methodology of GT purportedly enables young research participants to set the agenda in research and steer the theory genera- tion process (Lloyd-Smith & Tarr, 2000; Morrow & Richards, 1996). Fundamentally, GT is an approach that ‘promotes the development of theoretical accounts … which conform closely to the situations being observed, so that theory is likely to be intelli- gible by participants’ (Turner, 1983, p. 335). Furthermore, although GT constitutes a discrete set of methodological procedures, it does not preclude the adoption of compli- mentary principles (such as ethnography) or theories insofar as they enhance the researcher’s sensitivity to their data (see below). As such, GT is more flexible and accommodating than some leading texts are inclined to suggest (cf. Glaser, 1992). It is customary in papers on GT to spend some time describing the history of the methodology and the various philosophical differences that have emerged between the main authors. However, as this is partly the subject of the third section, and since many excellent reviews already exist (cf. Bryant & Charmaz, 2007; Charmaz, 2000; McCann & Clark, 2003; Strauss & Corbin, 1994), this section will focus on introduc- ing the process and techniques of GT in the context of doing research that attempts to elucidate young people’s experiences of sport and leisure.2 The example that is carried through the section is a doctoral study on 8- to 18-year-olds’ experiences of grassroots football in community clubs and schools. The empirical data were collected and analysed at various locations in England throughout 2005 and in early 2006.
Leisure Studies 419 Theoretical sensitivity The starting point of any GT study reflects a choice made by the researcher or researchers involved. These choices are necessarily informed by the ‘intellectual biog- raphy’ of the researcher (Stanley & Wise, 1993. p. 209), especially their awareness of concepts and theories that may illuminate what they see and hear in the field. The GT concept of theoretical sensitivity assists in understanding this basic assumption and implies a critical difference between ‘an open mind and an empty head’ (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 47). That is to say, it is not possible to ‘enter the field in abstract wonderment of what is going on’, as Glaser (1992, p. 22) avers, nor to achieve theory- neutral observation (Popper, 1972, p. 46; Thomas & James, 2006). Indeed, the ques- tion is not whether to use existing knowledge in the early stages of research, but how (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 48). The crucial balance for the researcher, therefore, is to be sensitive to the literature without becoming ‘stifled’ by it (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 49), a position that might be better labelled ‘theoretical agnosticism’ (Henwood & Pidgeon, 2003, p. 138).Downloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 In the example study, theoretical sensitivity was developed in a number of ways. First, as Strauss and Corbin (1994, p. 280) explain, ‘disciplinary and professional knowledge, along with research and personal experiences’ can enhance sensitivity. As such, the researcher ‘began the research with a partial framework of “local” concepts, designating a few features of the situations’ likely to be studied (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 45). These local concepts were derived from broad reading of social theory pertaining to children and adolescents, from a brief review of contemporary youth sport policies, from a close reading of recent studies on youth experiences of sport and leisure, and from years of personal and professional experience working on youth sport schemes, coaching football teams and running youth sports clubs. Theoretical sampling Once a researcher has chosen an area of study, directed by their theoretical sensitivity, they are in a position to begin collecting and analysing data. The first step in any empir- ical research is the identification of an initial sample. The implicit assumption in many texts is that some sort of stratified random sampling is sufficient to start and that the critical technique of theoretical sampling – that is, sampling ‘governed by the need to refine concepts and develop the properties of categories’ (Charmaz, 2006, p. 96) – takes over once initial data have been collected and analysed. Here, sampling and data collection ‘is controlled by the emerging theory’ which helps the researcher answer the basic question: ‘what groups or sub-groups does one turn to next in data collec- tion?’ (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 45, emphasis added). In GT, groups are selected based on their theoretical relevance, or the extent to which the researcher believes they could help ‘fill gaps in or shed light on the emerging theory’ (Charmaz, 2000, p. 519).3 In the example study, a survey was administered to youth football clubs and schools (primary and secondary) throughout England in order to map the frequency and extent of football provision. Over 3000 questionnaires were sent and the 857 returns enabled the researcher to identify clubs and schools with frequent and diverse football participation (e.g. male and female, mixed ethnicity, mixed ability). Once data had been collected, theoretical sampling helped to check some of the initial hypotheses that were generated. For example, some initial interviews with female players in schools illuminated the central role that boys play in their formative football
