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MAIS 640: Grounded Theory, Exploration, and Beyond

View current syllabus.

Delivery mode: Individualized-Study.

Credits: 3

Prerequisite: This course is intended to help students better prepare for the project stage of the Program, particularly those who are interested in field research, field methods, empirical research, and other applied questions. It is recommended that students contact the professor, Dr. Mark B. Durieux, to determine suitability of course.

Centre: Master of Arts Integrated Studies

Program: Master of Arts Integrated Studies


Master of Arts-Integrated Studies 640: Grounded Theory, Exploration, and Beyond is designed to give you an introductory opportunity to produce your own, original, grounded-theory research. We hope that you will find that grounded-theory research has the potential to be an exciting creative endeavour.

What is grounded theory? Simply, it is a social scientific methodology that is designed to generate theory from the "ground"-or data-up. Therefore, it is a theory-building methodology, rather than a theory-testing one. As you will see, the methodology is fairly unique to the practice of social research. Yet, for years it has not been taken seriously, with many wondering what all the fuss is about-after all, all theory must be grounded in data, or else it just is not good social theory-it is speculative philosophy or fantasy. Because it has been misunderstood, the method of grounded theory has sometimes been seen as some sort of misguided quackery and therefore too often ignored.

However, since its inception, grounded theory has repeatedly proven its worth to many social researchers, researcher-practitioners, and those who have reviewed its results in an increasingly wide array of substantive areas. Further, grounded theory has more recently begun to spin off into exciting new hybrid forms, embracing researcher interests in participatory action research, feminism, hermeneutics, phenomenology, critical theory, psychoanalysis, and so on. Its potential is truly remarkable. Thus the intention of this course is to provide you with a venue for wherever you, the budding grounded theorist, would like to take the methodology-as long as your research remains true to the basic tenets of grounded theory. So carpe diem!

Ultimately, then, this will be a very practical course. Though you will need to get to know well the philosophical justifications for grounded theory and its basic characteristics, everything in this course culminates in your writing up a piece of grounded theory in a substantive area of interest to you. On first glance, this might appear a daunting prospect-there is no formula for doing this sort of thing and so, ultimately, every grounded theory exploration is a baptism by fire. But if you are an explorer at heart, you will relish this very challenge. And, when the course is over and you have finished your project, it is to be hoped that you will be able to look back on the experience of doing grounded theory and say (rather like a kid getting off a roller coaster for the first time), "Yes! That was great! I wanna do it again!

Course Author

Mark Durieux is a contract sessional instructor at both Mount Royal College and the University of Calgary where he has had substantial teaching experience at the undergraduate level. Courses he has taught include Introductory Social Research Methods, Introductory Sociological (Descriptive and Inferential) Statistics, Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory, The Sociology of Compassion (a ground-breaking course, not, it seems, offered anywhere else), Sociological Social Psychology, Sociology of Marriages and Families, Canadian Society, and Introductory Sociology. His dissertation, Recognizing Compassionate Family Caregivers: Meanings, Journeys was a well- received grounded theory exploration of the subjective experience of being a compassionate family caregiver. Indeed, buoyed by that research experience and examiners' comments, he is now pursuing two related interests: expanding the potential of grounded theory and developing, in collaboration with Dr. Jaber F. Gubrium of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a new sociological subdiscipline, the sociology of compassion. Students who have a human-services orientation may be interested to know that he also has backgrounds in education, community health, and social work.

Course Structure

There are three parts to this course, each lasting between four to six weeks:

  1. thinking about grounded theory and getting ready to do it
  2. doing grounded theory
  3. writing up your grounded theory

Admittedly, this is a very short timeline! But those who might feel that a successful grounded-theory study cannot be done in a single semester should remember that, fundamentally, this course is rather to be an exploration of grounded theory methodology. It is very important to keep that distinction in mind. The aim of this course is not to have you produce a near-publishable piece of grounded theory. Rather, it is to give you the opportunity to explore the methodology in a personally engaging and relatively safe manner that may later lead to a more extensive application.

Course Objectives

After completing the course, the successful student will have demonstrated:

  • an understanding of the philosophical and practical underpinnings of grounded theory and exploration as a social research methodology.
  • an understanding of the essential characteristics of grounded theory and exploration methodology.
  • the ability to incorporate the above into the design, execution, and communication of a competent grounded theory and exploration research project.

