Podcast 44: The Qualitative Research Series - The explanatory power of grounded theory with Prof. Melanie Birks and Prof. Jane Mills


Welcome to another episode of The Words Matter Podcast.

So this is the second episode of the Qualitative Research Series, and today I’m speaking with Prof. Melanie Birks and Prof. Jane Mills, who for me are amongst the most influential communicators, educators and developers of grounded theory in the past decade – so its a real treat to have these superstars of GT contribute to this qualitative series.

Melanie is a Professor of Nursing (Quality and Strategy) at James Cook University in Australia. She has an extensive publication track record, including numerous textbooks and articles on grounded theory. Her research interests are in the areas of educational accessibility and relevance, and preparation of a well-prepared health workforce. She is committed to promoting quality, evidence-based education and practice through these endeavours.

Jane is the Dean and Head of the La Trobe Rural Health School, and she is considered one of Australia and New Zealand’s foremost nurse academics with extensive experience leading and managing teams in both government and tertiary sectors. Her research portfolio focuses on rural and public health, health workforce, and health system strengthening. Jane’s career vision is to contribute to a just society by fostering research and graduates that make a positive difference and she believes education and research are powerful vehicles for change.

So in this episode we speak about:

  • What grounded theory (GT) is and what is it not.
  • A brief history of GT, the context in which it arose, underpinning philosophies, and the different generations.
  • Melanie and Jane's own epistemological positions on GT and how they arrived at them (see here for example).
  • GT in context of other qualitative methodologies; what aspects and methods are common and which are somewhat distinctive of GT.
  • What constitutes a GT study but also the product of a GT study, namely a grounded theory – and we touch on what makes it grounded and what is meant by theory.
  • The importance of the position of the researcher, including managing ‘bias’ and preconceptions, reflectivity and the role of the researcher
  • Some of the key methods of GT.
  • The notion of theoretical sensitivity, which guides theoretical sampling, theoretical coding and theory development.
  • What constitutes quality in GT, and how do we know when we have developed a ‘good’ GT.
  • Their tips and advice for embarking on or engaging with grounded theory research (see their FAQ paper here). And for a paper on how I've operationalised constructivist GT see here.

As you will hear, I was really excited to speak with Melanie and Jane. As I say in the out chat, the first edition of their book Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide was a great help to me during my doctoral research and subsequent teaching and supervision around grounded theory. And I was honoured to make a small contribution to their second book, and wrote a short piece on how I used non-participant observation and video-prompted reflective interviews to facilitate theoretical sufficiency and grounded theory development (see here).

And keep a look out for the 3rd edition of their book, which is due out next year.

Find Melanie and Jane on Twitter @melbirks @profjanemills 

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