420 D. Piggott experiences. Both the data and the initial hypothesis were captured in a theoretical memo, abridged and reprinted below. Memo – Gender wars (18.08.05) It appears that younger girls – perhaps those less experienced and able – partic- ularly dislike playing with boys (mixed) as they feel left out of the game. Boys don’t pass to them, which creates an ‘us against them’ scenario with girls finding boys the greatest single barrier to football participation. Li: I don’t like it when the boys run past you or come up to you and go: ‘You shouldn’t be playing football, it’s a boys sport’. ‘Netball’s a girls sport; we’re not allowed to play netball, so you shouldn’t be allowed to play football’. La: And half the time, the captains are the people who absolutely hate you, which is really annoying …(Year 6 girls) On the other hand, however, those girls who are more confident and able appear to enjoy the challenge of playing against boys, particularly because they think they will improve and become more confident from pitting themselves against better players.Downloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 I: So do you like it being girls versus boys or would you like it mixed? E & G: Mixed. G: It’s easier for the young team … if they have a small one then … boys have got more touch, but when I go up to a boy and tackle, then I get more confident in how to tackle … and you get more confidence from the boys, like, you won’t be scared to tackle anybody. (U12 girls) Hence, it is possible that attitudes towards mixed football are conditioned by experience and ability. Those girls who have had positive early experiences in a protected environment (i.e. an all-girl environment) are more likely to perceive mixed football in a positive light: an opportunity to improve by competing with better players. The grounded theorist’s responsibility here, as compared to the theory-driven researcher (a critical feminist, for example), is to be sensitive to the dynamics of male domination at play whilst remaining open to the empowering capacity of mixed foot- ball. To capture the full complexity of girls’ experiences, both views have to be taken seriously and must be accounted for in the ongoing analysis. Theoretical sampling, in this case, meant finding a female football club that was likely to contain girls aged 10– 12 who could speak about their early experiences and thus help ‘test’ the hypothesis posed in the memo above. This also meant that data collection methods became more deductive as theoretical sampling continued. The constant comparative method Along with theoretical sampling, the iterative nature of data collection and analysis, wherein the researcher constantly compares data to data and data to concepts, is argu- ably the cardinal feature of GT (Charmaz, 2003; McCann & Clark, 2003; Weed, 2009). Indeed, it is this aspect of the methodology that creates the impression of natu- ral rigour as the researcher is forced to constantly check their developing ideas against the data. Hence, built into the GT process are ‘checks on credibility, plausibility and trustworthiness’ (Kvale, 1996, p. 242). With respect to data collection, GT, despite its predominant use among qualitative researchers, is amenable to all kinds of data and collection techniques (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, pp. 16–17). The question of how to collect data is therefore left to the researcher and their reflections on ethical issues, the nature of their problem, and perhaps their prior training and technical expertise. In the example study, the moral
Leisure Studies 421 argument presented in Part 1 served to inform this decision. In short, the researcher’s moral commitment to listen to young people’s voices necessitated the collection of qualitative data. However, the more specific question of how to generate in-depth qualitative data with young people remained unanswered. Initially, the length of time and depth of involvement required to develop rapport with young people was a primary concern. Early pilot fieldwork suggested that it would be difficult to establish trust with adolescent boys, in particular, without regular prolonged immersion in clubs and schools. The mini-ethnographies that followed therefore ranged from two weeks (usually in schools where contact was more inten- sive) up to six months (for weekly contact with mid-adolescent male teams) and involved the researcher acting in various roles as the situation required (e.g. coach, assistant, referee, supporter