Course Evaluation

In order to receive credit for this course, you must successfully complete, achieving a grade of 60% or better, the following activities and assignments:

  1. Participation in online discussion: You are expected to support others-and be supported-in your journey to produce grounded theory, which can sometimes be a very difficult undertaking. Our goal is to develop a learning community through online group discussion, which will enhance individual learning. Active online posting is an ongoing requirement of the course, and is worth 24% of your final course grade.
  2. Weekly progress reports: These will be short e-mail updates that are designed to keep your course professor "in the loop" in relation to your progress. You will be expected to submit fourteen reports worth 1% each.
  3. Journal assignments: These journals are designed to harness, heighten, and reflect some of the self-conscious learning processes that will be a part of being involved in each of the three parts of this course. You will be expected to submit three journal assignments, one for each part of the course, worth 8% each.
  4. Grounded theory research report: In this paper, worth 38% of your final course grade, you will report on the grounded theory that has emerged from your research.

The following table summarizes the evaluation activities and the credit weights allocated to each activity.

Course Activity Weighting
Participation in online discussion (over the 3 parts of the course at 8%/part) 24%
Weekly progress reports (14 at 1% each) 14 %
Journal assignments (3 at 8% each) 24 %
Grounded theory research report 38%
Total 100%

Formative Feedback Forum

During Week 7, you will be given an opportunity to comment, via a feedback forum, on how the course is progressing. Please take this opportunity to offer formative evaluations of how the course is proceeding and to voice concerns that you might otherwise not have the opportunity to express until the final course evaluation. Please suggest constructive solutions to any problems that you identify as having arisen in the course.

Course Materials

The course materials for MAIS 640: Grounded Theory, Exploration, and Beyond include the items listed below. If you find that any items are missing from your course package, please contact the Course Materials Production department at Athabasca University as soon as possible. You may call Athabasca University, toll-free, from anywhere in Canada or the United States at 1-800-788-9041 and ask to speak to someone in Course Materials Production (ext. 6366). Students in the Edmonton and Calgary dialling areas are asked to call the Learning Centres to connect with the automated attendant, and then dial the four-digit extension. You may send e-mail to cmat@athabascau.ca, or write to Course Materials Production at Tim Byrne Centre, 4001 Hwy 2 South, Athabasca AB T9S 1A4.


  • Glaser, Barney G., & Strauss, Anselm L. (1999). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
  • Stebbins, Robert A. (2001). Exploratory research in the social sciences (Qualitative research methods series no. 48). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Woods, Peter. (1999). Successful writing for qualitative researchers. London: Routledge.

A Note on the Textbooks

The first two course texts have been chosen with the recognition that there are, by now, other ways to do grounded theory (see, for example, Strauss and Corbin's Basics of Qualitative Research, and a considerable literature that stems from that sub-genre). However, Glaser and Strauss's The Discovery of Grounded Theory is undeniably a methodological bible, and Stebbins's Exploratory Research in the Social Sciences is, by its author's own admission, designed to compliment the former. For those who may be intrigued to know, this choice puts the course author, as a proponent of grounded theory, in what is known as the "Glaserian" camp, which places a premium on allowing theory to "emerge" naturally from collected data. The alternative, according to Glaser, is to-you guessed it-"force" theory from data in what may be seen as overly programmatic ways. Glaser, in a heated exchange, characterized the later work of Strauss and Corbin in this way and, to this day, remains adamant that this is anathema to true grounded-theory methodology.

Athabasca University materials

Course Guide: The Course Guide contains the course introduction, objectives, reading assignments, commentary, online activities, assignment specifications, and other information that you will need to complete the course successfully. The "Study Schedule" identifies the course activities and assignments that you are to complete each week. Please take time now to review the information in this document in order to become familiar with the design of the course.

Forms: The forms that you will need to request an extension, register in a course, or request a letter of permission are included with the course materials.

Online Materials: Please visit the MAIS 640 Digital Reading Room (DRR) page to find links to supplementary materials that are available in electronic form, and information on accessing many of the supplementary materials that are not available electronically. These materials will provide you with further information and examples of grounded-theory research reports. There is a link to the Digital Reading Room on the MAIS 640 home page, or you may access it via the AU Library home page.

Athabasca University Library: Explore the Library's Web site at http://library.athabascau.ca to review our collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools.