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«DOCUMENT RESUME ED 470 658 TM 034 552 McCaslin, Mark L.; Scott, Karen Wilson AUTHOR Method for Studying a Human Ecology: An Adaptation of the TITLE ...»

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ED 470 658 TM 034 552

McCaslin, Mark L.; Scott, Karen Wilson


Method for Studying a Human Ecology: An Adaptation of the


Grounded Theory Tradition.



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*Constructivism (Learning); Ecology; *Qualitative Research


*Grounded Theory; *Human Ecology


ABSTRACT, Constructivist grounded theory is focused on discovery through understanding data in a human ecology. The procedures outlined in this paper are designed to guide the beginning theorist through the process of creating a theory grounded in data that is a product of the human ecology under study. These new procedures extend grounded theory, providing bridges in moving from study phenomenon to design and from analysis to interpretation. Procedures for analyzing the data must be clearly understood before beginning grounded theory methodology. Strategies must be outlined, approaches to the ecology discussed, and awareness of the ecology attained.

Following these procedures can lead to a rewarding qualitative research experience and produce new knowledge for understanding the human ecology.

(Author) Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that can be made from the original document.

Method for Studying 1

Method for Studying a Human Ecology:

An Adaptation of the Grounded Theory Tradition Mark L. McCaslin, PhD and Karen Wilson Scott, PhD University of Idaho, Idaho Falls 1776 Science Center Drive Idaho Falls, ID 83402 (208) 282-7719 and (208) 282-7967 markm(a,uidaho.edu and Karen@ifuidaho.edu


Office of Educational Research and Improvement



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received from the person or organization originating it.

M. McCaslin 0 Minor changes have been made to improve reproduction quality.

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Constructivist grounded theory is focused on discovery through understanding data in a human ecology. The procedures outlined in this paper are designed to guide the beginning theorist through the process of creating a theory grounded in data that is a product of the human ecology under study. These new procedures extend grounded theory, providing bridges in moving from study phenomenon to design and from analysis to interpretation. Procedures for analyzing the data must be clearly understood before beginning grounded theory methodology. Strategies must be outlined, approaches to the ecology discussed, and awareness of the ecology attained.

Following these procedures can lead to a rewarding qualitative research experience and produce

–  –  –

The study of a human ecology requires special awareness and techniques to understand the complexities of the interactions and relationships. Human ecology as a science seeks to understand the laws governing the interrelationships of individuals with each other and their larger community. It requires the researcher to develop an appreciation of this interrelationship of individuals whether between researcher and informants; among informants themselves; or among informants and their fellow citizens within the larger community. These relationships and interactions are critical in determining the parameters of a study involving a human ecology.

If the qualitative traditions are concerned with observing and experiencing the human ecology (Creswell, 1997), then predictions and applications become secondary during early stages of any qualitative inquiry. On the other hand, explanations and interpretations of these data gathered within the ecology become primary. Yet most grounded theorists spend an inordinate amount of time drawing conclusions and seeking applicability and predictability, leaving the inductive mode to pursue deductive. In doing so we value the product more than the ecology from which it was derived. The temptation to move into the deductive mind-set is prevalent in the grounded theory design because as a research model it has both quantitative and qualitative potentials (Glaser, 1992). Reviewing the strategies outlined by Glaser and Strauss (1967) and Strauss and Corbin (1990), and Glaser (1992) reveals the beginnings of a mixed-model research design. These designs provide us with the methods to code data, draw limited conclusions, and even to suggest applications. What we lack are clear mechanisms for preparing ourselves for data collection, developing theoretical and ecological sensitivity toward the phenomenon under study,

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Grounded theory is about discovery. Discovery in the human ecology can only emerge when the researcher understands and appreciates the critical relatedness and meaning of the data collected within the ecology from which it is derived. Constructivist grounded theory assumes that people create and maintain meaning in their realities and act accordingly (Charmaz, 2000).

In the Constructivist view, the grounded theorist is very much a part of the process, from the selection of topic and questions, to determination of concepts and categories, and discovery of emergent theory. Recognizing and striving to convey the relationships and interactions of the informants within their ecologies is incumbent upon a responsible researcher. Data collected with poor connection to reality will yield theories of little or no relevance to that ecology.

A study conducted by one of us in leadership development within rural communities (McCaslin, 1993) began with shallow understanding of the topic ecology. I (McCaslin) entered the field with the accepted paradigm that without establishing leadership development first, economic and community development would be limited or nonexistent. Efforts to discover a theory that would explain the nature of leadership within rural communities proved both wearisome and meandering as the data refused to fit within the paradigm documented in the literature. After months of analysis, I realized that my short-sighted approach and view of the ecology obscured the story the data were telling me, that community is at the center of the development interest and leadership is but one of the many parts. My attempt to force the data into the incomplete paradigm was the result of not first understanding the ecology from which they were collected.

Following the grounded theory research design outlined by Strauss and Corbin (1990,

1998) the researcher can arrive, as I did, at the point where a decision must be made to either move forward and produce an incomplete and often shallow theory that obscures the ecology

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from which it was taken, or step back and reevaluate the procedures. The difficulty with the current methodology is that it does not address issues such as how and where to begin, protocol development, interpretations, role of the researcher, and movement between the various stages of coding. This paper seeks to eliminate much of the guess-work and frustration in grounded theory research by providing bridging procedures to enable the researcher to produce theories grounded in both the data and the ecology from which the data were obtained.

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Where to begin is the most critical aspect in qualitative inquiry. Beginning from the phenomena of interest - to the generation of research questions - to the research protocol - to coding (of all types) - to the generation of theory (strengthened by a smattering of literature support) is a shallow and incomplete research procedure that risks misunderstanding the real issue. We can obtain a clearer perspective by simply stepping back instead of forward in the early stages of our research. After selecting our phenomenon of interest the essential task at hand is to develop an appreciation for the phenomenon within its ecology.

The current model of grounded theory design follows the flow:

Phenomenon of Interest Designing Collecting Analyzing Theorizing This design is a deductive - inductive - deductive model in that from the phenomenon of interest it deduces a protocol, becomes inductive briefly during open and axial coding, only to fall back to a deductive framework in selective coding and theory generation. We propose to broaden and

clarify the current model and its language to the following:

Phenomenon of Interest Theoretical Conditioning Questioning the Process

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This design is an inductive deductive inductive deductive design that is dependent upon the ecology from which the data are derived in the process of building theories that explain the relationships and interactions within that ecology.

These modifications address the procedural difficulties inherent in the current theory of grounded theory. By adding methods to ensure theoretical conditioning, adding tools to aid the researcher in moving between coding levels, and altering the language to reflect reality, we can increase the power, fit, and relevance of our theories. In turn, we increase the likelihood that our theories will reflect the ecology positively and productively by strengthening our understanding of the relationships that govern the study ecology.

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Theoretical conditioning allows the researcher to answer three critical questions not addressed in traditional grounded theory methodology: (a) What is the real issue?; (b) What are the facts as we understand them?; and (c) What is the role of the researcher?. Whereas in the current methods the researcher moves to protocol development (a deductive process), our model takes the researcher inductively into the ecology under study to develop sensitivity to successfully code the data once collection begins. In our model theoretical conditioning is a three-stage process we call general and reflective sorting and selective questioning.

General Sorting Generating sufficient sensitivity to the human ecology requires immersion within that ecology. It is a step back to view holistically the environment under study. During this "awareness generating" period the researcher inventories "what is." The researcher is seeking an understanding of the area to be studied, directions the early reviews could take, and other clues to

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stage; only openness to the environment. Conclusions become important only towards the end in grounded theory research. Our frame of reference must be that of an explorer who has only a limited discovery time in the field. Conclusion can wait for the solitude of our laboratories.

Without this general reference and familiarity with the study ecology we run the risk of missing key relationships and proceeding along shallow or irrelevant paths. In the study of leadership (McCaslin, 1993), this point was not realized until data coding was well under way.

By gaining theoretical sensitivity, we may reveal the issues and facts about the ecology that will serve as backstops as the research proceeds.

Reflective Sorting Reflective sorting begins the early process of framing the study by assimilating the ecology into our consciousness. It is a process similar to open coding, only here we are examining concepts, phenomena, events, people, and conditions as they exist within the ecology, rather than removing or fracturing these data. From this process we can develop a rich description of the ecology, its actors, the setting, and events that will add depth to the meaning of our theory and direction for coding sessions. In the leadership study (McCaslin, 1993), one of the most difficult tasks was knowing how to limit the data flowing from the ecology to the phenomenon of interest without discounting or distorting the environment. Reflective sorting serves as our control, so that we know whether our findings or directions are in harmony with reality and allows us to begin a process of questioning that will ultimately lead us to our grand tour question.

Selective Questioning Selective questioning, the first deductive phase in our model, is a systematic process of

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reflective sorting help to frame and direct the study. This process generates the purpose statement and forms the grand tour question, the study question in its most general form (Creswell, 1994).

Formalizing the purpose of the research and the creation of a grand tour question is an arduous task in traditional approaches. In the study of leadership (McCaslin, 1993), the initial purpose was to describe leadership as it relates to community development. I (McCaslin) discovered in the midst of the research that the purpose statement was absurd, and that the informants interpreted the general inquiry of "what is leadership?" broadly with no meaningful boundary from which to generate a general theory. In a grounded theory study conducted by one of us investigating high self-efficacy and perseverance in adults committed to new challenging life pursuits after age 50, both the purpose and the grand tour question focused on perseverance, a concept linked to efficacy in the literature, but rejected by the informants (Scott, 2002). Both studies required stepping back to discern the human ecology. In the leadership study, recognizing that the question more reflective of the ecology was, "What is the purpose of leadership within this community?" allowed the data to tell their story. In the self-efficacy study, recognizing that while perseverance was viewed as a negative "push" disconnecting and obscuring the data, commitment was viewed as a compelling "pull" of rightness integrating the data.

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