and, with older groups, opponent player). Drawing on previous studies (i.e. those reviewed in Part 1) the next decision was to use focus groups as the primary data collection method (instead of one-to-one inter- views) for two main reasons. First, as Wilkinson (1998, p. 190) observes, ‘it is muchDownloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 harder for the researcher to impose his or her agenda in the group context which grants participants much greater opportunity to set the research agenda’. Second, when selected based on existing friendship groups, focus groups often create ‘a trusting and comfortable atmosphere’ (Renold, 2001, p. 372) which can help young people nego- tiate, to some degree, the natural power imbalances between themselves and the adult researchers (Barbour & Kitzinger, 1999). Following the selection of focus groups, the recognition that young people (espe- cially children) are proficient in different forms of communication than adults (Morrow, 1999) stimulated a review of a range of discussion prompts or activities. Governing the selection of such activities were two main variables: first, the age of the participants, and second, the degree of confidence in the hypothesis under discussion, or the ‘maturity’ of the emerging theory (see Figure 1). As depicted in Figure 1, the methods of discussion generation evolved as the study Figure 1. Changing methods throughout a GT study. developed. In the earliest stages, where the goal of GT analysis is ‘open coding’ or the free generation of concepts using line-by-line analysis techniques (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 101), mind maps and a like/dislike exercise were used to stimulate open discussion (Fajerman et al., 2004). Younger children were given large sheets of paper and coloured pens and asked to write and draw freely on the subject of football, or on what they especially liked or disliked about participation. Older adolescents (i.e. those over the age of 12) were provided with A4 paper and pens and asked to list and rank issues of most importance to their football participation. These activities normally lasted for around 10 minutes after which the researcher reviewed the creations, look- ing for common themes, and asked questions such as: ‘what do you mean by “being put under pressure”?’ These questions tended to stimulate discussion qualifying what had been drawn or written, or occasionally debate when conflicting opinions arose. As concepts and categories were developed, new discussion prompts were created to help subject the emerging hypotheses to criticism. In the second and third ‘itera- tions’ of the example study (see Figure 1) two new activities were added to the exist- ing techniques: agree/disagree statements (Fajerman et al., 2004) and vignettes (Finch, 1987). These activities were selected as they helped present hypotheses in a ‘child- friendly’ manner, they captured the attention of the young people, and they allowed space for the participants to expand on initial responses, thus helping to elucidate the (necessary and sufficient) conditions underpinning their reactions.4 Moreover, the content of (or language used in) the new activities was inspired by the stories of earlier
422 D. PiggottDownloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 Figure 1. Changing methods throughout a GT study. participants and the observations collected during the fieldwork, thus increasing the authenticity of the activity (cf. Hughes, 1998). For example, a small card displaying the phrase ‘It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part’ was passed around a group of young players who were asked to agree or disagree. Often, they would respond with a comment like: ‘well, it depends really’ before going on to discuss the conditional nature of, in this case, their motivation orientations. Similarly, a vignette describing the behaviour of a hypothetical ‘ideal coach’ was read by a group of young adolescents who were asked ‘if they liked the coach in the vignette’ and if so, ‘what it was about the coach that they liked’. In both cases, hypotheses were being checked and new data were being generated for the purposes of comparison (with data and concepts) and to help ‘flesh-out’ the properties and dimensions of existing concepts (Charmaz, 2003). Hypotheses, memos and substantive theory The concept of theoretical sampling presupposes the generation of hypotheses and explanatory models following (or perhaps during) data collection and analysis. It is interesting, then, that hypotheses and deductive logic receive little attention in GT texts. Indeed, the following passage from the original Glaser and Strauss (1967, p. 39) text is characteristic of – or perhaps a model for – much of the writing that has followed: When he begins to hypothesise with the explicit purpose of generating theory, the researcher is no longer a passive receiver of impressions but is naturally drawn into actively generating and verifying his hypotheses through comparison of groups.
Leisure Studies 423 This passage, like the book that contains it, is full of epistemological conflict. Notice that the researcher appears to have the ability to switch her deductive faculties on and off at leisure. Also note the positivist assumption that hypotheses can be veri- fied through the technique of comparison. Subsequent texts and papers have done little to clarify the logic of GT. Indeed, from their constructivist perspective Strauss and Corbin (1998, pp. 18–22) argue that ‘description’ is a priori to ‘conceptual ordering’ and ‘theorising’, again suggesting that simple observation and description can be separated from, and in fact leads into, the more rational act of hypothesis generation. In the example study, it was assumed from the outset that GT is essentially a process of generating and testing mini-hypotheses through theoretical sampling and increasingly deductive data collection and analysis (see Part 3). In the latter stages of the research, models and memos were created to help articulate the potential causal relationships between variables or concepts. For example, the memo below, from the third iteration, demonstrates how hypotheses were being tested against data and also how ideas from literature were ‘earning’ (Charmaz, 2003) their way intoDownloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 the analysis. Memo – ‘Self expression’ and age (30.05.06) The following passage is taken from a discussion about the ability to express yourself in football. Sam: I’ve heard him (U10s coach) telling them: ‘Just remember, y’know, short passing, one-twos and things, simple’. I think it should be encouraged that the flicks and things aren’t needed, and that … I think if the coaches cut flicks out y’know … I think the standard of football, as you go up, I think it becomes so much better because they’re learning to play football much earlier. Craig: It’s not about enjoyment then though, so it’s a fine line … like if you’re saying they’re doing it for enjoyment, then they shouldn’t really be being told not to do this and not to do that. (U18 boys) There seems to be an essential tension between ‘structure’ and ‘expression’ and that ‘proper football’ is more closely aligned with the former (see Wall & Côté, 2007 for similar ideas). For example, it seems young people are subjected a number of external influences such as pro players (‘social learning’), who encour- age expression, and coaches (‘constrained by coach’) and parents (‘under pres- sure’), who are more likely to restrict the freedom they have to ‘express themselves’ (see Stratton, 1995 for more on ‘social evaluation’). The battle between these socialising influences – depending, of course, on the individual – is likely, over time, to force young people into a particular mould. And as Craig and Luke admit (below), as you get older, self expression in football is slowly beaten out of you through negative reinforcement. Craig: Like you still get quite a lot of people shouting, like: ‘No flicks’ and stuff. I: And does that sort of change the way … like has that, over time – every time you’ve tried a flick or something to express yourself, something a bit different, and every time you do that there’s this voice from the sideline that’s like: ‘Don’t try that’ … Luke: Yeah, you can hear it in your head though, you know it’s coming! I: So does that, over time, ultimately shape you as a player and stop you from … Luke: Yeah. You start off as a kid – like it’s every lad’s dream to be a football player … and as soon as you’re on that pitch it’s all flicks and overhead kicks. And then as you progress, you realise you aint no Rooney or you aint no Henry, so you never try a flick, you just play it simple and get on with it. (U18 boys) The memo above clearly articulates a series of hypothetical relationships between social–structural and psychological variables. It also attempts to highlight the specific
424 D. Piggott fragments of data that stimulated these ideas, once again illustrating the importance of ‘anchoring’ the developing theory in the data (Charmaz, 1990). At this late stage of the study, the goal is the generation of substantive theory: ‘a set of well developed categories that are systematically interrelated through statements of relationships to form a framework that explains some specific social phenomenon’ (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 22). Importantly, the substantive theory should fit the data; it should work for, and be relevant to the participants of the study; and it should also be modifiable through the drafting and writing phases of the study to help increase vividness and clarity (Charmaz, 1990; Glaser, 1978, pp. 4–5). This aspect of the meth- odology also helps the researcher leave an audit trail, thus increasing transparency and ‘trustworthiness’ (cf. Bringer, Johnson, & Brackenridge, 2004). In the context of the example study, the ‘validity’ of the substantive theory – its fit, work and relevance – was