Reinventing grounded theory: some questions about theory, ground and discovery


School of Education, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK. E-mail:


Grounded theory's popularity persists after three decades of broad-ranging critique. In this article three problematic notions are discussed—‘theory,’ ‘ground’ and ‘discovery’—which linger in the continuing use and development of grounded theory procedures. It is argued that far from providing the epistemic security promised by grounded theory, these notions—embodied in continuing reinventions of grounded theory—constrain and distort qualitative inquiry, and that what is contrived is not in fact theory in any meaningful sense, that ‘ground’ is a misnomer when talking about interpretation and that what ultimately materializes following grounded theory procedures is less like discovery and more akin to invention. The procedures admittedly provide signposts for qualitative inquirers, but educational researchers should be wary, for the significance of interpretation, narrative and reflection can be undermined in the procedures of grounded theory.