continuously checked as a natural consequence of the constant comparative method. In other words, the nature of the second/third iteration discussion prompts, coupled with the targeted nature of theoretical sampling (i.e. selecting groups for theDownloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 most severe test of a hypothesis), meant that ‘validity’ (or authenticity) was a serious and ongoing concern. Moreover, it is especially important to take such measures when researching young people since ‘their relatively powerless status renders them highly susceptible to misrepresentation’ (Morrow & Richards, 1996, p. 91). An overview of the GT process Taking Figure 1 as a reference point, this section has tried to show that GT, coupled with youth-friendly methods, may provide some solutions for a researcher concerned with listening to young people in leisure research. Theoretical sensitivity provides a ‘point of departure’ for the initial choices involved in a GT study: what groups to sample and what questions to ask. Thereafter, it describes a changing body of ideas, or a shifting touchstone, providing the researcher with ‘sensitive insight’ into the phenomena under study (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 251). The iterative process of data collection and analysis, where solutions to problems are proffered and subjected to criticism, becomes increasingly deductive as a project develops. Equally, the methods used to stimulate the generation of data (e.g. mind maps and vignettes), along with the specificity of theoretical sampling, also become more focussed as hypotheses become more specific. A substantive theory is generated as the researcher begins to specify relationships between variables at a higher level of abstraction. The researcher may also begin to introduce extant theories at this stage, as long as a critical stance is adopted and they earn their way into the narrative (Charmaz, 2006, p. 166). Part 3: different approaches to grounded theory In her comprehensive historical–philosophical review, Charmaz (2000) distinguishes between two versions of GT: objectivist and constructivist. For Charmaz (2000), objectivist grounded theorists naively assume the existence of an ‘objective reality that can be discovered’, a reality that lies latent in the data (Bryant, 2003), that will ‘emerge’ through the faithful application of GT techniques. Such a position is often attributed to Glaser (1992, p. 53) who claims that theory ‘really exists in the data’ and that ‘conceptual reality does exist’ (Glaser, 2002). Constructivist GT, on the other hand, ‘assumes that people create and maintain meaningful worlds through dialectical processes of conferring meaning on their realities and acting within them’ (Charmaz,
Leisure Studies 425 Table 1. Summary of the main approaches to GT. Glaser (1992) and Glaser and Strauss Strauss and Corbin Charmaz (1967) (1994, 1998) (1990, 2000, 2006) Ontological Naive realist (social Constructivist (social Constructivist (but with position world or reality exists world is actively critical realist elements, cf. independently of constructed and Weed, 2009). human interpretation). reconstructed by individual actors). Epistemological Positivist (theory- Pragmatist (theories Pragmatist (symbolic position neutral observer are useful constructs, interactionist). discovers reality by but don’t represent an observing ‘the open external ‘reality’). book of nature’). Example ‘The researcher must ‘Although we do not ‘A research product is one passage trust that emergence create data, we create rendering among multipleDownloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 will occur, and it does’ theory out of data’ interpretations of a shared (Glaser, 1992, p. 4). (Strauss & Corbin, reality’(Charmaz, 2000, p. 1998, p. 56). 523). 2000, p. 525). From this perspective, the aim is to ‘include multiple voices, views and visions in a rendering of lived experience’ that accounts for both the respondents’ and researchers’ co-created meanings (Charmaz, 2000, p. 525). Reflecting on Charmaz’s (2000) review, alongside similar attempts to classify differ- ent approaches to GT (cf. Annells, 1996; McCann & Clark, 2003; Stern, 1994), it is possible to summarise some of the main philosophical positions assumed. Table 1 repre- sents the ontological and epistemological convictions of the three main approaches. The application of some of the labels in Table 1 would certainly be rejected by the respective authors. However, grounded theorists are rarely explicit about philosophy, and where they are explicit (usually in defining their opposition) they are often mistaken, as the two passages below clearly illustrate: The position of the logico-deductive theorists … supported quantitative verifications as the best way to reformulate and modify their theories. This meant … that they supported the trend in sociology that pointed towards the perfection of theories. (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 17) Mid-century positivist conceptions of scientific method … stressed objectivity, general- ity, replication of research, and falsification of competing hypotheses and theories. (Charmaz, 2006, p. 4) The clear misunderstanding present in these passages is common to all three approaches in Table 1. It is the association of the logico- or hypothetico-deductive method (or falsification) with verification, perfection and objectivity (or positivism). Even the most cursory reading of Popper’s (1959, 1972) original work would reveal that the two positions actually stand in direct opposition. Indeed, Popper (1959) devel- oped his ‘critical rationalist’ position in response to his critique of induction and positivism (especially the ‘logical positivism’ of the Vienna School which aimed at achieving objective and certain knowledge through accurate and detached observation). Specifically, Popper (1972, pp. 46–48) showed that induction – the logic of reasoning
426 D. Piggott from repeated instances to justified conclusions – could not be possible since it presup- poses an understanding of similarity or resemblance, which, in turn, can only be judged from a point of view. This means that a researcher must have a point of view before there can be a repetition, or, in other words, that theory must precede observation.5 So, in attempting to distance themselves (rightly) from positivism, grounded theorists have, through mistaken association with deduction, found themselves trying to defend induc- tion: the root cause of most criticisms of GT (cf. Thomas & James, 2006). With GT ‘now running the risk of becoming fashionable’ (Strauss & Corbin, 1994, p. 277) and thus ‘susceptible to uncritical acceptance’ (Annells, 1996, p. 391), it is of central impor- tance that researchers begin to critically engage with GT, especially its philosophical assumptions. This is presumably Charmaz’s (2000, p. 513) concern as she poses the partly rhetorical question: ‘so who’s got the real grounded theory? (emphasis added)’. Methodological essentialismDownloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 One recent attempt to confront this problem situation is Weed’s (2009) concise defence of an ‘essential’ GT canon. Having criticised a range of studies in the field of sport psychology, Weed (2009) concludes that in order to ‘lay claim to the label of grounded theory’ eight sufficient conditions must be met (among which are the contested concepts: theoretical sensitivity, theoretical sampling and theoretical satura- tion). For Weed (2009, p. 504), GT is ‘a total methodology, not a pick and mix box’ and only those studies explicitly drawing on his eight ‘essences’ may apply the laud- able GT label. This conservative approach may be styled as ‘essentialism’ (Popper, 1972, p. 105) as it reflects a desire to distil and petrify some essential aspects of GT in the hope of creating a yardstick against which the quality of research can be measured. However, two problems are immediately evident with this approach. First, one might reasonably question Weed’s authority in laying down this canon, especially since others have created different yet overlapping lists in the past (cf. McCann & Clark, 2003; Strauss & Corbin, 1994). Second, in attempting to arrest the development of GT, Weed threatens to stifle debate about its ‘essential’ elements. This is presum- ably not his intention, but with the suggestion that ‘papers laying claim to GT should be reviewed by … at least one GT expert’, we are left to ponder how such ‘experts’ are to be identified, and which of the many GT canons they might reference. Methodological anarchism In direct opposition to Weed’s position stands Thomas and James’ (2006) philosoph- ical (and in their view terminal) critique of GT. The three ‘problematic notions’ Thomas and James (2006) discuss – theory, ground and discovery – are, in fact, one and the same: the problem of induction (introduced above). Specifically, they contend that we use theory in every aspect of starting and generating GT, that grounded theo- rists have so far failed to adequately explain the ontological assumptions that ground GT, and that theories are generated, not discovered. All of these criticisms are fair and well argued by the authors. Indeed, they may well be right in suggesting that ‘contin- ued allegiance to GT procedures stunts and distorts the growth of qualitative inquiry’, though only if allegiance is uncritical. However, their conclusion – that we throw out GT in favour of a form of methodological anarchism (Feyerabend, 1993) – is unsat- isfactory in two ways. First, and as they themselves note, new researchers often find GT to be ‘a map and compass to navigate the open terrain of qualitative inquiry’. As
Leisure Studies 427 Table 2. Essentialism, anarchism and critical rationalism. Essentialism Anarchism (Thomas & Third way: critical Position (Weed, 2009) James, 2006) rationalism Philosophical Realist and positivist Relativist (cultural and Realist and fallibilist principles epistemological) Abbreviated ‘Deviation from “The ‘Anything goes.’ ‘You may be right and I may motto Forms” is a movement be wrong, but through away from perfection. critical discussion we can All change is decay.’ move closer to the truth.’ such, GT can remain a valuable strategy for neophyte researchers providing they engage with it critically. Second, by losing the label or ‘tether’ of GT, Thomas and James (2006), like Weed (2009), surely risk stifling the lively scholarly debate currently ongoing in the GT literature. Even if GT is fundamentally flawed, and weDownloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 concede, with Becker (1996, p. 70), that ‘there are no recipes for ways of doing social research’, there must still be some value in retaining the label of GT, if only as a ‘hook’ on which to hang the type of critical discussion which Thomas and James (2006) themselves construct. Table 2 summarises the two responses to the problems inherent in GT. The essentialist view is realist and positivist because it assumes the existence of a ‘real’ GT that Weed (2009) has ‘discovered’ or ‘revealed’. The anarchist view is relativist because it recognises that ‘all methodologies have limits’ and that ‘uniformity endan- gers science’ as it limits access to possible (better) alternatives (Feyerabend, 1993, pp. 23–29). However, contrary to Thomas and James’ (2006) contention that ‘the problems of GT preclude any possible modification’, a third way can be constructed. A third way: critical rationalism Critical rationalism,6 the epistemological theory developed by Karl Popper (1959, 1972) and his students (e.g. Miller, 1994), is both realist and fallibilist in outlook. It assumes that theories can be true (that they can describe ‘reality’) but that they can never be positively proved to be so. This view can also be applied to itself, a position known as ‘pan-critical rationalism’ (Bartley, 1984). It starts from the position that all investigation begins with a ‘horizon of expectations’ (or set of background theories), which help us identify relevant problems in a chosen field. Thereafter, studies proceed in a logic of ‘conjecture and refutation’ (Popper, 1972) whereby solutions to problems are invented by us before being subjected to criticism. Solutions or theories that survive criticism are held tentatively until more severe tests are invented. The close similarity in logic between critical rationalism and GT (see also Hammersley, 1989, p. 201) is illustrated in Figure 2. From a critical rationalist perspective, some of the fundamental problems with GT Figure 2. A critical rationalist reinterpretation of GT. can be circumvented. For example, one can escape the problem of induction by accepting that research initially proceeds with an act of abduction followed by deduc- tion (Blaikie, 1993, p. 165; Reichertz, 2007). Moreover, if this is accepted, the GT researcher no longer has any difficulty in explaining how they intend to use existing knowledge (or theories). Existing knowledge is a necessary (but dogmatic) ‘horizon of expectations’ which help direct observations but which should also be subjected to criticism as soon as possible. Furthermore, hypothesis generation becomes an integral
428 D. PiggottDownloaded By: [University of Lincoln] At: 11:24 20 January 2011 Figure 2. A critical rationalist reinterpretation of GT. part of the GT process: a platform upon which a researcher can begin theoretical sampling, but for negative cases, not for hopeful verifications. The movement towards substantive theory therefore entails a series of attempted falsifications, instead of veri- fication and saturation. Indeed, under a critical rationalist view, the concept of theo- retical saturation – where ‘gaps in theory are almost, if not completely, filled’ (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 61) – makes very little sense, since solutions are always tentative, never certain. These critical rationalist ‘lessons’ for grounded theorists are summarised in Table 3. These critical rationalist lessons are more than cosmetic. GT does need ‘reinvent- ing’ (Thomas & James, 2006), and these epistemological insights not only help us negotiate long-standing philosophical problems, but also entail useful modifications to the ‘day-to-day’ activity of doing a GT study. By way of example, the ‘gender wars’ memo presented in Part 2 demonstrates that the researcher’s ‘horizon of expectations’ informed the questions asked of young female footballers. In being sensitive to critical feminist notions of power (linked to concepts such as habitus and social and cultural capital), certain dynamics of male domination in mixed football were expected (not discovered) and were clearly articu- lated by the girls. Lisa: Yeah, Bernie [the coach] what he does is … he’ll come and he’ll like, the boys will know everything because they go like training and everything; and then